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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 22 Sep 2022

Vol. 288 No. 5

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Antisocial Behaviour

I welcome the Minister for Justice to the House and thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule in her busy Department to take the first matter, which is a very important topic and which was debated in the House only yesterday and on Tuesday. I ask Senator Seery Kearney to commence the debate. The Senator has four minutes.

I thank the Minister. I appreciate her coming here in person. It shows her commitment, the response that she has made all week and the commitment that is there for the community in Cherry Orchard.

We have seen the videos online of what happened and they are horrific. I want to begin by condemning the actions against the two gardaí who went in there. They were treated in the most disgraceful and dangerous way and that is appalling. I express concern for them.

I have been working with community groups in the Cherry Orchard area for quite some time. When one first meets the groups, they will point over to the shadow of the prison walls. Within that community, one is looking over at a huge wall of a prison. One is looking into a community that has one shop that is the ground floor of a converted house. It is not even is a purpose-built shop. There are no main facilities. There is the beacon of light that is the St. Ultan's school and a complex and they have childcare. They have a whole heap of supports that are extraordinary and the people there are extraordinary. There is the work of the equestrian centre and the youth justice programme that is there. However, they are all working in a situation with the gardaí who are based in Ballyfermot Garda station to try at all times to support that community against what is a small minority of organised criminals working in that area and controlling much of what occurs in the area.

People show great initiative. They go out and they work. Some I have spoken to who have bricks through their windows when they take the initiative in their community, for example, when they get concerned and go out and clear the playground of drug paraphernalia. They experience repercussion. They experience intimidation as a consequence of that.

I wrote to the Minister earlier in the year when we were drawing together a group of all the public representatives for the community and I was given a reasonably comprehensive and impressive policing plan and told of meetings, etc., that were going on. I appreciate that the narrative and, quite probably, the truth is that it was retaliation for action by the Garda over the weekend that there was this sudden display of arrogance and contempt for the rule of law but one car coming from Ballyfermot Garda station with two female officers into what was clearly a frightening situation stands in marked contrast to the policing plan that I saw earlier in the year.

According to the discussions I have had on the ground, there are inadequate resources and yet we have a Commissioner who believes that there are adequate resources. I suppose there is a disconnect between the perception in Garda management and the reality and experience on the ground. We need bespoke responses for communities that already feel marginalised, on the edge of society and forgotten and that fear we are losing youth workers. I appreciate that is bigger than the Department. As I said, I will come back to it. We need a cross-departmental task force to respond.

In terms of increased funding this year, they were invited to apply for the Garda youth diversion fund. They got €45,000, which on any day is a good result, but they need a great deal more than that. They need even more resources. I ask for a concerted effort to treat this in the same way that we have other intervention programmes and to dramatically intervene here.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. As the Senator said, it is not the first time she has raised this. Obviously, this is an ongoing concern for members of the community.

If I could, I will start by supporting the Senator in condemning what happened the other evening. It is utterly unacceptable that any community should have to put up with this kind of behaviour, as the Senator said, on their doorsteps where people go to work, where children play and where people live, but it is also not acceptable that members of An Garda Síochána, who are just doing their best to keep people safe, would be attacked in this kind of way. I want to convey my best wishes to both members of An Garda Síochána following what they went through. I wish them well.

We will always support communities affected by anti-social behaviour and this type of behaviour. I want to be clear to those who are responsible, irrespective of what age they are and irrespective of other issues that are going on and, obviously, the wider response that is needed, that it cannot and will not be tolerated. The Garda is working closely with the local team on the ground and with the community to make sure that those who are responsible are caught and that there are repercussions.

Some people said during the week there is no point in asking people to come forward or go to the Garda because they are afraid but if gardaí do not have the information that they need when this type of behaviour and activity happens, they cannot do their job. There are confidential ways in which people can come forward and I would appeal to members of the community if there is information that they have to come forward so that we can respond to this effectively.

Separately, I have asked the Garda Commissioner to look at what more we can do on anti-social behaviour, to look at the laws that we have and how they are being implemented, and to look at progress that is being made, be it in the area of scramblers or the whole-of-community response. That is something he is already doing on which he will come back to me. It is not specific to Cherry Orchard but part of a wider discussion around anti-social behaviour that we must have.

