Dáil Éireann - Volume 628 - 22 November, 2006

Private Members’ Business. - Housing Policy: Motion (Resumed).

[142] The following motion was moved by Deputy Gilmore on Tuesday, 21 November 2006:

That Dáil Éireann,

calls for the introduction of a new national housing policy, to ensure that everyone has access to a good quality home in a sustainable community, and at a price they can afford;

believes that such a new national housing policy should:

enable every working person/ household, who wishes to do so, to buy their own home by:

the introduction of a new affordable and shared equity purchase scheme, which will enable homebuyers to commence purchasing from 25% of the dwelling equity upwards;

new tenant purchase schemes for local authority tenants and tenants of voluntary and co-operative housing bodies;

the introduction of tenant purchase to the private rented sector.

increase the provision of affordable housing to at least the 6,000 per annum which Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 is capable of delivering;

increase from 20% to 50% the maximum social and affordable housing to be provided under Part V for new land zonings or for increased densities in ‘affordability black spot’ areas;

compulsorily purchase all residential development land in areas where housing is unaffordable, in order to increase the supply of affordable homes;

embargo on the sale of all State owned surplus land, and ensure that such lands are made available to housing authorities, in order to increase the supply of affordable housing;

commit to the NESC target of providing approximately 10,000 social housing units per annum;

end homelessness by 2010;

replace the rent allowance scheme with a new housing support, which [143] will eliminate the poverty traps and disincentives to work associated with the current scheme;

reform stamp duty to favour first-time buyers and families acquiring an affordable principal private residence for occupation; and

stop the rip-off of homebuyers by legislating to outlaw gazumping; protect homebuyers’ rights as consumers; efficient taking in charge of housing estates and the control and regulation of private management companies.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

welcomes:

the launching of the Housing Policy Framework — Building Sustainable Communities in 2005, which firmly sets the housing policy objective of enabling every household to have available an affordable dwelling of good quality, suited to its needs, as far as possible at the tenure of its choice, in the broader context of building sustainable communities; and

the announcement of additional investment in the 2007 Abridged Estimates to honour the commitments entered into in Towards 2016 to increase social and affordable housing supply over the coming three years, with a view to assisting some 60,000 households;

acknowledges that evolving policy is built on the achievements of this Government in:

delivering over half a million homes since 1997 and thereby enabling unprecedented numbers of first-time buyers to access home ownership during that period;

increasing housing supply as the key response to the broad range of housing needs and demands with one third of Ireland’s total housing stock being completed in the past ten years;

improving affordability for first-time buyers through targeted measures including improvements in tax reliefs and stamp duty, and investment in affordable housing initiatives;

taking steps to ensure that sufficient zoned and serviced land is available to support the achievement of ten successive years of record-breaking [144] housing output, likely to exceed 90,000 units in 2006;

taking action to promote reform and development of the private rented sector generally, including the enactment of a modern legislative code that strengthens tenants rights and supports a more professional approach by landlords and the recent launch of an action programme to promote improvement in standards of private rented accommodation;

taking action to improve the regulation of property services and to address various issues relating to the management of common areas and facilities in private developments;

introducing the ground-breaking legislation under Part V of the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2006 which provides a Constitution-proofed framework through which a reasonable and proportionate share of the betterment derived from residential zoning and planning decisions is captured for social and affordable housing purposes;

significantly increasing delivery under Part V in terms of both social and affordable housing;

assigning over 70 State and local authority sites to the affordable housing initiative, as part of its commitment to affordable housing;

establishing the affordable homes partnership, which is playing an important role, in particular, in driving the delivery of affordable housing in the greater Dublin area;

bringing forward five-year housing action plans by local authorities to co-ordinate, accelerate and bring greater integration to action on housing at local level;

introducing a housing support for recipients of rent supplement with long-term housing need called the rental accommodation scheme;

dedicating significant resources to the renewal and regeneration of existing local authority estates; and

providing for the needs of 100,000 households in the last ten years through various social and affordable housing programmes;

notes the commitment of the Government in the housing policy framework and elsewhere to:

[145] enhance the supply of affordable housing and to support paths from social housing to home ownership, involving new affordable and shared equity options and sale of flats to local authority tenants under certain conditions;

deliver additional homes to those in need of social housing through a range of options;

eliminate the long-term occupancy of emergency homeless accommodation by 2010; and

investigate the possibility of introducing a ‘use it or lose it’ scheme that could entail compulsory acquisition of land for housing purposes at below market value in specified circumstances.

(Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. N. Ahern.)

  Mr. M. Brady: I welcome the opportunity to comment on the call by the Labour Party for a new housing policy to ensure everyone has access to a good quality home in a sustainable community at a price they can afford. The Government’s overall strategy is to increase housing supply to meet demand and to improve affordability, particularly for first-time buyers. The record housing output achieved as a result of Government policy speaks for itself and we will continue to build on that success. I congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Ahern, who has done tremendous work in this area, particularly on affordable housing and shared ownership. Last year was another record year with almost 81,000 units completed, of which 18,000 were in Dublin. This was double the output achieved in the city in 2001. It is expected 90,000 new homes will be completed this year compared to 34,000 in 1996.

One third of Ireland’s houses have been built in the past decade. The rate of house completions in Ireland is the highest in Europe at 20 units per 1,000 people, which is five times the rate of our nearest neighbours, the UK. Investment in servicing has led to much greater availability of serviced land to underpin future housing supply. The serviced land initiative has provided services for more than 81,000 units on 164 completed schemes with an additional 95,300 housing units being serviced for a further 59 schemes. The Labour Party has picked up on many statements in our housing policy but it has also made proposals, which are more aspirational than practical or achievable. Policies are worthless if they are not viable.

The seventh voluntary housing land survey undertaken in June 2005 indicated 14,800 hectares of zoned land was serviced nationally with [146] an estimated yield of 460,000 housing units. This equates to sufficient capacity for residential development for more than five years, based on recent average housing output. However, developers and estate agents are responsible for something that is nothing short of extortion. I have raised the issue previously of a developer buying, for example, 100 acres and building on it. The first week units go on sale, the price of a house is €350,000 while the following week a similar house is €380,000. This cannot be justified and it is a disgrace that this practice is allowed to continue. However, while it is not possible to legislate to control the market, we should meet representatives of the CIF and other industry organisations so that they can explain how this can be justified. If they have a valid reason for this, we would all like to hear it.

It is high time they were consulted because, at the end of the day, young people will queue at 6 a.m. on a Sunday to buy an expensive house because they are conditioned into believing that if they do not so, there will be no houses. This is wrong because buyers are being exploited and it amounts to unfair trading. This practice does not apply in other industries. For example, if one puts a deposit on a car and returns to collect it the following day, the salesman will not say the price has increased by €20,000 because there is demand for that model. It is time a clear message was sent to people involved in the construction business that this practice is not on and it must cease.

Growth in incomes and employment, lower taxes, favourable interest rates and availability of finance have largely contributed to improved affordability. Typically average outgoings as a percentage of incomes are higher than in 1994 but people are generally taking out longer term mortgages to reduce their annual outgoings. The 100% mortgages that are available also broaden access.

The Department maintains the index of housing affordability measured by reference to the cost of servicing a mortgage. This index is based on an affordability ratio that shows how much income is observed servicing the mortgage. Due to trends in families and work situations, there has been a steady increase in the female population in the workplace in recent years and it is more relevant to examine trends in affordability for two-earner married households. The index also assumes a loan period of 20 years because this is the traditional loan period. The availability of longer term loans has impacted positively on the outgoings of first-time buyers.

In 2005, some 2,900 affordable homes were produced mainly in the €150,000 to €200,000 bracket. In my constituency, affordable homes are being built and people do not wait on the waiting lists for long. One can get an affordable house or apartment within five or six months, which is a significant improvement on the initial situation. There has been a considerable take-up of the shared ownership scheme.

