Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 9 Apr 2019

Vol. 981 No. 6

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Housing Loans

Darragh O'Brien


60. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the funding status of the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16449/19]

This is an opportune moment to ask the Minister to clarify what the position is with the funding status of the Rebuilding Ireland home loans scheme.

It is especially opportune in light of the additional information I received through the freedom of information procedure to the effect that the Department knew as of last September that there were issues with monitoring. Will the Minister tell me whether the scheme is still frozen? Several local authorities are telling applicants that they cannot process applications or issue loans. They maintain this is because they have been told the money has been expended and they have not been given a new allocation. Will the Minister clarify the position?

I thank the Deputy for the question. The Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme was launched on 1 February of last year to replace the existing house purchase and home choice loan schemes. It provides a new line of mortgage finance that includes fixed rates over 25 to 30 years to creditworthy first-time buyers who cannot access sufficient mortgage finance from a commercial lender. The Housing Finance Agency borrowed €200 million to fund the scheme. It was estimated that the drawdown would be approximately €200 million over the three years. Some criticism at the time suggested that insufficient loans were being approved and drawn down. However, as Minister I had made a commitment to seek further funding at an early stage, if necessary, given my belief in the scheme's potential. The scheme has been more successful than anticipated. By the end of January €106 million had been drawn down. That accounted for 53% of the available funding at a point when €66 million would have been more consistent with the expectation of a three-year drawdown period. By the end of March of this year drawdowns had reached €127 million.

My officials have kept me informed regularly regarding progress on the loan scheme. They have been engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform since October of last year when higher lending and drawdown volumes were beginning to materialise. I informed the Dáil on 29 January of this year of the scheme's success and of the need for additional funding. Furthermore, I indicated that my Department was in discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance with regard to the allocation for 2019. Local authorities could continue to accept applications as the total funding had not been drawn down. A meeting with the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform took place on 5 March of this year. Ongoing discussions between the three Departments have included consultation with the Central Bank as recently as last Friday, 5 April. When these discussions have concluded I will be in a position to confirm the level of allocation for 2019. In the meantime, the scheme remains open - it is not frozen - and all local authorities have been advised to continue to receive and process applications.

I do not know where to start. For local authorities to receive and process applications is one thing but to issue loan offers is another. How many local authorities are not allowing the drawdown of those funds? I imagine the Minister has heard in recent days of testimony from several individuals throughout the country from south Dublin to Waterford. People applying to several local authorities have been unable to get the funds. The Minister says the scheme is open and is accepting applications. The local authorities may be processing applications up to the point of the issuing of the loan offer, but they are not processing them any further and that is the issue. In many instances those who have made an offer on a house at the moment cannot draw down the loan. What is the actual position? The Minster can say that the scheme is open but the local authorities are not concluding the processing of applications.

Will the Minister inform the House when a new round of funding will be confirmed by the Department of Finance? When will we know that additional funds have been allocated? Last September, the Department was still noting the fact that the take-up was slow. Monitoring was a major problem between the Housing Finance Agency and the Department. We need to give clarity to those who are depending on a Rebuilding Ireland loan to be able to purchase a home.

I thank the Deputy for the follow-up question. First, as I confirmed to Deputy O'Brien at a recent meeting of the joint committee, all approvals given to date by credit committees and local authorities will be honoured. There should be no hesitation or pause in facilitating the drawdown of those loans where an approval has been made by the credit committee. Of the €200 million provision, only €127 million has been drawn down. In fact, if we drill into the detail, only €85 million has actually been drawn down by the local authorities from the Housing Finance Agency. There is more than enough funding in the scheme at present to honour the approvals for drawdown.

The Deputy asked about allocations for this year. The money is available for drawdown and more money will be made available. Local authorities need not wait for their allocations for 2019. We will honour any approval given by a credit committee of a local authority. They can continue to do that. If we find examples of where that is not happening - there was one on the radio today - we get in touch with the local authority to ask why it is not happening.

I am very sorry for the confusion that is in some local authority areas. The confusion is not because of anything the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government or the Housing Finance Agency are doing. Where there are difficulties we will work to address them.

