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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 2 Mar 2022

Vol. 283 No. 5

Housing Policy: Motion

Senator Ruane is moving the motion and sharing her time with Senator Flynn. Is that agreed? Agreed. I formally welcome the Senators' guests from Housing Action Now in collaboration with a collective of artists.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann:

notes with concern that:

- the cost of renting in the State has approximately doubled in the last decade;

- the cost of rent and mortgage repayments are having a significant impact on people’s financial security, with approximately 20% of the population being at risk of poverty when rent and mortgage payments are deducted from disposable income, with this figure rising to 55% in the case of those in receipt of a housing assistance payment;

- rising rent prices and no-fault evictions are a major cause of homelessness in Ireland, with 58% of families entering homelessness doing so due to no-fault evictions, rising rents or poor standards of accommodation;

- the number of homeless adults nationally has increased by 226% between December 2014 and December 2021;

- as of December 2021, there were 1,077 families with 2,451 children living in emergency accommodation in Ireland;

- as of December 2021, 22% of families in emergency accommodation in the Dublin region had been there for more than two years, and 39% of families had been there for more than one year;

- Travellers make up almost half of the number of homeless individuals in some counties, while other minority ethnicities experience significant discrimination in accessing housing in Ireland;

- households headed by lone parents, the majority of whom are women, make up 53% of homeless families in the State;

- Ireland has a stock of approximately 180,000 vacant homes, with at least 4,000 of these being owned by local authorities;

- one third of people with a disability in Ireland are affected by housing deprivation;

further notes:

- the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in access to housing;

- that under Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, where parents or carers are unable to provide a decent standard of living that is good enough to meet a child’s physical and social needs, and their healthy development, the State is compelled to assist by providing ‘material assistance and support’ with particular regard to ‘nutrition, clothing and housing’;

- that Ireland, having ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, has obligations under that Convention in respect of access and choice in housing for disabled people and the wider promotion of universal design;


- that housing is a basic human need, and when individuals are deprived of this need it has significant implications for their health and wellbeing, and their social and emotional development;

- that housing can have the capacity to help shape who we are and where we stand in society, therefore it can exacerbate intergenerational poverty and inequality;

- that people have a right to live in a vibrant, accessible urban environment, free from vacancy and dereliction;

- the profound harm caused to individuals, families, and communities by the financialisation and commodification of housing in the State, and by enabling vulture funds and other predatory financial actors to gain control over homes;

- the traumatic impact of living in emergency accommodation on individuals, particularly in respect of their mental health and wellbeing, and that this impact is especially pronounced in children living in emergency accommodation;

- the trauma experienced by those living in Direct Provision, and their profound neglect at the hands of the State and companies who profit from the system;

- the violation of human rights and culture which has occurred as a result of the failure to provide culturally appropriate and adequate accommodation for Irish Travellers;

- the benefits of pursuing housing policies that promote the development of diverse, sustainable and intergenerational communities made up of people from different walks of life and different family types;

- that it is within the capacity and means of the State to solve the housing crisis;

and calls on the Government to:

- commit to the de-financialisation of housing as a core principle of future housing policy, and implement the recommendations of the ‘Report on the financialisation of housing and the right to adequate housing’ by the UN Special Rapporteur;

- end the State’s over-reliance on the private market to address the shortcomings in Irish housing in recent decades, by committing to the establishment of a State-owned and operated construction company and investing radically in the development of public homes on public land;

- take immediate action to bring the 4,000 vacant council houses owned by local authorities into use;

- increase the provision of secure, social and public cost rental tenancies, end current reliance on private rental subsidy assistance payments, and take measures to cap and reduce rents;

- take measures to provide greater security for tenants, strengthen protections from evictions, and provide increased resources to agencies responsible for the investigation and enforcement of unlawful evictions;

- phase out and ultimately end State reliance on family hubs and private emergency accommodation within the next 12-months, and ensure that emergency accommodation does not form part of the future response to medium and long-term housing needs;

- recognise the traumatic impact of homelessness on the individuals and families affected, and commit to providing increased investment in wraparound supports for individuals and families affected by homelessness;

- develop gender-responsive policies to the housing crisis which specifically respond to the particular challenges experienced by groups such as lone parents, the majority of whom are women;

- take immediate action to deliver on its commitment to end Direct Provision, as set out in the White Paper on Direct Provision, and in particular to commit to the end of institutionalisation and profiteering in the asylum system, with all Phase Two own-door accommodation being operated by non-profit entities;

- fully vindicate the housing rights of disabled persons under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and particularly to ensure that universal design is core to any new housing developments in the State;

- undertake an urgent audit of living conditions in all Traveller-specific accommodation, to take urgent action to address any deficiencies identified, and to establish a National Traveller Accommodation Authority to oversee the long-term development and implementation of Traveller accommodation; and

- broaden the State’s definition of homelessness to include those living in insecure or inappropriate institutional accommodation, the ‘hidden homeless’, and individuals and families in receipt of housing assistance payments."

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, for being here. To give some context to this motion, over many years and in many different ways we have all tried to address the different facets of the housing crisis, taking in everything from the rental market to social housing to homelessness in the context of emergency accommodation. We have been working on a motion for a while and last week or the week before we were quite struck by the work of Housing Action Now with the artists and in collaboration with people most affected by the policies of governments' past and future policies, I suppose, as well.

Imagine for a moment all those times we have heard apologies or acknowledgements of what has happened in the past, with people being so negatively impacted by different crises or negative outcomes of policy over the years or decades. I want people to imagine that if I or anybody else were the Taoiseach and we watched the Dáil proceedings or the 6 o'clock news, what would such an apology would look and feel like. The Civil Engagement Group has always strived to ensure representation of minority voices or the voices in general of civil society. They must be put on the record in the Chamber and we try to be the vehicle to bring in those voices. I could have opened by speaking specifically about policy. I am sure everybody else will do that. However, I want to imagine the apology and speak to the people directly:

Housing is a human right and a basic human need and I, and many in power before me have failed in our roles to ensure every individual living in this country has access to good-quality, secure and affordable homes. I am sorry to the thousands of people on social housing lists in this country, every adult and child in emergency accommodation in hotels, hostels and shelters. To every adult and child in direct provision. To those staying with friends and family, living in each other's back gardens and sleeping on couches. To those who have relocated miles from where they work, forced to spend hours a day commuting.

To those paying extortionate rents and to those who cannot afford to save for a mortgage. To those in negative equity. To the older people who remortgage to help someone else secure a home. To the young people stuck in parents' homes or who have made a decision to emigrate. To the Traveller community whose nomadic way of life has been criminalised. To those disabled people, regardless of their impairments, who cannot secure an appropriate home to meet their needs. To those in abusive relationships who cannot leave because of the fear they will be on the street. And to those living on our nation's streets and to those who have died on our streets, I stand before you today to give to you the apology that you deserve.