It is important to stress, as the Senator outlined, that it has not been felt but there was, based on many concerns that the Senator and others have raised, an increased presence in the area. There have been a number of operations in the area. In particular Operation Préachán, which started in the late summer, has resulted in seven people being arrested only in the past few weeks and brought before the courts with strict bail conditions. There were curfews in place on some of the individuals. It is that type of policing that we need to see continue. It is that type of clear determined response that the community need to see happening and continue on an ongoing basis.

There is support from the public order unit for the Dublin Metropolitan Region and many of the other policing units but I appreciate, and I will take the feedback that the Senator is giving me, that people are perhaps not seeing it as much on the ground even though there has been an increased presence and an increased number of gardaí for the area, not only since Monday but over the past number of months in response to some of the concerns that the Senator and others in the community have been raising. I have been given a commitment from the local chief superintendent, Chief Superintendent Murphy, that his increase in resources will continue until this issue is addressed.

This is symptomatic of a wider societal problem. The Senator outlined that there was one shop in the area and few resources. For a community of this size, it is not adequate. We all need to respond collectively, not only a criminal justice response but working with the community. There are fantastic members in the community. Dublin City Council has a regeneration plan for the area. We need to get that up and running. We need to have the full support of Dublin City Council, of the justice sector and the local Garda, but also the community. That is something that I am working to bring together. I will work with Senator Seery Kearney and others to make sure that that happens.

I will outline - and I can give the figures to the Senator - the youth justice strategy to which she referred. The overall funding trebled last year and there was an increase of €6.7 million provided through the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne. That has allowed us to significantly expand on the types of resources and the programmes that are there to try to get to the root of things and stop it from getting to the point of scenes such as we saw on Monday last.

Specifically, for this area, there was approximately €300,000 last year. There is €148,000 for two full-time youth justice workers and one part-time project manager. In June, there was additional funding of more than €92,000 for a family support worker and one new early intervention worker. The Cherry Orchard Developing Youth, CODY, which is in Cherry Orchard, received further funding of almost €63,000. That is specifically to work with young people involved in the anti-social use of scramblers and quad-bikes and related crime. These type of projects take time. It is not an overnight fix.

However, the more investment like that we can have, the more we will get to people at a younger age and the better it is for them and, most importantly, for the community.

It is important to look at it from two aspects: the community response and how to support the community in the wider picture, and also the Garda and its response. I assure the Senator there will be an increased presence. The Garda will continue to do the work it has been doing. It will make it very clear that this type of behaviour is not acceptable but, also, that where crimes are being committed there are repercussions and that people are held responsible. I will continue to work very closely with Senator Carey as we try to respond in the most effective way possible.

We will get my name right one of these days. I thank the Minister for that response. With the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, I visited the youth justice programme there which was extraordinarily creative through Covid when it had to go out to meet young people. It had to change how it engaged with young people who were used to either visiting the centre and then did not want people coming to their homes. The programme was creative in working with the youth. Certainly, putting considerable resources into that would be very important because we need to give the young people that can get attracted to crime an alternative. It is very attractive to be a somebody in certain cohorts and to be supplied with jackets and runners. Mothers have spoken to me about how they combat that. They are working two or three jobs to try to combat the attraction for their young people. It is very important that we combat that in a very intentional way. We have been talking about the Minister coming down to visit the area. I know all of that is in train and I am very grateful. I am anxious to progress that and work, in particular, with the parish priest there, Fr. Michael Murtagh, who has been very good.

I thank the Senator for the invitation. I will be in the area to respond and meet with the Senator, others and the community. This needs to be a holistic and long-term response. It cannot just be overnight and in the coming weeks.

The Senator touched on a longer-term and wider issue which is organised crime. People are preying on young people because they can give them nice things and show them a life that they think is wonderful which really leads them down only one path which is to prison that the Senator mentioned or even worse. I hope to publish legislation in the coming weeks on which we have been working around the coercion of minors, to try to prevent younger people being captured into this life which is very difficult to get out of. It means that communities such as this are in a constant spiral of never being able to get out. It is part of the wider problem with which we need to deal. Obviously I look forward to working with the Senator on that legislation and making sure we can progress it. I thank the Senator for raising this issue and I look forward to meeting with her and members of the community in the coming week or so.

European Union

I am very pleased that the Minister has come in because I have raised some of these issues before with her in the previous Dáil. I am delighted she is here and I thank her being here.