[147] I welcome these aspects, but we must protect consumers and ensure that they are not ripped off by greedy builders. Between 2007 and 2009, it is estimated that 17,000 units will be delivered by affordable schemes. Earlier this year, the Government improved some of the schemes by increasing the income eligibility limits and subsidy levels.

People have been refused entry to the affordable housing list because they are regarded as being employed on a contract basis rather than being in full-time employment, including school teachers. They will not be approved for loans. Every Deputy knows that 60% of workers are on contracts in semi-State bodies and elsewhere, which is a matter we must examine because it is unfair. It is not the person’s fault that he or she is in that situation. Few jobs are for life. There should be cross-party support in this regard.

Local authorities can avail of site subsidies to make houses affordable and almost €13 million was paid by the Department for this purpose in 2005. The maximum subsidy is €31,800, but in the Dublin metropolitan area, counties Kildare, Meath and Wicklow and in the cities of Cork, Limerick, Waterford and so on, the maximum amount is €50,000 per dwelling.

In 2006, some €7.7 million for mortgage allowance and mortgage subsidy schemes was made available. The former assist local authority tenants to move to private housing while the rent and mortgage subsidies help lower income households to access shared ownership and affordable housing schemes by giving them annual subventions towards the repayment costs. Many people in receipt of social welfare benefits or Health Service Executive subsidies will never get affordable housing because they do not meet the criteria, but if they get jobs, they will lose everything. We should examine this anomaly.

More than 70 projects have been identified that, with Part V output, will yield the 10,000 affordable housing units proposed by the parties under Sustaining Progress. By June 2006, some 2,115 affordable housing units were delivered under the initiative, 1,791 through Part V affordable arrangements and 324 through developments on State and local authority lands.

Last year, the Government established the Affordable Homes Partnership to co-ordinate the delivery of affordable housing in the greater Dublin area, where affordable pressures are greatest. I wish to acknowledge the good work of Mr. Des Geraghty in this regard because it was important for us to bring on board someone who knows what the real world is about.

  Mr. Kelleher: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. In recent years, housing has not only been topical in public forums such as the Dáil and the Seanad, but in homes and at firesides. For people, ensuring that their loved ones were going to college or to find homes for them[148] selves was challenging. There were considerable difficulties. Any political party or public forum that did not acknowledge this challenge would have been disingenuous.

Upon examination, the demographic changes, including the influx of immigrants, the dynamics of our progressive economy and low interest rates and taxation, occurred during a short period. We needed to react to the changes. Most people would acknowledge that the Government has done its best to try to address the fundamental problems in respect of affordable housing.

The demographic changes, including young people who are reaching family-formation age, returning emigrants and migrating EU citizens seeking to reap the fruits of our vibrant economy, placed significant pressures on housing. Tribute should not only be paid to the Government and local authorities, but also to the construction industry because it raised the bar, increased productivity to a phenomenal number of units — 81,000 in 2005 — and will step up on that mark by another 8% or 10% next year.

However, problems remain and it would be remiss of us to ignore the fact that, for many people, buying a house and starting a family is a distant dream. Parents are remortgaging and capitalising their assets to provide large deposits for their children to purchase homes, which is a challenge we must address. Part V should be explored further. The Opposition would claim that we rowed back on our Part V commitments, but the principle therein is positive. As someone who proposed something similar in 1992 and 1993, it was obvious from the incremental annual increases in house price inflation that young people would find it difficult to purchase homes.

In principle, Part V is an important factor in society. I do not say this because it helps people to buy homes. Rather, it relates to the formation of society and how we live with one another, which is a fundamental bedrock of the Government’s intention in terms of housing policy. Historically, public housing programmes were mainly reactionary, including during the TB crisis. For example, Dr. Noel Browne’s decision regarding the demolition of tenements in inner city areas and the building of large-scale housing schemes in the suburbs were primarily required from a health point of view, but there were considerable social implications. There was no cohesion among the communities and there were no supports or education facilities. The basic requirements of communities were not in place.

Regarding social housing, the opposite is now the case. As Part V is in place and local authorities can decide on what portion of the 20% of housing should be affordable or social, we are bringing people together as opposed to drawing significant lines of divergence between those that have and can afford to assist themselves and those that have not and need assistance.

