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Cabinet Committees

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 28 September 2021

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Questions (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20)

Alan Kelly


10. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met; and when it will next meet. [43262/21]

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Cian O'Callaghan


11. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met. [43652/21]

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Cian O'Callaghan


12. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach the role his Department will play in monitoring and implementing the Housing for All plan. [43653/21]

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Richard Boyd Barrett


13. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [43761/21]

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Paul Murphy


14. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [43764/21]

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Bríd Smith


15. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [43767/21]

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Mick Barry


16. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met. [43782/21]

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John Lahart


17. Deputy John Lahart asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met; and when it is next due to meet. [43816/21]

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Mary Lou McDonald


18. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the unit to be established in his Department with responsibility for ongoing monitoring and oversight of implementation of the Housing for All plan. [44741/21]

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Rose Conway-Walsh


19. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met; and when it will next meet. [44854/21]

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Paul McAuliffe


20. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will meet next. [44857/21]

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Oral answers (24 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 20, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on housing has met seven times to date in 2021, most recently on Monday, 30 August. The next Cabinet committee on housing is yet to be scheduled. The committee works to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of programme for Government commitments regarding housing and related matters.

The focus of recent meetings has been on the completion of the Housing for All plan, which the Government published on 2 September. Housing for All builds on much progress and hard work in recent years, despite the setbacks due to Covid-19. It is the most ambitious housing plan in the history of our State and contains a range of actions and measures to ensure more than 300,000 new homes will be built by 2030. This figure includes 90,000 social, 36,000 affordable purchase and 18,000 cost rental homes.

Crucially, the actions outlined in the plan are backed by more than €4 billion in annual guaranteed State investment in housing over the coming years, including through Exchequer funding and Land Development Agency and Housing Finance Agency investment. The plan includes measures to support availability of the land, workforce, funding and capacity to enable both the public and private sectors to meet the targets.

Through Housing for All, we will also continue to support our most vulnerable, including those experiencing homelessness and those who have more complex housing needs. The plan will provide the basis for a long-term sustainable housing system for this and future generations and supports the ambitions of the forthcoming climate action plan through measures on retrofitting and waste reduction.

There will be a strong focus on implementation of the Housing for All plan. A delivery group of Secretaries General will oversee delivery, and a unit in my Department will prepare quarterly progress reports on implementation of the plan. This will set out performance against the targets and actions in the plan in a clear and comprehensible way.

We need a moratorium on evictions and a three-year rent freeze. Last week the Government did not oppose the Labour Party's renters' rights Bill, proposed by Senator Moynihan and Deputy Bacik, but there does not seem to be any enthusiasm to change quickly the Government's policy or the law. We know from statistics that the main reasons for terminating a tenancy are the sale of the property, which accounts for 51% of reasons given, or the use of the home for a relative, which accounts for 24%. Our Bill would restrict evictions for these reasons and ensure families are protected. Will the Taoiseach work with the Opposition to bring forward to fruition and to enact the Labour Party's Bill? Will he commit to a three-year rent freeze?

In the previous election Fianna Fáil promised to build 10,000 affordable homes each year it is in office. These homes are nowhere to be seen. Since the Government has taken office, house prices have increased by more than 10%. In Housing for All the Government commits to giving about €1 billion in subsidies to developers. The Central Bank and the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, have both warned against these subsidies, which will push up house prices. Will the Government scrap these subsidies for developers, which will turbocharge house price increases, and instead use this funding to build affordable homes?

The people of Berlin have shown the sort of imagination that both the German Government and successive Irish governments distinctly lack when it comes to dealing with the housing crisis. Fed up with and sick of the lack of tenants' rights and completely extortionate rents, the people of Berlin, driven by a campaign from below, have made exactly the right call, which is to expropriate the big corporate landlords and the big investment funds and to take into public ownership the big portfolios of residential apartment and housing property to deliver controlled rents. That is a measure we should take here. We were alone in saying that pinning rent increases to the consumer price index, CPI, for example, would not be good enough and that we need actual rent controls. The people of Berlin are saying they need rent controls-----

Thank you, Deputy. Your time is up. Please leave some time for your colleagues.

-----to the extent that the state should actually take control. Why do we not follow the lead-----

Please, will you leave time for your colleagues?

-----the people in Berlin have given in a referendum?