To Brendan, who feels like he is living on a trapdoor with a rope around his neck, at the mercy of landlords who ignore complaints about filthy carpets and broken showers, cold water and cold air howling through the cracked windows. Landlords who hike up the rent when they are challenged about the mould that is growing as fast as his children. Landlords who finally issue an eviction notice leaving Brendan and his family 48 days to rearrange their lives. Brendan questions his decision to have come back from his life abroad, to bring his partner and children to the city he grew up in, the city of 100,000 welcomes.

To Alya, whose family received an eviction notice months before her Leaving Cert. Her studying time was replaced by hours on the phone trying to find a room for three children and two adults. Alya spent every evening in the library making use of the Wi-Fi, but one night she missed her curfew to study for a science exam and was put in a hostel room with eight strangers. She was scared and shaken and saw someone overdose. Alya blames herself for getting lost in her studies that evening, and she now talks to her sisters just once a week.

To Kevin, who was living in a hub and planning to kill himself, no longer able to cope with the size of the room once a new cot had been set up, the intensity of living with a pregnant partner, the smell of the food from the canteen where they had to eat. The stress, the worry, wondering will this ever get better, kept alive by the love he has for his baby daughter in her tiny little shoes. Not wanting to leave her there and never wanting her to know that she was born in a hub.

To Mary, who only wants a safe haven, a place to hang the framed picture of her boy on his first day of school, with his blue glasses and his snowy white hair. She's been on the housing list for her son's whole life. She checks once a week online, praying that she has moved up on the list, but her number has only moved once in three years. Mary was given the options: to go homeless, to go into emergency accommodation or take an apartment with a kicked-in door and a gang selling drugs outside. Lonely and isolated, Mary feels like she has been dumped in hell and forgotten.

To David, who is no longer young and who misses his hurley stick, which is in his parents' house here in Ireland while he lives abroad. He wants to come back but can't afford to live on his own and is depressed at the prospect of a house share at his age. Feeling trapped outside the high wall that's being built around affordable housing and missing family conversations, puc abouts and the smell of cut grass.

To Paddy, who remembers the New Year's Eve party that he and his wife were at when someone explained the term negative equity, and now, in mortgage arrears, every year on his children's birthday, Paddy counts another year in debt, and he wishes that debt a happy birthday. He is haunted by the memory of the day when he and his wife realised they can't afford to have another child. And he has gotten used to seeing his wife cry for that child. Paddy finally told his wife about his idea to kill himself and heard she had a similar idea. He often finds himself returning to his childhood memories so he can recall what a secure home feels like.

It is important to remember that each and every contribution quoted is a real-life story contributed to this project. We should continue to think about that when we speak about policy because sometimes, when we get lost in the policy, it can be a cold instrument, and it is always better to remember what that policy means in real-life terms.

I second the motion.

Following on from Senator Ruane's remarks, I will go straight into more of the stories contributed to the project:

To Lizzie, who ... [values] the winter conversations at the open fire, with people coming from all parts of the halting site for cups of tea and chats by her father's lamp. Lizzie loves Traveller culture but it's not part of [Traveller] culture to live without basic human needs. No one should have to take the ice off the inside of [the trailer] windows before sending children to school. Living with bad lungs and a lower life expectancy. All Lizzie wants is the best facilities for her community and not see them forced into mainstream houses. A housing policy that facilitates all walks of life. But now Lizzie is being asked to move and leave behind years of memories because the people in the nearby apartments don't like the view.

To Claire, who has spent so much time scanning ads online for apartments that claim to be accessible but only allow a wheelchair user in the door and don't consider the need to move around inside, or to have a shower or have room for a couch for guests, or have a nearby bus stop to get to work. Claire was excited to finally secure an apartment in the city that was actually accessible, but now all she feels is stress as she pays her rent but can't move in because there is no personal assistance support available to her. Claire can't see any light at the end of the tunnel.

To Raphael, who was constantly looking for a place to live and who has slept in overcrowded houses and on friends' couches and floors. His doctor has told him to find a better place to live for the sake of his health. But where can he go? He wonders how you are supposed to get references if you've ... [spent half your life living] in Direct Provision ... He is tired of potential landlords being more interested in the fact that he is black, rather than the fact that he is a health care worker, a student and a youth mentor. He is tired of always moving and just wants somewhere to belong. Wishing that there was a sense of humanity in the housing system, Raphael just wants to be free.

To the children who have spent year after year in emergency accommodation, their childhood memories robbed of the many milestones and memories that they should have had. The children absorbing their parents' anxieties. The children commuting to school [each day] like worn out adults. The children who don't have a table to eat their breakfast at or do their homework on.

And to Paula, who is talking to all of you now. She spent 15 years on a council list waiting to be housed. 13 of those years were spent in rundown overpriced accommodation until a small electrical fire caused by a storage heater left her and her children homeless. I want to acknowledge her pain and suffering.

There is a view out there that many people in this country are failing, and the situations that they find themselves in are entirely the result of their own decisions. But that is not true. I want to make something very clear to all of you. And let it be noted for public record, it is not your fault. Consecutive governments have failed you. The truth is that the current housing crisis is the result of so many policy decisions at the highest level. We failed to bring in rent regulations and proper tenants' rights. We listened to the intensive lobbying of private developers and vulture funds. We prioritised the ... landlords, developers and builders. We outsourced our responsibilities to profit-making companies. And we took away the independence of local authorities and we simply didn't build enough houses. We saw housing as a commodity and we lost sight of every person's basic need for a safe and secure home. And for that, I just want to say I am sorry. I am so sorry.

During the year and a half I have been here, the Minister of State and I have spoken about housing many times. The Civil Engagement Group has also discussed housing. I am thankful, as is the Civil Engagement Group, that we have cross-party support today. We are very grateful for that. However, we and our communities outside this House need action. We do not need any more talking shops. Behind us, I formally welcome the Housing Action Now group. This motion outlines what the Government should do.

It is all of our responsibility to put this into action and not just say we support it today because it sounds ever so lovely to say. We need to be seen to be delivering for our children, our Traveller community, our refugees, our migrants, our working-class people, people who are coming out of prison and the rest of our people. I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to listen.

I too thank Senators Ruane and Flynn and the Civil Engagement Group for bringing this motion. I am delighted to welcome the Minister of State to the House. I welcome the group Housing Action Now and I understand there is a group of artists as well. I apologise for not knowing the latter's title but I have heard about its work and commend it on that. I am delighted the Minister of State has come to the House to debate this issue with us. As Senator Flynn said, we have debated housing many times since the new Government was formed.