I genuinely welcome that clarification. It is really important. The message the Minister is giving in response to the questions I am asking on behalf of Fianna Fáil is that there should be no impediment to any of the loans or mortgages approved as of now being drawn down. Will the Minister indicate whether the Department will issue a written directive to the local authorities, including South Dublin County Council and Waterford City and County Council? South Dublin County Council has not permitted drawdown of mortgages since December last. Why is that?

I genuinely welcome the clarification from the Minister. It is important. There is confusion, although it has not been brought about by this side of the House. I put it to the Minister that we should get those loans that have been approved drawn down should the applicants need them. I call on the Minister to continue to update the House and give us some timeframe for when he envisages additional funds will be allocated and when the 2019 allocations will be made. People are making loan applications but are unsure whether they will ever be able to get to the stage of drawdown. We need to clear this up once and for all.

Like Deputy O'Brien or any other Deputy in the House, it makes me angry when I hear of a couple or individual who are trying to buy a home and who have been given approval for a mortgage but who are then unable to draw down the mortgage and thus potentially unable to complete the transaction they have entered into where they have gone sale agreed with someone who is selling a home. This is why it is important to clarify the matter and I thank Deputy O'Brien for affording me the opportunity to clarify that any loan from a credit committee that has been approved is to be honoured and the drawdown is to be facilitated by that local authority. We are not to be getting in the way of people buying homes. I issued a circular to local authorities recently clarifying that the scheme is still open and that they are still to continue to process applications.

The Deputy asked about funding allocations for 2019. Again, there is more than sufficient funding in place at present for local authorities to be able to draw down from the Housing Finance Agency. They can continue to access that money and lend it.

Does the Minister have any idea of the timeframe?

Discussions are under way between me and the Minister for Finance. These are ongoing but a decision is imminent. I hope to be in a position to make an allocation for 2019 shortly.

Social and Affordable Housing

Eoin Ó Broin


61. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to outline the reason for the significant variance in the cost of the management and maintenance in the first tranche of social housing public private partnership, PPP, programme bundle contract compared with similar projects being delivered by an approved housing body or a local authority; and his plans to review these costs before further social housing PPP contracts are entered into. [16709/19]

Figures I have received from the Department in the past two weeks suggest a significant variance in the cost for the delivery, management and maintenance of social housing from traditional approved housing bodies and local authorities compared with the first bundle of the public private partnership, PPP, houses under construction. Will the Minister give us as much detail as possible about the cost of that public private partnership? Will he comment specifically on the concern many of us have about the variance in costs between the more traditional methods of delivery and the public private partnerships?

I am pleased to take the question to bring some clarity to this issue. The Deputy's question and some public commentary on this matter appear to be based on an assumption that the balance of the contract for bundle 1 of the social housing PPP programme after the pure construction cost is excluded is all attributable to management and maintenance of the homes to be delivered under the contract. This assumption is not true or accurate. I am happy to break down the figures with the Deputy. I cannot give all the science behind it but it will come out at a later stage.

The full value of the PPP contract includes a range of costs. The construction costs cover what might be referred to as the pure bricks and mortar costs in respect of the homes involved and the associated infrastructure, including play and community facilities. It is not only for houses but associated facilities. The remainder of the contract includes not only management and maintenance costs but also other costs, including the costs of finance for the project, projected inflation over the 25 years of the operational life of the contract, and the costs of complying with other terms of the contract. Such other terms include the requirement for certain quality requirements to be met when the homes involved are passed over to the local authorities concerned at the end of the 25-year period. That is the key part. They have to be handed over at the end of the period in a certain condition. That is the key part of the PPP.

It is a different model of delivery with its own requirements. This can give rise to incompatible comparisons between individual elements across different methods of delivery. It is one method among many in the toolkit. It is a question of comparing apples and oranges when people compare it directly with the approved housing body situation. I understand why there is confusion but at all times there is a value for money element to this. We have to apply a value for money process to the four different stages. Like all social housing project delivery mechanisms, it is essential that homes delivered through public private partnerships represent value for money for the taxpayer. In that regard, clear requirements are laid down centrally by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform through which the National Development Finance Agency, as the professional financial advisers for projects of this kind, develops a public sector benchmark that reflects the cost of delivering the contract concerned through traditional procurement mechanisms. This is then used as the benchmark against which value for money tests are undertaken at a number of stages in the procurement - there are four different stages - primarily when it comes to assessing the final tenders submitted.

