I support this amendment.
It is important that we receive a detailed report on this matter. I opposed the scheme when the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Noonan, introduced it because it did what I forecast it would do. There is no doubt that it generated interest in the housing market, particularly among younger people who wanted to buy houses before prices started to escalate and who had, perhaps, already accumulated significant savings. In the Dublin West constituency, there are, as the Minister knows well, many houses being built. The fact is, however, that the window through which someone in the process of buying could make a gain was less than six weeks because the builders just increased the prices dramatically when the scheme was confirmed. Prices have been increasing ever since.
I appreciate that the Minister is now really caught in the cross-hairs in that it is almost impossible and extraordinarily difficult to withdraw a subsidy, particularly one relating to builders, once it is in place. The Minister should take a deep breath, however, and determine the value of the scheme at this time.
A more fundamental question arises. The attitude of the Minister for Finance is significant in this regard. Does Fine Gael envisage that this country should be one in which it is legitimate to aspire to own one's own home? There are those who spoke earlier who clearly believe that only local authorities should build houses. That is a reasonable point of view but the local authorities do not want to build and several Ministers responsible for housing, including the current one, have been trying desperately to persuade them that this is the right thing to do. For a variety of reasons, local authorities are not really engaged in building, other than in relatively small numbers and through housing associations. Bearing in mind that we all know Dublin's inner city very well, the problem with the housing association model is that the scale of activity is too small to meet the demand. The associations' activities are very good. The associations can be excellent and extremely supportive, particularly of people whose personal experience or problems affect their ability to obtain a home. If one comes through a period of homelessness, it takes time to recuperate. It can be absolutely awful for many people.
I wish to focus on affordability, which is critical in the kind of democracy and society we have. Let me use the example of a couple, perhaps in the Minister's Department, who have been working for ten to 12 years since graduating from college and who are now earning a reasonable amount of money and trying to save or, in the case of a select few, have access to the bank of mum and dad, thus allowing them to obtain some parental support. The latter is particularly the case if one is from a middle-class family. Parents may have valuable property, perhaps on the south side of Dublin. How can the couple in my example afford to buy a house, particularly if they are married and have children, or want to have children, or if they are in a long-term relationship? It is an existential question. It may also be the case for the Minister, but I am constantly involved in conversations with people who spend entire weekends looking at new and second-hand houses in the hope they can beat the escalator that is operating at present. The new home buyer's grant has driven this to an extent. The Minister's predecessor wanted to send a signal to the market, and the market got its signal. Prices were ramped up, but with no thought as to the wider social consequences.
Figures published recently show that the level of home ownership in Ireland is on a downward curve. Traditionally, most people in secure employment over a long period, be they working for the council, the Government or a private company, could aspire to buying their own homes. This trend is really under attack and the figures are sliding. My question is a fundamental one for Fine Gael, notwithstanding all its rhetoric about ownership. That figures are sliding is a dreadful comment on a Fine Gael-dominated and Fine Gael-led Government, and there is no sign that the slide has started to abate.
It is obvious, particularly in Dublin West, which is one of the largest development areas in the State and where approximately 1,000 houses are to be built at several different stages over the next three years, that land values are galloping once again. This is where there is a problem with structure and in respect of which one must consider actions one may be able to take and that certainly do not feature in the legislation. There are a number of quoted property companies. It is well worth their while, in terms of their stock market valuation, to sit on land because they are making money as they do so. The young people we all know are locked out of being able to buy, not necessarily at a cheap price but at a favourable one that would allow them to start family life and have the security of having a home. They will have very big mortgages but we know many families who, with two incomes, can actually manage in this regard.
Alongside this, there is an enormous need for social housing. I feel very sorry for the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. What capacity does he have to persuade the councils, on their own or together with housing associations, to scale up their activities in order to meet demand? At any given time in Irish society, approximately 30% of people do not have the capacity to fund the purchase of houses, either because they are in precarious or occasional employment or as a result of the fact that they simply cannot buy a site at a reasonable price if they are in a rural area and have some capacity to self-build, perhaps with family support.
I have described the model that has been in place. It was heavily ruptured by the crash and the collapse of the construction industry. I am really interested in knowing what the Minister intends to do to restart the model. There are many reports indicating that when NAMA offered apartments to local authorities, particularly South Dublin County Council and the others on the south side, they turned them down. I include the councillors in this. The apartments were turned down because, for some reason or another, a number of the areas in which they were located were not deemed to be appropriate for social or rented housing.
Irish history indicates that, for people on a good income, the rented housing model is not particularly sustainable. It is a fantasy of the people writing the property pages that everybody should be happy to rent a house as they are in Germany and northern Italy. If one rents a house in Germany or northern Italy, one can remain in it on an intergenerational basis. Therefore, one is not turfed out if one's mother or father dies, and one can sustain the rent. We really need to examine our models. Could the Minister for Finance tell us a little about how the help-to-buy scheme has helped people other than those who were involved at the very beginning?
The initiatives the Government has taken are insufficient. Many are very good, such as the allocation of funding, in which I was involved. However, it is being spent far too slowly. It is significant but I do not know what the Minister is going to do to speed up production.