Many local authorities are abdicating their responsibilities under Part V. Nothing is wrong [149] with local authorities addressing social and affordable housing needs, putting responsible tenants into social housing and ensuring that those areas are managed in a way that encourages this type of——

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask the Deputy to conclude.

  Mr. Kelleher: Local authorities have an obligation to address this issue to ensure we have a more cohesive society.

  Mr. Carey: I welcome the opportunity to address this issue. There is no doubt that it has occupied more talking time in the House than almost any other topic. Before I came into the House I saw the Labour Party as the party of fresh, new and ambitious ideas but the motion tabled tonight lacks ambition, fresh ideas and vision, though I do not disagree with a lot of it.

I will raise a few points that Deputy Gilmore and others might like to address. There is no point repeating the facts. Undoubtedly there has been a massive housing construction programme in this State in recent years. It has been driven by a variety of factors, as Deputy Kelleher said, such as changes in demographics and in incomes and the wish of people to own their homes is of great importance. The variety of initiatives taken by the Government are undoubtedly beginning to play a part.

We do not need to clap ourselves on the back for the promotion of the affordable housing initiative. However, Deputy Gilmore’s colleague, Deputy Shortall, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with special responsibility for housing, Deputy Noel Ahern, and I can claim some credit for pioneering initiatives in Dublin North-West to identify, in co-operation with Dublin City Council, untended and unused sites which we encouraged the council to develop for housing for young families. I saw a brochure circulated by Dublin City Council to applicants for affordable housing and it compares favourably with any brochure an estate agent might produce. It has quite a number of houses on the market from Dublin 8, Dublin 3, Dublin 1 and Dublin 11 in our constituency at very affordable prices of between €220,000 and €275,000.

I wish to address the reluctance on the part of many people in the affordable bracket to live in apartments. We still need to sell the idea that apartment living is good and can afford people the opportunities for a full family life provided the facilities necessary for a community are provided. There have been some mistakes and there is no point saying everything is right. I have concerns about the way management companies have often been used by developers as vehicles to cream off additional income from buyers. We are beginning to see what Deputy Kelleher talked about, namely teachers, gardaí, office workers [150] and young professionals opting for the affordable housing market in commuter areas close to the centre of town. I was heartened by a recent consultation meeting in my constituency with the RPA on metro north. We detected interest in affordable housing schemes along the metro line, showing that public transport and good housing go together.

One proposal in the Labour Party motion is to “compulsorily purchase all residential development land in areas where housing is unaffordable, in order to increase the supply of affordable homes”. Is the Labour Party suggesting compulsory purchase of land? Has the Labour Party thought through the whole process of compulsory purchase? If so, why do local authorities, which currently are dominated by Labour Party and Fine Gael councillors, not pursue such a policy? In Deputy Gilmore’s local authority, 175 homes were delivered under Part V up to 30 June 2006 but €5.521 million has been taken by the authority as payment in lieu of land transfer. We cannot have it both ways. We must grasp the nettle of affordability by being brave, taking strong positions and confronting vested interests. The “not in my back yard” syndrome happens in my constituency and my party is as guilty of it as anybody but it needs to be addressed.

  Mr. Gilmore: It is guilty of it in my constituency.

  Mr. Carey: For example, RTE must have 25 or 30 acres of land adjoining its single storey building with lots of car parking spaces. It is impossible to buy a house in that area, affordable or otherwise. Should that be compulsorily acquired? I do not think so but I would like it to be argued. I am sorry there is nothing fresh, ambitious or new in what the Labour Party has to offer.

  Ms F. O’Malley: Gabhaim buíochas le Páirtí an Lucht Oibre as ucht an t-ábhar seo a chur faoi bhráid na Dála.