The successful tender under bundle 1 of the social housing public private partnership, PPP, was assessed in this manner and was lower than the public sector benchmark, thereby representing value for money.

None of what the Minister of State said reassures me that there is not a significant cost variance between approved housing body availability, payment agreements and public private partnerships. At the heart of this is the public sector benchmark, which is used to calculate that so-called value for money exercise. None of us get to see it. There is no transparency around it and we are not in a position to be able to verify what the Minister of State is saying, either here today or in previous parliamentary questions. On the basis of what the Minister of State said here today, the construction cost per unit is €225,000. That is higher than figures I have received from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on comparative costs for local authority builds. In this contract with the public private partnership, there is a different inflation calculation to the one used for approved housing bodies, a different calculation for what the Minister of State called equality requirements, and an element of profit and risk adjustment. While I accept the two types of contracts, availability agreements with the approved housing body sector and PPPs are not the same, they do very similar things and nothing the Minister of State has said has reassured me that there is not a cost difference, if not a significant cost difference. Has the Minister of State seen the public sector benchmark? Is he satisfied that both the methodology used and the price comparisons represent value for money to the taxpayer?

I am not given all of the figures but I am satisfied with the process of how this is handled. There are four stages at which we assess the value to make sure that the taxpayer is getting value for money and that is how we judge this too. I will talk the Deputy through the process. The key criteria for assessing whether a PPP project represents value for money for the executive follow the guidance set out by the central PPP unit in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. This guidance sets out four specific tests that are applied to PPPs over the course of the planning and procurement process. The tests focus on assessing whether the PPP approach compares favourably with the alternative cost of using traditional procurement to achieve the same result. There are different methods of traditional procurement but they are all compared to make sure that we get the best value for money and do not lose out. Only one of the social housing PPP programmes has met the relevant thresholds for each of the four tests in this rigorous process and I am confident that it demonstrates value for money. That is the Deputy's concern, which the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and I also have, to deliver top quality, good value housing quickly. We are satisfied that the process delivers that. The Deputy wants to have information released. I understand why he wants that but it would not be appropriate to do that at this stage. We are committed to release it after three bundles.

If I understand properly, the Minister of State has not seen the public sector benchmark, so he cannot unequivocally say that this represents value for money and he is taking it on trust. If one takes two housing projects that commenced construction today, the public private partnership that is currently under construction and traditional social housing delivered by a local authority and an approved housing body, it is unequivocal from the information that we have that the public private partnership will get a significantly larger amount of money to deliver, manage and maintain the units, and that is before we even get into the issue of risk adjustment or cost. Given that the Minister of State has not seen the public sector benchmark, why will he not publish it now? The contract has been signed and the contractors are on site. The Minister of State could publish this now because it is no longer of any commercial sensitivity to bundles 2 and 3 because they will have separate public sector benchmarks. Will the Minister of State give a commitment that, when that public sector benchmark is eventually published, he will come to the House or the committee where we can properly scrutinise it? If I am wrong at that stage and there is value for money, I am more than happy to accept it and hope the Minister of State would do the same.

We are a very open and transparent Department. When it is appropriate to do so, we will have no problem publishing that and explaining and defending it at the committee. I am familiar with the figures relating to these houses and what they cost on all the sites and in all the schemes. I am confident and happy to confirm to the Deputy that this is in line with where it should be.

Even though the Minister of State has not seen it.

I have not seen the benchmark but I know the figures.

That is the key.

It would not be appropriate for me to see the benchmark because it is not published yet. It is not information that I would have in my hands or head. A process has been put in place which involves many proper procedures to be gone through to make sure we are getting value for money. The Deputy, with respect, is probably comparing apples and oranges. This is a 25-year contract. They will be paid per month for upkeep and management of the house and all that goes with it. At the end of 25 years, the State will own that house. It has to be in a condition that is fit for purpose, as set down in the contract. That is different to the contract that is operated by approved housing bodies. I ask the Deputy to understand that. I think he probably understands that but might not want to admit that in public. There is a process there and I am happy to bring the Deputy through it with regard to the next phase of it too.