The Minister of State knows I come from a very working-class background in the north inner city and Cabra-Glasnevin of Dublin Central. Since I was first elected to Dublin City Council in 2004, housing has been the issue that has been the biggest pressure on people living in my community. That includes people who are working, people who are not working, people with disabilities, people who are able, people who are young and people who are old. It is not an announcement to say this Government is trying to deal with and respond to a housing crisis. Due to the way Senators Ruane and Flynn brought in the real lived experience and real life experience, so much of it resonated with me. They are experiences that are so familiar to me and probably to many Members. Physical and mental exhaustion is created by the insecurity of housing. There is mental pressure, missed life opportunities and stolen experiences. It is cruel, inexcusable and unacceptable in a country like ours that is rich, developed, free and part of the EU. Last June, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I brought a similar motion on housing before the House. At the time there was almost, though not quite, unanimity. The majority agreed with the motion that stated: "a secure home is a basic human right". It also stated; "Covid-19 highlights the essential protection a secure home provides [an individual]". It continued:

- far too many of our citizens are homeless;

- essential middle-income workers are struggling to secure an affordable home;

- young people should expect to secure an affordable home;

- the State has responsibility to protect citizens right to a home;

We acknowledged that at that time there was a new Government and historic changes were being made but we then went further and called on the Government to exercise every available resource to achieve a sustainable housing supply for every Irish citizen so they could all have a safe and secure home. We also called on the Minster and the Government to ensure every citizen would have an opportunity through a constitutional referendum to insert a right to housing into our Constitution. It is broadly accepted. We see the right to housing as a basic human right but our Constitution is silent on that.

Failures were referenced, and that is what they were. We do not have a housing crisis because somebody succeeded. We have a housing crisis because there were failures. To change that we must change it from the very top. We must say from the very highest level we as a State believe housing is a basic human right. That is what we push for and what there was almost unanimity in this House for. I will return to that but I acknowledge that in the intervening period, that is, June 2021 to date, we have had Housing for All and a historic commitment of €20 billion to deliver 300,000 homes. That is an enormous commitment from the State and one I am confident the Government is committed to delivering. Nevertheless, I am going to continue to push for the referendum on housing because as certain as night follows day, there will be another election at some point and there will be another Government, and we must ensure the right to housing is enshrined in our Constitution so it is protected by it and asserted in it such that every Government, regardless of its political persuasion, is mandated to deliver on it.

There is much in Housing for All that is going to help us move in the right direction. There is a commitment to use State-owned lands to build social and affordable homes. There is a commitment to delivering 10,000 new social homes every year. Housing lists have been spoken about with respect to fact some people have not only not moved up lists but some have had the negative and deflating experience of moving down the lists because of their increasing length.

The other actions around the tackling of vacancy, the increasing delivery of new-build homes and the protections of renters are all very important in the short term. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State could update the House on the referendum on a right to housing, which is a long-term action to ensure failures cannot be repeated in the future.

I very much welcome the motion and congratulate the Civil Engagement Group for tabling it and giving us the opportunity to speak about the issue. I welcome our guests to the Chamber. I am very struck by the entirety of both Senator Ruane and Senator Flynn's contributions but especially by the line in Senator Flynn's contribution that referred to a message that people are failing. There is an inherent unfairness in that and a perception that somehow it is the fault of the people who are struggling. There is no question but that it is not. By a sheer matter of luck that none of us have any say over we are born into a family, a community or a country that has either opportunities and a pathway for a life where things fall nicely into place or a life where every impediment is set in people's way. It is a Government's duty to unequally distribute our resources and set up our policies in such a way that equality of opportunity is achieved by ensuring that there is a bias to assist. For education we have the delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, programme. Throughout different stages in life, opportunities are provided to try to balance the inequality of the sheer luck of where people are born and what opportunities they might have to education and everything that sets them on the path of life.

I stand here as a Senator for two years. However, in my lifetime I have worked on building homeless accommodation for people coming out of care to ensure they have supports, an opportunity to have a roof over their heads, independence and dignity and respect from when they turn 18 years of age. It was an initiative specifically for 18- to 25-year-olds. It ensured they had support for their children in crèches and support for education programmes to enable them to use that opportunity in the supported sheltered housing so they could then move forward in their life.

We can see how instrumental having such supports in place can be in changing someone's life. My home constituency has every type of household from people with three or four grown-up children living under their roof because the latter cannot afford to buy or rent a property to people who are on long housing lists and aspiring to get out of their parents' homes or the completely inadequate accommodation they currently have.

I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, along with Senators Fitzpatrick, Boyhan and Moynihan, some of whom are present. I am also a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Disability Matters, which has, as the Minister of State mentioned, examined the issue of inequality of access to housing and the fact the regulations ensure a person in a wheelchair can visit a newly built home but not necessarily that he or she will be able to go upstairs and sleep in it overnight. We heard very powerful testimonies from people of their experiences and aspirations in this regard. That information has been heard, fed back and is reflected in the Government's plans.

I believe 100% in the Housing for All plan, which built very firmly on the foundations that were put there by the previous Minister. I do not want to focus on what it aspires to do. Instead, I will reflect on what it has achieved. When we talk about an aspiration in regard to housing, we know that Housing for All deals with first-time buyers, homelessness and renters. It provides very concrete actions in those areas. However, it is beneficial to consider what has been achieved, bearing in mind that we are not yet two full years into our term. Actions were in place, as I said, and it is useful to consider what has been done since then. The plan was to increase the supply of housing to an average of 33,000 homes per year over the next decade. Progress so far includes the delivery of 20,903 homes up to the end of September 2021. Construction commenced on another 30,724 homes last year and planning permission was granted for a further 39,000 homes. There was a 2% rent cap in place in rent pressure zones when inflation was at that level. The Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Act was passed into law, which expedites the building process. The Land Development Agency is in place, as is the help-to-buy scheme. A total of €75 million is available to local authorities for housing adaptation. Concrete actions have been taken.

I believe Housing for All and the other measures we have discussed are addressing the very real and valid concerns and the real-life experiences colleagues have raised. I do not have to go beyond my own office to hear about those experiences. We are working and striving to achieve resolution and bring an end to what has been a lifelong struggle for many people.

I thank Senators Ruane, Flynn, Black and Higgins for using their Private Members' time to highlight, yet again, the housing issues of concern to us all. I acknowledge that they have continuously done so over the past year and a half to two years. I welcome their guests, who are here to listen, engage and see what we are talking about and doing. I also recognise the work of the Minister of State, which is a critical component of all of this.