The Government has said the strategic housing development, SHD, regime will be closed from February. The question is what the Government will do for those living with the consequences of that regime, a regime which effectively allowed the profits of the developers to be expedited and allowed the developers to bypass the regular planning process and the communities that have to live with the consequences of that. I will give the Taoiseach the example of Citywest, which has seen huge-scale development of largely build-to-rent apartments in a very short space of time with no investment in necessary community infrastructure - no library, no community centre, no investment in parks. What will be done to ensure those people in Citywest and in similar communities throughout the country have the community facilities that are needed to live quality lives, given the scale of development that has taken place in the context of SHDs being used?

The average price of a house rose by €24,000 last year - good news for those who own four homes but bad news for young workers. That is more than a year's salary for very many of them. The average price of a house in Cork city is now €307,000 - in other words, more than 12 times the annual salary of those young workers. Throughout the State, 42,600 mortgage approvals were granted in the year to June, yet only 31,300 drawdowns were made in the same period. These statistics seem to suggest that more than a quarter of those approved for mortgages were priced out of the housing market. Does the Taoiseach accept the housing market is treating young people in a viciously unfair fashion? Does he accept his Government will lose a hell of a lot of support among young people if these issues are not resolved very quickly?

I congratulate the Taoiseach on the Bloomberg report today which states Ireland is the best place to be at this stage in the pandemic. That is down to a significant degree to his stewardship of the Government during this period, and that should be acknowledged.

We are familiar with social housing lists. Every county or administrative area in the country has them. In the context of the Cabinet subcommittee on housing, will the Taoiseach consider establishing some kind of affordable housing list structure in order that the younger end of the population in particular can get a visual over time as to what sites will produce affordable housing, where they will be available, in what number and by what date, giving a tangible picture of the affordable housing roll-out that is coming downstream?

Following a meeting last April with the developer Hammerson, the Taoiseach took the extraordinary step of providing an endorsement quote for Hammerson's press statement when that developer announced submission of its Moore Street planning application to Dublin City Council. The Taoiseach may have welcomed its plan; however, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage did not. In fact, officials were and are deeply critical of Hammerson's planning application in their observations submitted to the council. In addition to their criticism of the extent of the demolition of the two terraces, they have described the demolition of No. 38 Henry Street as unnecessary and pushed for the retention of the historically important post-1916 buildings on Moore Street and Henry Street. Critically, the Department recommends that the council should consider whether an alternative design for the redevelopment of this site would allow for the retention and sensitive adaptation for use of these existing structures. Such an alternative design exists. The 1916 relatives' master plan for Moore Street-----

Your time is up, Deputy.

-----meets the historical, social, economic and sustainability thresholds set by the Department and the elected Members of this House and of Dublin City Council. I ask the Taoiseach to make a commitment today that he will meet with the relatives and their architect to hear and see at first hand the remarkable, appropriate plans they have developed for this site.

I wish to bring to the Taoiseach's attention the Rebuilding Ireland home loan and the anomaly in the scheme for people who have been divorced or separated or who are with long-term partners. They need to be considered in any reform. Under the current Rebuilding Ireland home loan there are technical exemptions from the first-time buyer clause for people have gone through a separation. However, this information is not being shared properly with people making applications. People are being refused despite actually qualifying in some local authority areas.

A separated person who has enough for a deposit from the sale of the family home but is refused a mortgage from financial institutions is then being refused assistance by the local authority and has nowhere to go. People in that situation, who often have children, are being driven into the private rental sector, where they are at the mercy of landlords and real estate investment funds. Families are often left in this very difficult situation with nowhere to go. Will the Taoiseach discuss this with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage with a view to including people who have suffered family breakdown in the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme?

I imagine the housing subcommittee will have an opportunity to examine the some 20 public housing sites in Ballymun that will avail of Housing for All finally to deliver public housing on public land for people who want to rent affordably or purchase or otherwise avail of social housing. Key to housing is infrastructure and, unfortunately, there has been significant doubt around the metro project in recent weeks. Last week, I asked the Tánaiste whether the Government had made a decision strategically to delay the project. I ask the Taoiseach to state again that the Government has not made, and will not make, a decision strategically to delay the project and that, if project delays have arisen with the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, they will be identified and minimised where possible.

I thank all the Deputies who put questions to me in respect of housing issues. I will first deal with rents generally, which covers a number of the questions. On the issue of a rent freeze, the Government has been advised in the strongest possible manner that it is unconstitutional to introduce a three-year freeze. I remember years ago, before an election, Opposition Members put forward a proposal for a commercial freeze. Subsequently, when people got into government, they could not do it because they were told it was unconstitutional. That was a previous government. It is easy to say things in opposition but, in this case, we are being told it is not possible.