Six Syrian migrants, including three children, died from thirst and hunger last week while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. The children were aged just one, two and 12. They had drifted at sea for days before eventually being picked up by a merchant ship and taken to Sicily. More than 1,200 people have died at sea in the Mediterranean this year, adding to the tally of 25,000 deaths since 2014. Of course, that figure of 1,200 is most likely a significant underestimate of the true figure, as many human beings undertake these journeys and simply disappear without trace.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, these deaths are a direct result of the EU's decision to prioritise border security over sea rescue and says that the EU has abdicated its responsibility to ensure search and rescue in the Mediterranean and that no EU ships actively patrol anywhere near where most boats enter distress.

What is even more disturbing is the EU decision to effectively outsource search and rescue to a group of bandits and criminals who go by the name of the Libyan Coast Guard. I have raised that issue with the Minister before. The role of the Libyan Coast Guard is not to save people but, rather, to round them up, push them back and incarcerate them where they are subject to murder, extortion, torture, rape and slavery. A UN Human Rights Council investigation has found that the Libyan Coast Guard has been involved in "the commission of serious violations, abuses and crimes, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, against the most vulnerable". If the Minister has taken the time to read the book by the award-winning Irish journalist, Sally Hayden, entitled My Fourth Time, We Drowned, she will already know all of this and, yet, the EU is happy to continue to train and fund this so-called coast guard.

The same EU governments and institutions have largely turned a blind eye to unlawful and dangerous push backs of boats to Turkey by Greece in the Aegean Sea. These push backs by the Greek authorities have resulted in 513 separate cases being filed at the European Court of Human Rights. A host of well-respected human rights NGOs have declared that Greece is involved with push backs, including the UNHCR, the committee for the prevention of torture, the International Organization of Migration, the UN special rapporteur, Mary Lawlor, who is another fine Irish woman, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, to name just a few.

Numerous harrowing videos available on social media show masked men on boats, that are clearly identifiable as Hellenic coast guard police, involved in push backs involving terror and violence. Last Monday, I directly challenged the Greek minister for migration, Notis Mitarachi, during a committee meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PACE, that I chaired. His response was to declare all of this evidence and testimonies to be, "fake news". Who does that remind the Minister of?

Another very sinister development is the criminalisation of human rights defenders across Europe. Human rights defenders and journalists who have been involved in providing humanitarian assistance to migrants and asylum seekers are the main targets of persistent acts of harassment and intimidation. Sarah Mardini, the Syrian competitive swimmer who was hailed as a hero for saving refugees when she swam out to sea to save a boat and pulled it back to shore, is among dozens of humanitarian workers in Greece facing charges that could see them imprisoned for decades. Indeed, an Irishman, Seán Binder, is facing up to 25 years in jail if convicted of espionage and other charges for the crime of trying to save lives in the territorial waters of Greece. Human Rights Watch has likened these court actions to putting life saving on trial.

The Government is in a unique position to make a difference here. Our Government holds the presidency of the committee of ministers at the Council of Europe, which will be addressed by the Minister of State, Thomas Byrne, the week after next. Will the Government make a clear call for the EU to urgently increase search-and-rescue missions to save lives? Will it condemn the ongoing EU support for the disgraced Libyan Coast Guard? Will the Minister clearly call for an end to push backs by the Greek Government and, indeed, all governments? Will the Government condemn the criminalisation of human-rights defenders?

My colleague sends his apologies for not being able to be here but I am pleased to be able to take this matter. The Government recognises and the Minister, in particular, has argued that the migration crisis confronting Europe is a major challenge that needs to be urgently addressed. It is not a straightforward fix but something on which we need to get a handle. Otherwise, the ordinary men, women and, indeed, babies and children about which the Senator just spoke, will continue to die making these dangerous crossings into the EU, including the Mediterranean and Aegean seas.

The terrible events in Ukraine have shown us that the need to flea can arise anywhere in the world. Migration is not just something that happens to other parts of the world, but it does indeed have wide-ranging causes and effects and can impact anyone, anywhere. The world currently faces an unprecedented series of humanitarian crises such as the food-security crisis which is indeed exasperated by Russia's aggression against Ukraine. These, in addition to longer-standing issues of poverty, instability and lack of opportunity, leave many people feeling that their only choice is to leave their home and risk perilous journeys to what they hope will be a better life. These journeys all too often end in tragedy.