I acknowledge the Housing for All policy, which sets down objectives and targets. When the previous plan, Rebuilding Ireland, was introduced, I said to the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, when he was in this Chamber brandishing his yellow and orange book, that he was a very brave Minister to set out hundreds of targets and that he would be judged on them. I have not had an opportunity to judge the Minister of State personally and this is not a personal thing. This is Government policy and it is a Government document. We have a coalition Government with a very substantial majority. It has the wherewithal and power to deliver the plan and it certainly has resourced it, which I acknowledge. It will ultimately be held to account on the delivery of this document. To be fair to all the Ministers involved, they are always willing to come before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, of which several of us present are members, and tease out the issues. Housing and health will perhaps be the two big issues on which the Government is judged. As a previous speaker said, there are two or three years remaining in its term and a lot more work to do.

I thank the Senators who spoke about the real lived experiences of people they named and brought to life for us today. Their experiences resonate with us all and we are all aware of similar stories. When considering any motion that comes before us, identifying the problem is one thing but what is being asked for is another. Today, we are asked to consider 12 actions the Senators are calling on the Government to do. I intend to single out a few of them. The third ask is that the Government takes immediate action to bring the 4,000 vacant council homes owned by local authorities into use. It is a shocking indictment of any Administration that there are 4,000 publicly-owned homes not in use. At a time when the Government is dealing with other lists and assigning resources, this raises a question. City and county councillors in this country are embarrassed by this. They constantly ask questions of the officials and housing directorates as to what is happening, only to be told there is no funding from central government, it is a long, protracted process or it has not been agreed whether the properties will be demolished or renovated. There seem to be all sorts of excuses, some of them legitimate and others questionable. It is a disgrace that publicly-owned homes are not in use. This is not about purchasing properties. These homes across the country are in our ownership and the city and county councillors are totally frustrated by the lack of action. I want to get that message across loud and clear today. Our democratically elected local government members are as frustrated as anyone else in this regard. We need a fast, focused and strategic plan for how we are going to bring into use the 4,000 homes that are boarded up around the country.

The seventh action in the motion asks the Government to "recognise the traumatic impact of homelessness on the individuals and families affected, and commit to providing increased investment in wraparound supports". We all know such action is needed and recognise its importance.

The eighth ask is that the Government takes immediate action to deliver an end to direct provision. If ever we needed to talk about direct provision, it is this week. I hope we will welcome many people from Ukraine who come to our shores seeking refuge, support and hospitality. We do all of that well. I acknowledge that the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, who is responsible for this area, has done a great deal of work on it. The report we received last week from one of the children's advocacy groups noted that great progress has been made in this regard. I acknowledge that progress and want it to continue.

The ninth action calls for an audit of Traveller accommodation. That is important. Dare I say it again; the accommodation for Travellers in parts of Cork is a disgrace and has been singled out as such. People argue the point and suggest there is a vexatious element in issues being raised with the county executive. It is unacceptable.

I refer to a press release that was issued by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage yesterday welcoming the establishment of a working group on a referendum on housing. Another committee is being set up to discuss a referendum, which may take some time to complete its work. I acknowledge that the Housing Commission is doing great work. We know what its function is. However, the working group will have four additional members: Mr. Justice Frank Clarke, a former Chief Justice; Professor Gerry Whyte, professor of law at Trinity College; Professor Rosalind Dixon, professor of law; and Madeleine MacKenzie, Parliamentary Counsel for the Scottish Government's parliamentary office. When I saw the names, I asked myself what these people have in common. The answer is that they all have a home. Why are there no people with direct experience of homelessness on this sub-committee or on the commission?

Why are no city or county councillors with vast experience in housing at the coalface of the delivery of housing and partnering with us in the delivery of the Minister of State's policy? Why are none of them on it? That begs the question. I ask the Minister of State to look at that. I acknowledge the work of the commission, however, which is positive. It is mandated to look at supply, tenure, quality of housing, sustainability, affordable housing and rural and social housing.

This is a timely debate. We have had many of these debates, however. We now need to start measuring the output, success, targets and delivery lines for Housing for All. I beg one question of the Minister of State, however. Why do we not have people who have experienced homelessness, and who tomorrow or next week will be in homeless accommodation, sitting around the table helping and suggesting solutions to tackle this crisis?

The Minister of State is very welcome. I thank the Senators for their motion. It is very welcome and one I support. It is important to say that much work has been done by this Government that people probably do not know about. Housing problems are everywhere and they are multiple. Each individual person has a different housing need. That is certainly the experience I have had going from door to door and in the work I have been doing.

We have the owner-occupier guarantee whereby local authorities can designate up to 50% of any new housing development for individual owners. The zoned land tax was designated to penalise speculation. We will soon have the vacant homes tax and a value sharing mechanism to ensure that institutional investments cannot make undue profits from housing in Ireland anymore. The Land Development Agency, LDA, is building public houses on public land. We also have new cost-rental homes being built around the country, alongside the 90,000 social homes, between now and 2030.

None of this is enough, however. I am hopeful that over the coming years, people will see that differences are happening and will actually feel and experience them, and that the housing need of every home we go to or person we come across will be met or they have a hope it will be met soon.

I will go in different directions with this motion because there are 12 asks of the Government. On gender-responsive policies, as stated in the motion, "households headed by lone parents, the majority of whom are women, make up 53% of homeless families in the State". That is not spoken about enough. That requires gender-responsive policies. I will support that and happily work with Senators and the Minister of State to address that.

I am delighted to report that work on ending direct provision, which has been spearheaded by my colleague, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, is advancing at pace. He has personally committed to ending direct provision and any profit element therein and introducing own-door accommodation. We have new challenges at the moment with Ukraine and that will have to come under consideration. I agree with everyone when they say we must treat every person as an individual. Everyone needs to feel the fairness of the system.

At least a minimum of developments should adhere to universal design principles. Obviously, the whole idea of universal design is that every development would have universal design principles. We must be realistic, however, and say that we cannot rebuild everything from scratch.

The points on the urgent audit of living conditions in all Traveller-specific accommodation, as well as bypassing Part 8 planning for Traveller-specific accommodation, were agreed in the Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community, on which I sit and which is chaired by Senator Flynn. It was an excellent report but we all said at the time that we need to constantly come back to see what progress is being made. There has not been much progress in all the halting sites I have visited. Certainly, in my own county of Galway, we met with the council, having visited all the halting sites as a committee without the council, I might add. We were given very pretty looking designs for developments, none of which have been executed. It is constantly promise after promise. Local authorities have much to answer for. It is also a national Government issue, however. I definitely take that on board.

Another of the Senators' asks is to recognise the traumatic impact of homelessness. Budget 2022 has committed to a record €194 million for homeless services. Of course, this should be increased to provide every homeless person and family with wraparound supports. It was significant that the Housing First programme was in Housing for All. That was a really good move. That is something all the homeless and housing organisations I was in contact with were looking for. I was in the housing committee part of a public participation network and that was something we sought.