Credit Unions

Darragh O'Brien


62. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the development of a special purpose vehicle by the Irish Council for Social Housing for the investment of funds in social housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16450/19]

The Minister is probably used to answering this question at this stage. In light of the fact that for almost five years, the credit union has been advocating using approximately €10 billion in assets to invest in the social good, and not a cent has been used to date, I ask the Minister to give an update on the development of a special purpose vehicle by the Irish Council for Social Housing, ICSH, for the investment of funds in social housing.

I will give the Deputy an update to the best of my ability because we have been through this on a number of occasions.

We do it every month. It should get better every month.

Absolutely. The Department, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and I would be delighted to see the credit union money invested in social housing projects.

I will embarrass the Minister of State into actually doing something.

We would be very happy to do it and, wherever we can, we have worked to that end, but we cannot and should not control or be involved in certain parts. Considerable work has been ongoing between the Irish Council for Social Housing, a number of larger tier 3 approved housing bodies, AHBs, and their financial advisers on the development of a vehicle for delivering private financing for AHBs providing social housing in line with ambitions set out in the Government's Rebuilding Ireland action plan on housing and homelessness.  The ICSH work is being undertaken in three phases, the first two of which have been completed, which are the phases designed to test the market interest in investing in social housing and the appetite among AHBs for private finance.  While the ICSH had hoped to have completed the final phase of the work by now, and we certainly hoped it would be completed too, it is focused on the structuring of special purpose vehicles and this important work is ongoing.

I understand that one of the issues which has given rise to the delay in concluding the work is the need to take account of other private finance arrangements and vehicles that certain AHBs have put in place in parallel. Three different bodies have put arrangements in place and I believe they are working quite well. The decision by EUROSTAT to reclassify AHBs has also influenced the progression of this final phase of work. Alongside this project, three individual approved housing bodies have been successful in accessing private finance from financial institutions to deliver new social housing, with each financial institution having its own specific requirements for lending and investing. While the completion of the outstanding phase of work is primarily a matter for the Irish Council for Social Housing, I hope that it will be in a position to finish it as soon as possible. We are committed to it. The Central Bank changed the rules to allow investment. Deputy Darragh O'Brien keeps referring to a figure of €10 billion. Under the rules, up to €800 million or €900 million-----

It is still significant.

-----could be invested in housing and we would be delighted to see it.

One could take this away from being a credit union issue and say it is a social housing issue. Government policy since 2014 has been to provide alternative sustainable sources of funding and here is one that has not been utilised in five years. The Minister of State has regularly replied to questions that I have tabled that one credit union body had a special purpose vehicle ready. What is happening there? Why has not a single red cent gone into the special purpose vehicle? Is there no appetite for it? Does the Minister of State not think it is needed? What is the final phase that we are still waiting for and what is the Minister of State's timeframe for that completion? He has mentioned rightly that AHBs are on-balance sheet now. He has another source of funding here that could be off-balance sheet to provide social and affordable homes. I really do not get it and that is why I ask the Minister of State questions repeatedly. Is this a priority or is it something that the Government does not want to do?

We cannot be any clearer that it is something that we want to do and have facilitated as a Department, working with the Department of Finance and the Central Bank. All the rules and changes have been made to facilitate this to happen. We committed to it in our programme for Government and it makes common sense. If there is money to be invested and we want to fund social housing projects, we should put the two together. There is only so far that a Government can go. These are private finance arrangements and they have to design a special purpose vehicle themselves, separate to Government and to our Department. I cannot be clearer than that. The Deputy might not like that. If he wants to help with the design of one, work away.

I could probably do a better job than whoever the Minister of State has doing it at present.

With respect, I have not heard Deputy Darragh O'Brien come forward with solutions over the last six months in which he has asked the same question but good luck to him if he wants to bring forward a solution. To be clear, because the Deputy keeps wanting to mix up what I said, I confirm that one of the credit union bodies, the Credit Union Development Association, has indicated that it has completed all the work necessary to underpin a special purpose vehicle for investors but it has not yet formally established it as a corporate entity because the cost involved-----

That is different.