Ireland has consistently stated that it believes migration should be safe, orderly and regular and we are absolutely committed to the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration which was agreed in the UN in 2018. This followed on from the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, co-facilitated by Ireland in 2016, where UN member states recognised the need for a comprehensive approach to human mobility and enhanced co-operation at the global level. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration aims to reduce the risks and vulnerability that migrants face at different stages of migration, by respecting, protecting and fulfilling their human rights and providing them with care and assistance.

The global compact aims to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities migrants face at different stages of migration by respecting, protecting and fulfilling their human rights and providing them with care and assistance. It also seeks to address the legitimate concerns of states and communities on the issue of migration and strives to create conducive conditions that enable all migrants to participate in and contribute to socioeconomic development.

We have consistently urged effective action at EU level. We fully support EU efforts to deal with the migration issue comprehensively and holistically, including through resettlement and increased legal pathways for migration; addressing root causes of forced migration, which the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, has championed and stressed, particularly among our African colleagues; and reforming the common European asylum system. We need to prevent the crossings and behaviour mentioned by the Senator by offering other solutions to people.

Migration is a huge challenge for many of our partners, including our front-line partners, some of which have been mentioned by the Senator. They include Greece, Italy and Malta. We have consistently urged the need for fairer burden-sharing and have stated there must be greater solidarity and responsibility on the part of all if any progress is to be made. Progress is slow, which is extremely frustrating. We are continuing to engage constructively in discussions on the Commission's migration pact proposals, which offer a template for the kind of collective response I have outlined and that is needed by the EU to address this crisis.

Regarding our own response, we have tried to step up wherever and whenever possible. Since 2015, Ireland has accepted nearly 3,800 people under the Irish refugee protection programme. The current phase will see Ireland welcome up to 2,900 people between 2020 to 2023. This includes people who have been forced to flee Afghanistan.

Of course, we have to date also welcomed over 50,000 Ukrainians fleeing Russia's illegal war and invasion. I have no doubt that this number will increase.

Ireland is supporting humanitarian responses worldwide with an allocation of €113 million for Irish Aid's humanitarian action in 2022, including funding of €24 million to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR.

Ireland has also provided humanitarian assistance, in solidarity with other member states, by pledging to take people rescued in the Mediterranean and to process their applications for international protection. Where there are issues in the Mediterranean, Ireland has never been found wanting. Where our help has been sought, we have always stepped up and made sure that help has been offered. By way of example, we were very pleased to welcome 21 asylum seekers, transferred from Malta last year, as a gesture of solidarity and humanitarian assistance. These actions are a vital part of upholding our responsibilities in helping those fleeing the most harrowing of circumstances, such as war and persecution.

I thank the Minister for the response. I am a little disappointed because the greatest human rights scandal of the 21st century is people losing their lives in the Mediterranean and the Greek seas. The reason they are losing their lives, according to the UNHCR, is the absence of search-and-rescue operations by governments. I have made a clear request to the Minister this morning to make the call to increase search-and-rescue operations by governments in the EU. Unfortunately, she has not yet said this is a clear call that the Irish Government will make. I hope she will in her final response.

I genuinely cannot understand, and do not believe there is any excuse for, the complete silence of the Irish Government on the EU support for the Libyan coastguard. This is an organisation that is involved in rape, torture, murder and war crimes. This has been detailed. Silence is not a good enough response. We are chairing the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. I want to see an Irish Minister stand up for human rights and call out these crimes, and also call on our brothers and sisters in Greece to ensure push-backs are brought to an end. Of course, we need to see equal burden-sharing and greater support for Greece, but, above all, we need to speak up for human rights; otherwise, what is the point in our having such a high position at the committee of ministers?

I utterly condemn those who are taking advantage of vulnerable people, encouraging people to cross the Mediterranean and sending people to their death. I utterly condemn those who are mistreating those seeking help. I stress that Ireland has always used its voice, as a small country on the periphery of what is happening, to speak up for those who need our help, encourage a more comprehensive and holistic response, and encourage burden-sharing. We have always offered support where it is needed, be it through taking in migrants or carrying out search-and-rescue missions, and we will continue to encourage the type of response needed to protect as many people as possible. The ultimate objective should be to get to the root cause and prevent people from crossing in the first instance. That is something that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, will continue to champion in his role and while we hold the Presidency of the Council of Europe. I utterly condemn those who are mistreating people and profiteering from those who are trying to flee to safety. We will continue to do everything we can to support and help the latter.