There is so much in this motion but I will also address the issue of vacancy. The motion calls on the Government to "take immediate action to bring the 4,000 vacant council houses owned by local authorities into use". I am pleased to say that we in the Green Party are passionate about this area. I recently supported my colleague, Deputy Matthews, on the vacancy, dereliction and regeneration Bill 2022. If implemented, and I hope the Minister of State will take this on board, this would see a 3% tax on all homes in Ireland that have been vacant for six months, to be collected by Revenue. All money collected would go back to the relevant local authority to address the housing need in that area. A revamped derelict sites tax would also be collected by Revenue and go back to building sites in the local authority. A one-stop-shop system would make it easier for people because two problems exist, the first of which is that homeowners find it quite difficult. It is really important that we look at Revenue doing the collection rather than local authorities because the collection rates are outrageous with regard to vacancy and dereliction.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The guests in the Public Gallery are also very welcome. I commend Senators Ruane, Flynn, Black and Higgins for bringing forward this motion, which is a welcome opportunity to discuss housing outside the confines of legislation, which many of us do often. I thank them for tabling this motion.

I wish to address two items in the motion, that is, vacant homes and child and family homelessness. I also want to pick up on the right to housing issue that was mentioned by Senators Fitzpatrick and Boyhan. It is time for us to set a date for the referendum on a right to housing. Inserting that right into the Constitution was supported by 84% of the Constitutional Convention in 2014. As Senator Fitzpatrick said, we are not saying that inserting that right into the Constitution will in and of itself solve the housing crisis on its own, but it would force this Government, and any Government after it, to ensure that any legislation or policy is proofed and that it reasonably affects that right.

As Senator Boyhan said, I do not believe this issue needs to go to another committee. Home for Good, a civil society campaign, has the wording for the legislation ready to go and has sent it to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Seanad Éireann, through Senator Fitzpatrick's motion last June, supports the insertion of a right to housing into the Constitution. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage has also considered the legislation from Home for Good. I think most of the committee support it. The Government needs to proceed with the Attorney General and Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to prepare a constitutional amendment on the right to housing and set a date for that referendum.

I want to talk about the troubling trends in terms of family homelessness and then come to child homelessness, which is mentioned in the motion. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive homelessness report indicates that new family homeless presentations are trending steadily upwards.

In January in Dublin, 19 more families were accessing emergency homes accommodation than there were in December. When we compare January this year with January last year, 79 more families were accessing emergency accommodation in Dublin. When people do get to into emergency accommodation, they are also spending longer in it. In January 2022, 21% of families were in emergency accommodation for more than two years. Nobody should be in emergency accommodation for more than six months. Many of the people who have been in emergency accommodation have been homeless for three or, in some cases, four years. The Government must accept that to deal with this issue, we need to increase the delivery of real social housing and Housing First tenancies. Two Bills have passed Second Stage in the Dáil in this term: Sinn Féin’s family homeless prevention Bill and the Simon Communities homeless prevention Bill, and they need to be set up.

The motion mentions Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I want to reference the Children’s Rights Alliance report card from 2022. It is a wake-up call for these Houses and for the Government in terms of our failure to deal with the rise in homelessness. We need to prevent children from entering homelessness in the first place. Again, the Simon Communities homelessness prevention Bill must be progressed. Legislation has also been put forward by Focus Ireland that seeks to do that.

The previous Government had a vacant homes strategy that was an abject failure. Its repair and lease scheme had a target of returning 3,000 homes back into stock by 2022. It only delivered 273 homes. That was 8% of the target. While no targets were set for the buy and renew scheme, 670 homes were delivered in five years. That is difficult to understand. We seem to be continuing by poorly resourcing these schemes. We have the aim of returning 2,500 vacant homes back into use by 2026. That is only 500 homes per year. As Senator Boyhan has mentioned, the problem is not primarily at local authority level. We therefore need to fund those schemes and we need a real sense of urgency in bringing vacancy back into use. We also need to get proper data. We see varying figures on the number of homes that are vacant. We need better data on that. We need a dedicated vacant homes officer in every local authority.

I commend the motion. It has Sinn Féin’s support. I commend the Civil Engagement Group on bringing it forward.

I welcome the people in the Gallery. I also commend the Civil Engagement Group which, as always, has put forward a well-thought out, policy-driven motion and a Private Members' Bill.

I will focus on one specific aspect and type of housing, which is renting. That is where there is huge insecurity and precariousness. Just as we came into this Chamber, the Parliamentary Budget Office put out a report on housing. It states that:

The reliance of the State on meeting housing needs through current funded supports to private rental tenancies (reaching 38% of all private rental tenancies at end 2020) is only viable, in the long-term, in housing markets with sufficient housing supply. However, rising rents and limited supply of private rental properties – from which current funded housing are mostly sourced - can result in long-term needs being met through short-term and comparatively precarious accommodation solutions. These households’ social housing needs are increasingly hard to meet from the private market, with the combination of limited supply of new or additional units, and rising rental costs within the sector.

I think that gets to the heart of the problem and the issue in the housing sector. It feeds particularly well into the motion that has been tabled by the Civil Engagement Group, which is essentially advocating for a shift in how housing policy is run in this country.

We did have shifts in housing policy at the end of the 1980s and, especially, in the 2000s, away from supporting homeownership and State-built social housing to supporting the private rental sector. Then we had the financial crash, our construction sector dried up and the supply dried up. Ten years on, the fallacy and danger of, and the risks associated with, the ticking over, so to speak, of social housing supports in the private rented sector are now coming home to the roost.

Renters in Ireland have always been treated like second-class citizens. That is the long and the short of it. Everything this motion seeks to note is fact. It is a fact that the cost of renting in this country has gone out of the reach of the ordinary person. In Dublin, rent is more than €2,000. Every single county in this country has seen rental increases that have broken the consumer price index as well as the old 4% limit in rent pressure zones, RPZs. Some counties are seeing double digit increases. Some counties are seeing increases of up to 20% in one year in the cost of renting.

I am a mortgage holder. If I had at the very base level, which is 2% of an increase every year on my mortgage, you would soon be hearing about it from mortgage holders. Yet we take this as something normal that happens to renters. We are told we cannot possibly have something like a rent freeze because that will take up supply and will stop supply. However, the reality is that a short-term, well-targeted rent freeze is something we can do from a State perspective. It is a real intervention we can make, and not just to stop rent increases, because at this stage we need rents to fall. That is where we are at. We need rents to fall. For our renting to be affordable, and I will use the example of Dublin, you have to have a net household income of €6,000 per month, either through one person or two people. That is out of the reach of many people.

It is a fact that the increase in the cost of renting has led to an increase in evictions and an increase in homelessness. Rental precariousness is the single greatest driver of family and childhood homelessness in this country. The motion recognises that households that are already at the margins of society and those who need proper State supports are those that are most badly affected by the increases in the cost of renting. It cannot be overstated the effect this will have on exacerbating inequality. By failing to tackle the cost of renting, we are failing to ensure all people in this country have access to a home and we are only widening these gaps in our society.