-----would not justify it until such a time as a clear investment opportunity is available.

To be very clear-----

This is an important point.

We will be back to the Minister of State.

That is a different answer from the one the Minister of State gave me before.

It is exactly the same.

The Deputy should check the record. I have checked it but the Deputy obviously has not checked it.

I will check the record. I actually asked the Minister of State to correct it before and he got very annoyed the last time I said that.

I have nothing to correct.

The Minister of State is saying that the work is completed now, not that it is up and running or effective. This is obviously not a policy priority for Government. The Minister of State is contradicting himself. The Minister could answer the question too but he seems to have delegated his responsibility for that to his Minister of State because, effectively, Government has said that creating a special purpose vehicle is for the credit unions. Flatly contradicting that, however, is the fact that it has over the years engaged public money to assist the Irish Council for Social Housing to do what it says is up to the credit unions. Does the Minister of State see at any stage this year when money will be invested through an SPV to provide social housing? When he talks about providing any assistance in that regard, I have kept this on the agenda because it had fallen off the Government agenda and nothing was being done about it.

It has absolutely not fallen off our agenda. Deputy O'Brien does not like the answers to the questions and keeps trying to phrase them differently every time and tries to insinuate that I misled the House. I have absolutely nothing to change on the record. I have been very clear in saying one of the credit union bodies is ready to do this. Everything is in place. It can switch it on literally overnight once a body wants to draw down the money. I said to the Deputy last September that a credit union body had a special purpose vehicle ready to go, and it does. The Deputy might not like that but it is ready to go when a housing body wants to draw it down.

That is a different answer.

I cannot be any clearer. That is a fact, it is true and I have no record to change. It is ready for business if a body wants to use it.

It would be great if that was the truth.

The other section is where we grant-aided money through an innovation fund to the sector along with the credit union movement to bring forward a special purpose vehicle. It is to encourage innovation. We are not dictating to it how it develops that special purpose vehicle because we would not be allowed to do that, nor would it be appropriate. The Deputy seems to fail to understand that. I cannot work it out in the Deputy's head but that is the reality of it.

I understand. The Minister of State does not seem to understand the urgency to provide a different stream of money to provide social housing rather than buying it from under the noses of young couples.

Water Services Infrastructure

Mattie McGrath


63. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the oversight or review role his Department has with respect to the Shannon to Dublin pipeline project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16677/19]

What oversight or review role does the Minister's Department have with respect to the Shannon to Dublin pipeline project and would he please make a statement on the matter?

Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels, including responsibility for Irish Water’s eastern and midlands water supply project. This project has been in development since the mid-1990s, originally under Dublin City Council and under Irish Water since January 2014. This will be the largest strategic national water supply project in generations and will service communities across a wide area. The project will, of course, be subject to the relevant planning and other environmental consent processes.

The Water Services Act 2013 requires the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, in conjunction with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, to provide consent for all commitments for capital expenditure above a certain threshold. This is a financial control and not a project consent. In this context, given the scale and importance of the eastern and midlands water supply project and recognising the statutory role of the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities as independent economic regulator of Irish Water, including its role in reviewing Irish Water’s capital investment plans, I have requested the commission to undertake a review to support my decision in relation to the major capital commitment consent that will be required closer to construction stage. The review has commenced and I expect to receive a report by the end of 2019.

I do not know if the Minister is getting any lessons or if he is in the slow class because today we have seen the report on the children's hospital. Some time ago I submitted a parliamentary question to the Minister seeking information on the proposed and projected cost of this pipeline to bring water through Tipperary to Dublin. I was told the Minister had no responsibility for this matter and that it was a matter for Irish Water, yet last February he asked the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, CRU, to carry out a review of the eastern and midlands water supply project under section 40 of the Water Services Act 2013. At that time he said he was doing this to enable the Department to have full consent for all the commitments for the capital expenditure above a certain threshold. On the one hand, the Minister seems to have no oversight of this project, and on the other, he needs to get the CRU to sign off on projects like this. Which is it? Cén scéal? I remind the Minister of another massive capital expenditure project that another Minister entrusted to the responsibility of another board, the national children's hospital. We know where that is.