Regulatory Bodies

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, to the House. It is good to have her here.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the Chamber this morning.

I absolutely recognise the need for lending control and guidelines from the Central Bank on the importance of that lending control. We all learned an important and very hard-learned lesson over a decade ago when exactly the kind of lending we are trying to prevent allowed things to get out of control and create huge economic problems. In raising this matter, I am in no way seeking to undermine the importance of those measures or many of the tenets of those measures.

People will be aware that the measures I am talking about are essentially the guidelines the Central Bank issues to lenders on the extent to which borrowers can obtain mortgages. That is specifically what I want to focus on. Most people cannot get a mortgage for more than 80% of the value of the property being bought, which means one must have a deposit of 20% available to one. That is the case for the vast majority of people who are second or subsequent buyers of a house, apartment or other property. A small number of people qualify under what are called the first-time buyer criteria. They are allowed to borrow up to 90% of the value of the property. They are required to garner a deposit of only 10%. Let us be in no doubt but that this is still a challenge for many, which is understandable. In fact, I understand from my own circumstances how difficult it can be.

That the guidelines are in place is important but the manner in which they are applied is a little inconsistent. I agree with the 20% provision. It exists to ensure people will have the capacity to repay their loans and not end up in default or losing their homes, which, in fairness, is uncommon in this country. Banks complain about this but I believe the measure is important.

In the constituency where I live, Dún Laoghaire, the average price of a home is over €500,000. Therefore, a person who has bought a one-bedroom apartment and who now needs to move out because he or she has a family must gather a deposit of over €100,000. For most, that is absolutely unattainable, certainly in the medium term. It is an amount that you might be able to save over a decade or similar period. However, to obtain that amount to get a mortgage is really difficult. That is as may be, but there is an inconsistency affecting people who have to start again for some reason. Where a relationship breaks down and one partner has to leave the family home, which might have been purchased 15 years ago, for example, the person leaving the home, who has to set up again, still has to find a 20% deposit. Even though such people are not first-time buyers, there is a basis on which we should be saying they should qualify under the first-time buyer criteria. Equally, where only one member of a couple owns the one-bedroom apartment in which they live, the other member is denied the opportunity to be a first-time buyer if they decide to buy a family home together.

This may be a busy week for officials working in the Department of Finance but I suggest that as we consider the crisis facing young people buying homes in Ireland today, we should be flexible in applying the lending rules, where appropriate. Very often, there are people who cannot buy homes or afford to get a mortgage, with all the difficulties that come with that. Even though they are not technically regarded as first-time buyers under the criteria, they should still qualify. That they do not is a major obstacle for them. I ask the Department to consider the guidelines, work with the Central Bank and state that while first-time buyers are first-time buyers, there are other categories of people, including those who have to start again and those whose relationships may have broken down, who should also be considered. Someone in a relationship with a first-time buyer should not be discommoded by the status of that person.

We should consider having some flexibility of those limits to allow greater access to the mortgage market for some buyers.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I am taking this on behalf of the Minister for Finance as he is taking oral questions in the Dáil at present.

In February 2015, the Central Bank of Ireland, in line with its mandate to protect and safeguard financial stability, first put in place new macro-prudential measures for residential mortgage lending. These measures apply proportionate loan-to-value and loan-to-income limits to mortgage lending by regulated financial service providers in the Irish market. The key objective of these measures is to increase the resilience of the banking and household sectors to the property market and to reduce the risk of bank credit and house price spirals from developing in the future. This is of particular significance for Ireland given that mortgage lending constitutes a large part of overall bank lending.

These macro-prudential measures apply certain loan-to-value, LTV, and loan-to-income, LTI, restrictions to residential mortgage lending by financial institutions regulated by the Central Bank. At present, the maximum mortgage limits are 3.5 times the borrower's income and, for first-time buyers, 90% of the value of the residential property. For second and subsequent buyers the maximum mortgage limits are 3.5 times the borrower's income and 80% of the value of the residential property, as the Senator mentioned.

However, banks and other regulated lenders also have a limited flexibility to provide a mortgage loan in excess of the specified regulatory limits at their discretion. For example, in respect of first-time buyers, up to 5% of lending to such borrowers may exceed the LTV cap of 90%, while up to 20% of lending may exceed the LTI cap of 3.5 times the borrower's income. For second and subsequent buyers, up to 20% of lending to such borrowers may exceed the LTV cap of 80%, while up to 10% of lending may exceed the LTI cap of 3.5 times the borrower's income.