Ireland deserves to have true equality, and central to that is economic and housing equality. You cannot do well in school if you do not have access to somewhere secure to sleep and somewhere secure to study. You cannot go to work and get a job if you do not have access to somewhere to wash your clothes and somewhere to be able to sleep and rest. Housing insecurity and housing inequality has a knock-on effect on all other levels of inequality.

I thank the Civil Engagement Group for tabling this motion. The central issue is we need a shift in how we think about housing. It is about shelter. It is about a home. It is not about housing being a commodity.

Like many others, I acknowledge the motion put down by the Civil Engagement Group. I also welcome our guests into the Chamber this evening. I am glad we will not be opposing this motion because housing is something for which we all have a huge responsibility. I am listening to what everybody is saying.

Housing is one of the core issues this Government was formed to tackle. We understand the scale of the problem people are facing with regard to rent and house prices. While the substantive issue we face will not be resolved overnight, slow progress is being made, and it is slow progress.

Housing for All gives certainty and stability for those who want to finance and build homes. To deliver houses at the substantial scale we need across the country, capital from all sources, including private investment, will be required. Increasing supply will also help to moderate house price increases. I think we all accept that. It is the only place we are going to bring down prices and get more supply.

The Government's Housing for All document outlines a large number of actions along with the €20 billion State investment in housing to the end of 2026. That is committed money. The strong pipeline of homebuilding activity is encouraging. New figures from the past 12 months show commencement notices in respect of 31,000 new homes were received. This is the highest rolling 12-month total since comparable data was first published. While I know that is still going to be a very small contribution, we must acknowledge it is a movement in the right way. I keep going back to the fact that we must have more supply to ensure rent prices, in particular, come down. We recognise there is an ongoing challenge to the delivery of housing and it will take time before the full benefits of Housing for All are tangible to all our citizens. We are confident that this plan can and will deliver, however.

The cost of rent all over the country is a massive issue. The quarter 3 2021 rent index showed that year-on-year, new rents increased nationally by 8.3%. This growth was higher than the previous quarter's 7% and the highest since quarter 4 of 2017, which recorded growth of 8.4%. The standardised average national rent for houses was €1,395 per month; a rise of 3.7% on the previous quarter and 11% year-on-year. The standardised average rent for apartments was €1,419 for quarter 3 of 2021. That was an increase of 2.9% on the previous quarter but a rise of 6.6% year-on-year. No matter where one goes in the country, and I know it is a bigger issue in the bigger urban areas, one finds that rent costs have gone through the roof. Even in my own county, people who were never in trouble with rent have come to me now in desperate trouble, and that is in a rural area.

In my view, the most effective way to assist renters in the medium- to long-term is to increase supply, as I said earlier, and accelerate the delivery of housing for the private and social rental sector. Housing for All: A New Housing Plan for Ireland sets out the Government's plan to increase the supply of housing to an average of 33,000 per year over the next decade. That must be achieved. I acknowledge that if we do not do that, we will have failed as Oireachtas people. We will really have failed if we do not deliver that. I really hope that will be achievable.

Cost rental is a long-term rental model in which tenants only pay the cost of providing, managing and maintaining their homes. It is fair to say there is a commitment through approved housing bodies, local authorities and the LDA under Project Tosaigh to have more houses available. Some 1,500 cost-rental homes are targeted for completion and tenanting this year alone. Overall, some 18,000 cost-rental homes are targeted for completion under Housing for All to 2030.

The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2021 introduced measures in July 2021 to extend the operation of the RPZs until the end of 2024. The Act also provides that rent reviews outside RPZs can until 2025 occur no more frequently than biannually. This will provide rent certainty for tenants outside the RPZs for a minimum two-year period. The Act also introduced measures to better protect tenants with affordability challenges by prohibiting any necessary rent increase in the RPZ from exceeding general inflation recorded by the harmonised index of consumer prices, HICP. To address the rent affordability challenges that are building on foot of the unexpectedly fast rising inflation rate as recorded by the HICP, since 11 December 2021 the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2021 provides for a cap of 2% per annum pro rata on rent increases in RPZs where the inflation rate is higher. In effect, this will mean that rents in the RPZ may only increase by a maximum of 2% per annum pro rata during times of higher inflation.

We all know there is a huge issue in that regard. We all know there is a huge issue of homelessness, of which I am not proud in any way, shape or form. It is dreadful to see the numbers of people who are still homeless. I honestly believe we are on the right track, however. The improvement in what we actually get delivered is where it all happens. I am hopeful that can happen sooner rather than in the longer term. We need that to happen. I thank Senators very much again for tabling the motion.

The Civil Engagement Group usually brings forward legislation and not motions. We chose to bring a motion forward because we realised we were coming again and again to the issue of housing through many different pieces of legislation and policy debates. It has been a core concern for everyone in Ireland and for our group, particularly those who are most marginalised within the discussions on housing.

Our very first Private Members' motion in 2016, in the previous Oireachtas, was on housing and disability. Again, it is unfortunate that we still have not delivered what we need, even though Ireland has now ratified the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. In the years since then, the urgency in that motion, which got cross-party support at the time, has increased and is all the more now.

In 2017, we introduced the Derelict and Vacant Sites Bill 2017 with former Senator Grace O'Sullivan. Again, in that Bill, we were told that strategies were in place and not to worry yet we know and see that derelict and vacant sites have become an ever-hotter and more urgent issue. I welcome that Government legislation has now been proposed by some of the Government Members but it needs to be moved forward. We put those ideas on the table back in 2017. Much has been lost in the interim; time has been lost.

When strategic housing developments and fast-tracked planning was proposed in 2017, we looked for use-it-or-lose-it clauses because developers said they would treat this as speculation and not build unless they were required to, and that is what has happened. At that same time, we looked for better protection from evictions. We have since seen waves of evictions. I say that not to say we said all this but to point out that these dots and issues have existed for a while. They were in the previous Oireachtas and they are in this one . We need to join them together into a bigger picture of change.

Reports on lone parents, which we had in the previous Oireachtas, set shocking alarm bells ringing on deprivation levels for lone-parent families in Ireland. It is not surprising we see now that is matching on to 53% of homeless families being headed by lone parents. There is almost a cognitive dissonance between a certain image of what Ireland's incomes are and what the incomes of most people actually are in Ireland. The fact that we have huge income inequality is really important. It is unfortunate, and this is a deep debate we have had in this Oireachtas, that affordability has been attached to a market indicator rather than to what people can actually afford.