I was not clear from the Deputy's follow-up question whether he supports the project or whether he thinks it is necessary.

That is an important thing to know because it absolutely is necessary-----

So is the children's hospital.

-----and perhaps attempts by the Deputy to undermine the project now that we have the motivation can be viewed in that light. Of course the CRU has a central role here and I have asked it to do a verification process to give further comfort to the different elements that are involved as part of the financial consents that will be given. I have already given consent for more than €40 million last year for the planning stage of the project, and I am in consultation on consent for additional money for 2019, up to an amount potentially of €60 million for further work that will be undertaken through the ministerial consent process for the project. There are several different consents in place between me and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform as the project goes through the various stages of lodging the planning application and consent to undertake the capital improvements and everything else. As we go through that process we review the different assumptions around the capital costs of the project.

This pipeline has been described as one of the most important infrastructural projects in the history of the State. The Shannon-Dublin water pipeline will cost more than €1.2 billion, and if it is like the children's hospital, it will cost twice that. It is intended to supply 40% of Irish households unconnected with, and around, Dublin with water from the River Shannon by 2025. It will go into a leaking system that is leaking nearly 60% of the water. We should be in kindergarten. I do not deny the people of Dublin water and we are not mean spirited in Tipperary or in the Shannon region either. Fix the leaks. Sort out the water problem first.

Does the Minister have oversight or not? I tabled a parliamentary question and he said he has not. Now he says he has. This will be another national monument of embarrassment to the Minister and the Government for 2025. It will look for an extension to 2030 because it will still be leaking into the ground. Fix the leaks and preserve the very valuable resource of treated water. It is pointless pumping treated water into a creaking system. If the Minister was a householder with a well that was giving trouble and he could not keep running pumps to supply the water in the well, he would fix the leaks first, and very fast. This is public money and he can do what he likes with it with no accountability.

The Deputy should please not use what has happened with the children's hospital to try to undermine a very important capital project. Based on the Deputy's logic, we would not make any more capital investments.

Accountability. The Minister is twisting it now. I want accountability.

This project is not just for Dublin, but if it was, given the leakages that we know we have in Dublin, even if they were fixed, it would not give us the redundancy and contingency supply that we need. A total of 40% of the Liffey flow is taken into the water system. We need to reduce that. Of course we need to fix the leaks as well, but we need to think of the planned projections for populations that will come into the city and the need for between 10% and 15% headroom above what we will need to produce for that extra population.

There is no accountability.

At the moment we have less than 1% headroom. In conjunction with the money that is being provided to fix the leaks in Dublin, which will happen and will take time----

-----we also need to have a new project for water supply and water security-----

It is worse than Mexico in Dublin.

-----for the east and midlands.

Housing Provision

Seamus Healy


64. Deputy Seamus Healy asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if legislation will be brought forward to declare statutorily a homeless and housing emergency in view of the homeless figures of more than 10,000 persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16664/19]

Will the Minister bring forward legislation to declare statutorily a housing and homelessness emergency in view of the fact that homeless figures now exceed 10,000, including 3,780 children? Will he respond to the criticisms of Government housing policy by the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Leilani Farha, who said housing is stability, security, dignity and, crucially, housing is not a commodity.

The Government's Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness is underpinned by more than €6 billion in funding to support the delivery of 50,000 new social housing homes and 87,000 other housing supports by 2021 while also making the best use of the existing housing stock and laying the foundations for a more vibrant housing sector. A significant number of initiatives continue to be implemented under the plan to address the range of complex and deep-seated issues in the housing sector arising from the economic downturn. These include the accelerated delivery of social and affordable housing as well as increased protections for those in the rental sector.

Within Rebuilding Ireland, tackling homelessness is identified as a key priority for the Government and it continues to be addressed with the urgency the seriousness of the situation demands. Increasing the level of overall housing supply, particularly in terms of social housing, and ensuring stability in the rental sector are essential to addressing fully the challenging situation in relation to homelessness, and very substantial progress continues to be made in those areas. In parallel with that, additional and improved emergency accommodation is being provided, including through additional supported emergency beds and family hubs, in order to ensure that the needs of those who find themselves in a situation of homelessness can be responded to in as comprehensive and compassionate a manner as possible.