The Central Bank has indicated that these lending measures have contributed to an improvement in the credit quality of new mortgage loans by guarding against a return to lending at high LTI and LTV ratios, such as those observed in the past. The Central Bank is the macro prudential authority for Ireland and has the lead responsibility for safeguarding and protecting financial stability. This in addition to its responsibility for the prudential supervision of individual financial service firms and the protection of consumers. The power to make regulations for the proper and effective regulation of financial service providers, including macro prudential measures to control lending by such institutions, is provided for in the Central Bank Act of 2013 and that is the power utilised by the Central Bank to set out the mortgage lending rules. Therefore, the various lending thresholds and detailed aspects of the lending rules is an independent matter for the Central Bank.

Since their introduction, the Central Bank has kept the rules under regular review and has made a number of adjustments from time to time. However, the bank has come to the view that it is now time for a more comprehensive review of the mortgage measures framework to ensure the measures continue to remain fit for purpose in light of changes to our financial system and economy since they were first introduced. This comprehensive review is ongoing and will assess the objectives of the mortgage measures and whether they remain appropriate. The review will also consider the tools that are used and the factors taken into account when setting their levels. It is expected that the Central Bank will conclude its review before the end of this year. I will let the Senator come in and I will continue with my response later.

I totally understand the week before the budget is not a good time for officials or Ministers in the Department of Finance, therefore, I have no difficulty with the fact that the Minister could not be here.

I recognise what the Central Bank said about the improvement in the credit quality of new mortgage loans by guarding against a return to lending at high loan-to-income and loan-to-value rates, such as those observed in the past. I recognised the importance of the limits and the Minister of State kindly acknowledged that as well. I do not have an issue with the LTI provisions. What I am saying is that the 20% deposit is insurmountable for many people. I am delighted about the decision of the Central Bank to do a more comprehensive review of this. While the bank is right that it has led to an improvement in credit standards and quality, it has also led to a situation where many young people, those coming out of relationships that have broken down, find it incredibly difficult if not impossible to obtain a mortgage for a home, be it a first or a second home.

In raising this matter in the House - I think the Minister of State has acknowledged this and the Central Bank is probably aware of it, to one extent or another - I am asking for great flexibility and that people in certain categories should not be locked out of the mortgage market as they are de facto at present. I hope the Central Bank review, which it will conduct in a comprehensive fashion, will bring about a change of mind in respect of some lenders.

I must acknowledge the comprehensive response provided by the Department of Finance. It shows the flexibility and willingness of the Central Bank to engage and its openness, through the consultation period and the review, in recognition of changes in circumstances and different needs of people as well as the make-up of families. I will take that back to the Minister and I thank the Senator for raising this matter.

Housing Policy

I welcome the Minister to the House. The matter I raise is a continuation of a similar theme. Getting the maximum number of people housed is the issue.

Housing for All, the Government's multi-annual, multi-euro programme, is aimed at improving Ireland's housing system and delivering more homes for all types of people with all types of housing needs. We are all aware in this House that housing policy is undergoing a period of immense reform. We are also in agreement that such reform is necessary to prevent the housing crisis from being exacerbated in the years ahead.

Few would disagree that Ireland's planning system is excessively complicated and burdensome. In fact, it is for that very reason that my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is setting out to reduce the legal red tape that is hindering the construction industry's ability to accelerate the development of thousands of new homes. I call on him to continue the acceleration of that process, which I know he will do. One must condemn nimbyism in these Chambers. Everyone must see the bigger picture in these times of difficulty.

To develop more much-needed housing, it is essential that our planning system is aligned with the Government's housing delivery objectives. It is imperative that we get this right. We can have the best intentions, but if the practical implementation of current planning guidelines make certain developments unviable, that needs to be examined. A key goal in both the national planning framework and the national development plan is the compact growth of cities and towns in a way that creates more attractive places to live and work, preventing urban sprawl. We have all heard the anecdotes of apartment developments that have been granted planning permission but are not being built because they are unviable. A strong case can be made for the construction of apartment buildings in our cities - I believe they should be higher but we will come back to that later - and much less of a case can be made for those same units being built outside of our cities. This is the difficulty faced in some of our commuter towns. We are building apartments to adhere to the planning density regulations but demand is not there for those apartments. The apartments cost an average of €450,000 to build compared with €300,000 for a house. Therefore, there is the whole issue of unviability that needs to be looked at.