All these issues come together, which is why we wanted this motion. It is to recognise that we had debates and, indeed, support. We went back and forth with people on these issues and they called for a bigger picture. They picture they called for, which is really important and about which Senator Moynihan spoke, is not just about doing a bit more but about doing things differently. It is not about making progress or starting from where we were.

It is because we must acknowledge and recognise that we have not necessarily always been doing things the right way. One of the key areas, which it was important to address in the motion, relates to the financialisation of housing. We know that leasing is bad value for the State and creates perverse incentives. It is disappointing that even in Housing for All we still see a reliance on securing more than 2,600 houses through lease. People know what the problems are with leasing. It is disappointing that we see new contracts being signed again this week with hotels in respect of direct provision. I understand that these are the emergency measures being used, the fig leaves, but they have been used for a long time. If we are to address this, what we need to understand is that the market's goals and the State's goals are not necessarily aligned.

The most important line in the motion is an optimistic one, but it is also a challenging one. It reads: "it is within the capacity and means of the State to solve the housing crisis." It is within the capacity and the means of the State, because we do have access to finance. With the fiscal rules currently suspended, we have access in a very different way than we ever had before. It must not be the State encouraging solutions to solve the housing crisis or incentivising actors within a property market in the hope that secure housing somehow falls out of that. It must be the State taking the lead and recognising that, in fact, there are times when the interests of property speculation, such as with REITs, vulture funds and the commercial rental sector, are not aligned with, and may be at odds with, the needs of the public and the common good. We must be willing when it comes to those tension points to choose the common good and to have rent go down, not to be capped, and to accept and even seek a deflation in the property market rather than propping it up indefinitely.

The motion we heard today, the statement from a future Minister, or from any Minister for housing, was a statement about taking responsibility and putting on the record that we know the picture of what is happening in Ireland and that we take responsibility. We do not want to be in a position of taking responsibility and making further apologies in the future; we must take responsibility right now as elected decision makers and say that we will use every year, week and month of the time we have in office, and that the Minister of State has in government, to try to progress it. That is the more positive, optimistic way to take responsibility. We must place the State centre stage in that. We cannot abdicate that responsibility in any way. I hope the Minister of State can take ideas from the motion, accept the recommendations, bring them forward and level up our ambition as a State on these issues.

I thank the Civil Engagement Group for its motion, all the Senators who spoke on the motion and those in the Gallery for listening to the debate.

In the first instance, I will outline where I am coming from in the debate. It is as someone who holds a weekly clinic in my home town of Mullingar and hears every week from many vulnerable people who are looking for sustainable housing solutions and are facing huge pressure from ever-increasing rents and the threat of rent increases. We are trying to combat that. I hear what is said sometimes about where the State is coming from. Incendiary language is often used when referring to the private sector, developers and vulture funds. I come from a working class background. I am a father of two children and a husband who is trying to better my community in every way I can.

When we point out these vulnerable cases, it is also incumbent on us as public representatives to offer hope, point to the metrics that show 31,000 commencements have been issued and reflect to people what that means. Right now, in 31,000 sites we have bulldozers and labourers with skill sets working to deliver those homes on the ground. There has been a 42% increase in output since 2020. Those homes will be a solution for many people. That is how we must focus on meeting the ESRI requirement to exceed 33,000 houses per annum in the economy.

We can all allude to our own version of events. It is very frustrating that in the past decade, the country was on a very difficult path. Ten years ago, the State had no capacity to borrow money. We had 3,000 ghost estates around the country and our 31 local authorities were saturated in debt. The mortgage-to-rent scheme was piloted in Dublin and in my county, Westmeath, because affordable housing had failed at that juncture as the loans could not be repaid. Two thirds of the construction workforce had left the country. Each year subsequent to that, when the State had no capacity to deliver housing for citizens who so badly needed it, demand increased. Sometimes the narrative is framed in such a way as to suggest the State stood idly by and watched demand increase. The problem was it did not have the capacity to respond at the point it most needed to respond.

For these reasons, the Government has now committed €4 billion in multi-annual funding through Housing for All. That is reflected on the ground by the metrics I pointed out. This will mean that right across all arms of the State, there will be a tenfold increase in the output of social housing from 2026. It will also mean we will have more affordable and cost-rental housing. Rents in the cost-rental projects that are being delivered this year are, on average, 40% to 50% below market rents. That is a viable, sustainable housing solution for families who badly need it.

We must also ensure the private sector keeps providing more homes. This is a societal issue rather than an issue for only one part of society. There are many sections of society that badly need housing. We need strong, sustainable output to ensure people's aspiration to get the keys to their own home can be realised. That is the first message I want to get across to everyone in the Seanad this afternoon. There is hope and there is evidence that housing output is increasing rapidly.

Many speakers drew attention to the frustration that has built up in people at how the State did not take action in the past. The State is now taking a number of actions, including to address land hoarding and vacant and derelict properties. In the first instance, we have the zoned land tax, and the mapping procedures are now being carried out for that across the State. It is saying to developers that if they have zoned land and are sitting idly in the hope that the value of their land will continue to increase at the expense of society at large and those who badly need a home, the State will now intervene and tax them unless they apply to de-zone the land.

Second, we are looking at capturing land value sharing, which will focus on the ever-increasing number of individuals not turning zoned land into housing units. They will now have to share the uplift in the value of the land with the State and put in vital public infrastructure that is absent in so many locations around the country. We have worked so hard as a society to get to a plan-led system whereby we have key infrastructure provided in response to plans setting out where housing should be developed. A decade ago, we had enough land zoned in this country to accommodate the population growing by an extra 10 million people. How could the State predict where the houses were going to be built?

Essentially, the State does not have a bottomless pit of money to put into infrastructure such as wastewater infrastructure in all areas where land is zoned. However, now we are in a position where we have zoned land that is in line with the national planning framework, it is based on population trajectories in line with the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, and the State can now go after this land and put the infrastructure in to ensure that people have a viable chance of delivering housing solutions on that land.

In regard to the Constitution, that is a very well made point in terms of the commission on housing, on which a chairperson has now been installed to make a determination and adjudicate on what way property rights should be reflected in our Constitution. That is important to many people. That work is continuing at pace. Across the 31 local authorities vacancy and dereliction are huge issues. By quarter 2 of this year we aim to have a full-time vacant homes officer in every local authority. We have increased the funding by 20%. The problem heretofore had been that across the local authority network there were just three of the 31 local authorities that had a full-time vacant homes officer. In quarter 2 of this year we will be in a position whereby every local authority will have one.

Funding streams such as the urban regeneration and development fund, the rural regeneration and development fund, Croí Cónaithe towns and villages scheme when the regulations are through this year, the repair and leasing scheme, and the buy and renew scheme, will wrap around to deliver key derelict sites back into use. That is important to us as a State. On many occasions it has been termed the low hanging fruit that we have to get to grips with. I believe we have the right suite of measures to do that. The Towns First initiative which was launched a number of weeks ago has 33 actions and 12 case studies looking at unlocking the potential of derelict property.