The Minister is very committed to controlling rent price increases. There was the outgoing situation in July, at which time rent pressure zones, RPZs, were extended until the end of 2024 to prohibit any rent increase in an RPZ from exceeding general inflation, as recorded by the harmonised index of consumer prices, HICP. That measure significantly reduces the level of permissible rent increases for the estimated 74% of all tenancies that are in RPZs. In addition, until 2025, rent reviews outside RPZs may occur no more frequently than biannually and it remains the position that increases in RPZs can occur no more frequently than annually.

Housing for All commits to strengthening security of tenure, which was raised by Deputies, subject to legal advice, by legislating for tenancies of indefinite duration. Work in this area is under way. There has been increased funding for the housing assistance payment, HAP, to support new tenancies. An additional €2 million has been provided on top of what was there for the operational costs of the Residential Tenancies Board, bringing its funding to €11 million. A total of €10 million was allocated for the rental inspections programme for 2021 to assist local authorities to achieve inspection targets in respect of private rented accommodation. Since 16 July, the previous cap of 4% on annual rent increases was replaced, and rents on RPZs can only go up if necessary and in line with general inflation. As part of rent reform legislation due to be brought before the Oireachtas this session, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, will seek to ensure effective rent controls are legally enforced in RPZs by introducing a cap.

As I said, rents in RPZs will only go up, if necessary, in line with the general inflation as recorded in the harmonised index of consumer prices to a maximum cap that is yet to be determined. In essence, we want to do everything we possibly can to keep rents down to the lowest level possible. When the Minister brought in the harmonised index element, it was done in good faith. Obviously, international commodity prices have gone through the roof since then and there is a general global inflation drive that now means the provision has to be reviewed to see whether we can get a realistic cap to keep the levels of rent increases down. Prices are very high - too high for people - in cities. Ultimately, it is a matter of supply. We have to get building supply up. We must build more houses, including affordable houses, houses for rent and social housing, to take pressure off the HAP system and the private sector system and give people proper security of tenure in social housing. Progress has been made this year, notwithstanding the lockdown. The sector is coming back strongly in terms of commencements and so forth, but we will wait and see until the end of the year to get the figures in respect of that.

Deputy Lahart made a very good suggestion in respect of the need for a transparent, tangible picture of the affordability landscape for people who wish to buy a house, so that they have some sense of what is happening over time. That is a very fair point.

In terms of strategic development zones, which Deputy Murphy raised, the Minister is moving on the issue of their expiration and making sure the right amenities are put in place in largely built-up areas. That is ongoing work and significant capital funding has been allocated to local authorities to facilitate the provision of such amenities in large housing conurbations. The money is there.

In terms of the Hammerson development on O'Connell Street, the problem in that regard has been going on for decades. At the moment, it is terrible in terms of the dereliction that is there. The Government moved to secure the national monument by buying it. There is always a balance to be struck in these situations. I have no interest in going back ten or 20 years. We need to transform O'Connell Street and make it a modern, thriving street in a modern city like Dublin and give opportunities for people while also bringing to the fore as part of that, which has never really happened, the incredible heritage the 1916 site represents. There are opportunities now but we cannot keep putting it on the long finger. I regret to say this to Deputy McDonald but I get the sense there is a huge element of politics in this. I get the terrible sense that here is another campaign to undermine what is being done. Many people were involved in this-----

You are being completely paranoid about it.

I am not paranoid at all about it. What I will say is that a lot of people across this House were involved in trying to bring this to a conclusion, along with a lot of people, across the party divides, in the council.

It has not been brought to a conclusion.

Many people worked to get the project to where it is at now. If we go back again, there is no guarantee of a conclusion. It could take another ten to 15 years. That is a realistic perspective on it.

The key issue Deputy Conway-Walsh raised in terms of the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme is provided for, as I understand it, in terms of people who are divorced or separated. I will come back to the Deputy on it but my understanding is that they will have access, as they should, to the loans.

Deputy McAuliffe raised a key issue regarding the metro project. I think the Minister, Deputy Ryan, was misinterpreted in what he said. He was trying to give a realistic timeline as to what will happen with the metro given what we know about large infrastructural projects in terms of planning, compulsory purchase orders and all the rest of it.

We need to move on.

There is a commitment to doing it.

We have used up two minutes of the time allocated for the next group of questions, leaving 13 minutes.