In some instances, apartments are being built in suburban developments not because they are attractive to owner-occupiers, but because they are necessary to bring developments in line with planning density regulations. Without them, developments would not reach the required density and, therefore, we need imaginative responses. We need smaller houses based on the continental model. Family size and cultures change and that should be reflected in housing size, without going at it radically.

More supply is the only way to meet the high level of demand that exists for housing. We need to examine ways to introduce a more streamlined planning approval process with a set timetable on the part of An Bord Pleanála and to take measures to address the current backlog of planning appeals. The current practice is bizarre. Does the Minister of State, on behalf of the Minister, believe that changes to planning guidelines and regulations concerning house design, site layout and density would assist in the availability of housing? It comes down to increasing planning system efficiency to increase availability.

I have other points but in the last minute I will come back to the review under way in the Department. How is that progressing? We must look at the whole design, the green areas in front of houses, more allotments for individual families, as well as smaller pitches perhaps, that is, the complex changes there that would utilise space better. I look forward to the Minister of State’s response.

I thank Senator O'Reilly for raising this matter. I am answering on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Peter Burke. The compact growth of cities and towns of all sizes to create more attractive places in which people can live and work is a key objective of the national planning framework, NPF. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is in the process of developing sustainable and compact settlement guidelines, SCSGs, for planning authorities under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act. The SCSGs will supersede current section 28 ministerial guidelines for planning authorities on sustainable residential development in urban areas and the sustainable residential development guidelines last issued in 2009. The SCSGs will also supplement other relevant guidelines such as the sustainable urban housing design standards for new apartment guidelines for planning authorities of 2020, as well as the urban development and building heights guidelines for planning authorities of 2018. A working group was convened in June 2022 to work through key issues. The working group included representation from the construction industry, private built environment practitioners, professional bodies and the public sector. The group, via a series of workshops in June, August and September 2022 discussed the interrelated issues of density, viability, land use, transportation, place-making and quality design. This included general discussion in regard to housing standards and the potential for new and more compact housing typologies seen in other countries at suitable locations in Ireland. Following completion, the draft guidelines will be placed on display for a focused period of public consultation. This is targeted for quarter 4 of 2022. All interested parties will have an opportunity to make submissions on the guidelines at that stage. Submissions made during the public consultation period will be reviewed and where appropriate and necessary, amendments will be made to the published draft. The guidelines will then be submitted for approval and publication by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Once published planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála will be required to have regard to the guidelines in carrying out their functions.

That is the Minister's response but if I could, in the allotted time, as Minister of State with responsibility for disability, I would like a moment to build on that. When we talk about the guidelines I hope that people from the disability community would also participate in the consultation. It is important to discuss universal design and accessibility. When we talk about the various models and standardisation of the houses, within that we should also have the standardisation of houses that would be suitable for persons with disabilities and their various needs to be incorporated. They would be part of the overall plan for living within their communities. The motto of people with disabilities, “nothing about us without us”, should also pertain to the development of how we look at developing our Housing for All strategy to ensure everybody in the community has a right to access housing.

I could not agree more with the Minister of State's latter comments. The current guidelines came into operation in 1999. They have not been updated since 2009. That makes the review and updating of them very urgent. I am happy to note that there is commitment to immediate progress. We should be looking more at modular homes. We should look at timber-framed homes and at building up in the cities. Look at the situation on the Continent. We can build up in the cities in a way that is beautiful and intelligent. We have to become creative and imaginative because we cannot have people unhoused and almost fiddle while Rome burns. We must act in a proactive way to deal with this.

The national planning framework sets out the vision and strategic objectives to support Ireland's national, regional and local spatial development in economic, environmental and social terms to 2040. The delivery of increased supply of sustainable, affordable homes for people is an integral part of this vision and remains the Government's top priority. The sustainable and compact settlement guidelines currently being developed by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the draft of which will be published by the end of the year, will support this increase in housing supply while also supporting the development of sustainable and amenable neighbourhoods that promote a high quality of life for residents. The significant potential for new housing typologies to meet the need of Ireland's diverse household types has been recognised and officials from the Department will continue to explore these issues.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 11.26 a.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 12.02 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 11.26 a.m. and resumed at 12.02 p.m.