One issue I wish to speak about which is very close to my heart is Traveller accommodation. This is an issue I have taken on as best I can to try and resolve. Some Members alluded to this, such as Senator Boyhan regarding Cork, and Senator Flynn. I have a situation now whereby bi-weekly meetings are held, managing that issue in Cork. I was in Cork and visited every family on the site. We now have what is hopefully a sustainable solution for that area. I met with the rights commissioner and the children's ombudsman. I engaged with all the groups trying to implement our expert report whereby we have 32 recommendations. I sit in on as many of the meetings as I can to ensure that we are continuing at pace to implement those recommendations. Shortly we will publish them all on our website, in regard to the pathway and at what stage each one of those is. It is important to have 100% transparency on this issue and that any blockages are there for all to see. We work very hard. I have met many Opposition parties in this regard and I know the Oireachtas is united in trying to unlock this problem. We have to ensure that units are being delivered on the ground. For the second year running we have spent and committed our full budget. That is welcome.

In the first year Covid-19 was one of the key causes of this problem, which is why this year I have been engaging strongly with all the chief executives throughout the country to ensure that the budget was spent. Delivering on that sends out a very strong signal. Also in regard to Traveller accommodation I have made it clear to all the areas that my door is always open if there are any issues that specifically relate to sites. We had about 200 audits throughout the country on sites that we have responded to, and we have put in remedial works in some. We have increased the caretaker allowance. We have the caravan loan scheme. I have met some of the groups. There are issues relating to insurance that we are trying to work out. I spoke to the rights commissioner about that in terms of equal access for every individual within the State. We are working hard through all those schemes to try and alleviate them.

I also want to point to some progress. As I pointed out how many commencement notices are issued, we have also seen a 33% reduction in Dublin city's social housing list over the past four years. That is progress. Those families now have a sustainable solution. I feel for so many people. As a dad at Christmas time it really hits one that people are in emergency accommodation, have such an uncertain future and are so hoping for news that they will have their home, their future and the certainty that they so badly need. As I pointed out, there are a number of developments throughout the city that are going to unlock that. It can be frustrating in terms of the timeline, trying to ensure that these units come as quickly as possible but I can absolutely assure people that money is not an issue anymore, the will is not an issue. We have Housing for All, a document that goes right across the heart of government, across every single area to unlock all those units and get to that key figure of 33,000 units a year and beyond right out to 2030. That will provide the solution and a pathway. We will have to change things as we go along. I have no doubt about that. That is why I value the contribution from the Members of the Seanad, as I do in the Dáil, in terms of getting advice and trying to improve the way we work and deliver units.

We all must work together when we are trying to solve the issue regarding housing, every single one of us. One thing I am very clear on is that nobody has a patent on compassion. We all come into this House to do our very best for the people we represent. When I go next Monday and meet the people in my clinic, some of whom are very vulnerable, sometimes it can be very frustrating on my part when I cannot give the certainty I would love to give. What I always say is that in my own town, and I say it to the people who are here, there are three sites with more than 100 units being constructed as I talk to people in my clinic. I know that will provide hope. Mullingar is not of the same scale as Dublin but still I can see hope for people and see that these units are coming down the tracks.

I want to finish up the debate on this point. I will do all I can with the mandate I have to try my very best in the Department to work for people who so badly need their future certainty of the chance of getting the keys to their own home for their families. I will continue to do that to the best of my ability. It will be up to the electorate to judge me on that afterwards.

I thank the Minister of State. What strikes me is that we all have a common goal but what frightens me is how long we attach ourselves to how we do that. We talk about working together and then we listen to Senator Higgins talking about those tension points and how things work when so many people have different ideas. Up until this point, we have not got it right. When do we admit that we have not got it right and have to change direction? That is what scares me.

What struck me about what Senator Higgins said was that we are just doing more of the same, or tinkering around that idea. At some point we have to be able to measure when it is working and when it is not working and be willing to deviate from how we are doing things. Sometimes I worry that as politicians, policymakers and civil servants we marry ourselves so tightly to an idea that we often do not want to believe it will fail. We must at some point be willing to step into failure, notice it, acknowledge it, take responsibility for it, agree to change direction and be willing to let go of something we have clung on to so tightly as a way forward. That is what I ask going forward.

So many people have confidence in or hopes for the Housing for All policy. How long do we measure something to ensure it is working? Is the commitment always there to acknowledge that if those aspirations that are laid before us today by everyone are not working we then say, "Okay we need to step away from this now and maybe we need to look other ways to do housing"? That has clearly been spoken about in the Chamber today.

We are looking forward, but what about when we look back? Beyond just ensuring that this generation and the ones to come do not experience what has gone on in the past, how do we rectify what has happened? That is a conversation that needs to be had. I am sure there are thousands of human rights cases at this stage that could be taken to the European Court of Human Rights in regard to how people are living. How do we make recompense for that?

I recall when I first came into this Chamber, I was trying to support a girl from Tallaght who was housed in a hotel room in Sandymount, I think, and she did not drive. She felt she was a failure because she was still feeding bottled milk to her child who should have moved on to solid food because she did not have the capacity within the hotel room or the capacity to travel back to her family who lived in Tallaght. She needed to take a bus to town and another from town to Tallaght, which takes a lot of time. Therefore, she had to choose to leave her child on SMA milk or some sort of powdered milk when the child should have been progressing onto solid food. That is just one tiny issue. Can the House imagine all the stories and situations where people's health has been impacted for years to come, their mental health, their family situations, family breakdowns or addition that has been a result of homelessness? When we think of policy for the future to ensure it never happens again, how do we begin to actually address that? That has to be a massive part of the conversation when we talk about working together and looking to the future. A right to housing is good but, again, it is about action for the future and responsibility for what has happened.

I recall working with Safetynet during the lockdown. We were not sitting at the time, so I went and volunteered with Safetynet for a while. I had to visit a halting site to offer hepatitis vaccinations because Travellers were being exposed to hepatitis B in the water because of the conditions. I think, "God, that was 2021 in Ireland," when that was happening. Those are the substandard conditions that we are talking about that are a complete violation of people's human rights. As we look forward about how we do things, we probably need to have a conversation about how that recompense and support happens for people whose lives no housing policy in the future will be able to correct because the damage is so deep and prevalent. I ask Members to keep that in mind as well as we look forward to that idea of working together in how we can do housing differently.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 6.02 p.m. go dtí 10.30 a.m., Dé Déardaoin, an 3 Márta 2022.
The Seanad adjourned at 6.02 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 3 March 2022.