The focus remains on preventing homelessness to the greatest extent possible and ensuring that pathways out of homelessness are secured as quickly as possible for those individuals and families in emergency accommodation. Budget 2019 reflects the commitment of the Government in this regard, with an allocation of €146 million for homeless services by local authorities this year, an increase of over 25% on the 2018 allocation. Rebuilding Ireland is delivering very significant results in supporting exits from homelessness. In 2018, 5,135 adults exited homelessness into independent tenancies, an 8.6% increase on 2017. It is disappointing that this level of achievement, although substantial, was not sufficient to keep pace with the extent of new presentations. The Deputy can be assured that I and my Department, working with the local authorities and other homeless service providers, remain fully seized of the seriousness of the homelessness situation and fully committed to delivering fully on the actions required to address all of the issues involved.

The right to housing is a human right but the Minister and the Government are treating housing as a commodity on the market, resulting in the biggest housing and homelessness crisis since the Great Famine. Bunreacht na hÉireann provides for the declaration of emergencies and I specifically refer to Articles 43.2.1° and 43.2.2° where the public good trumps private property rights. This Dáil has also voted for the declaration of such an emergency on 3 October 2018 by 83 votes to 43 on a Solidarity-People Before Profit motion. There is also the fact that the Government is currently using this process with the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation, where it is confiscating pension payments, which of course are private property. The declaration of a homelessness and housing emergency is constitutional, it is legal and it is a practical solution to the housing and homelessness crisis created by the Government.

What we are seeing in 2019 is the most amount of money that a government in Ireland has ever spent on housing in a single year, some €2.4 billion. We are seeing a dramatic shift in construction as new homes are built. Last year, one in four of those new homes built were built for social housing purposes, so it is not true to say that we are relying solely on the market or on the commodification of housing. We are trying to move away from that old system of housing to a new system that has public housing at the core of our policy. If I believed that declaring an emergency would help us to tackle the situation around homelessness more quickly and in a more sustainable manner, of course I would do so. Why would I not? However, I have met with the Attorney General on this issue, we have discussed it and there is nothing in declaring an emergency that would bring more powers to me to enable me to build more houses more quickly so I will not get involved in tokenistic gestures. What is important is that we drive solutions that will help to bring more homes into this country, both social housing homes and affordable homes, but at the same time, bring in greater protections for renters. While we do those things, we must do everything that we can to exit people out of emergency accommodation as quickly as we can.

Fine Gael has been in government for over eight years, and it is standing watch over more and more people becoming homeless, sleeping and dying on our streets and couch-surfing with friends and families. More and more families are fleeced by big landlords, vulture funds and cuckoo funds charging astronomical rents. The Minister has said from time to time and again today that preventing landlords evicting people on the sale of property was unconstitutional. Of course this is misleading. It is completely untrue and it is absolutely factual that the declaration of such an emergency would lead to a real tackling of the homelessness crisis but of course the real reason the Minister and the Government will not declare an emergency is that the Minister is part of an extreme, free-market, pro-the-super-rich and pro-landlord Government. It is time to declare a housing and homelessness emergency and really address the great problems that we have in housing.

The Deputy has not told me one measure that he would take if an emergency was declared or what one new power that would give to abrogate constitutional rights.

A whole list of matters that I have a Bill on, as the Minister knows very well.

The challenges that we face today are very different to the challenges that we faced in housing eight years ago with 3,000 ghost housing estates and hundreds of thousands plunged into negative equity and mortgage distress. It is not true to say that property rights trump other rights in the Constitution. There is a balance of rights and that is why we were able to bring in the vacant site levy and increase it to 10% over a two-year period. That is why we have been able to bring in rent controls. That is why we have compulsory purchase order powers. We recognise that the public good trumps individual rights in certain instances but we can only take them so far.

On the unconstitutionality of not being able to prevent a sale of a property for rent with tenants in situ, that is unconstitutional. I have to work on the advice of the Attorney General-----

-----but even if it was constitutional, it would not be retrospective so it would not actually help people in tenancies today. We have to work to solutions that will help people without hurting them.