Is cuspóir fíorthábhachtach é úinéireacht tí don phobal Éireannach, agus cuspóir inmholta atá ann. Sin é an chúis go bhfuil an buaicleibhéal airgid caite ag an Rialtas chun níos mó tithe a chur ar fáil. Dúirt an Teachta Penrose aréir gur thréig an Rialtas a dhualgais teach a chur ar fáil do gach duine, ach níl sé sin fíor ar chor ar bith. Le deich mbliana anuas, tá buaicleibhéal aischur tithíochta bainte amach againn. Ó 1988, tá breis agus 433,000 teach nua tógtha in Éirinn. Níl tír ar bith san Eoraip ag teacht cóngarach dúinn sa leibhéal tógála seo. Tá an t-aischur tithíochta seo in Éirinn sé uaire níos tapúla ná an meán Eorpach.

Tá infheistíocht Rialtais de €6 billiún geallta ar son tithíochta sóisialta don tréimhse ó 2005 go 2009, an chuid is mó ariamh. Níor tharla sé seo gan tionscnaimh agus infheistíocht a chur ar fáil, ach go háirithe Cuid V de na hAchtanna um Pleanáil agus Forbairt 2000 go 2006. Is é an tAcht sin a chuireann creat ar fáil de réir na Bunreachta [151] faoina ndéantar scar réasúnach agus comhréireach den bhiseach a thagann as criosú cónaithe agus cinntí pleanála a shannadh chun críocha tithíochta sóisialta agus incheannaithe a chur ar fáil.

Chuir Páirtí an Lucht Oibre in iúl gurb é méadú ó 20% go 50% an leibhéal is airde de sholáthair tithíochta sóisialta agus incheannaithe a bheidh muid in ann a thógaint ó fhorbairtí príobháideacha. Is rud an-tábhachtach é agus beartas á phlé go bhfuil sé indéanta, agus go dtitfidh na tithe amach. Ní dóigh liom gur smaoinigh siad tríd é. Tá eagla orm, má chuireann siad iachall den chineál seo ar na forbróirí, nach gcuirfidh siad tithe ar fáil. Cad a dhéanfaimid ansin? Nuair a dhéantar rudaí go cothrom, bíonn na torthaí níos fearr.

Cuirim suim sa chuid den rún a bhí á phlé aréir, begin to buy. Tá eagla orm, áfach, roimh an bheartas seo. Tá sé seo ceart go leor nuair a bhíonn praghsanna na dtithe ag dul in airde, ach cad a tharlóidh leo má thosnaíonn praghsanna na dtithe ag dul in ísle? Níor smaoinigh siad ar an phróiseas sin. Maidir leis an chuid den rún a scríobh Páirtí an Lucht Oibre faoin scéim liúntais chíosa, tá an ceart acu ansin. Tá sé an-chosúil lena ndéanann an tAire Sláinte agus Leanaí chun cártaí sláinte a chur ar fáil. Níor chuir sí suim i bhfoinse an ioncaim. Ba é an leibhéal a bhí i gceist. Tá an ceart ag an Teachta Gilmore, tá sé tábhachtach go ndéanfar athrú air seo. Tá an Rialtas ag cur a lán airgid isteach agus tá tithíocht ag teacht mar gheall air sin, agus sin an rud is tábhachtaí.

  Mr. Moloney: I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this motion. I will concentrate on voluntary and co-operative housing, Traveller accommodation and accommodation for Irish emigrants living abroad. The combination of Government policies is working well, particularly in my constituency.

The voluntary housing for the elderly scheme is worth mentioning. The money allocated under this heading does not reduce the capital allocated to local authorities. The scheme is an ideal opportunity to provide for the elderly and to ensure that we maintain capital investment in local authority housing. I hope we will examine ways of improving the voluntary housing for the elderly sector. Two years ago I sponsored a scheme of housing for the elderly in my home town, Mountmellick. I and my constituency secretary undertook the task of involving the community in the project. It was clear from that experience that providing for the elderly is an important way of adding to one’s local area.

We made our application to the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern. The scheme cost €3.2 million and the local contribution was €185,000. The scheme was opened officially by the Minister some weeks ago and Mountmellick now has 25 state-of-the-art housing units as well as a com[152] munity centre. The project brought the community together and encouraged people to become involved in a voluntary capacity. The spin-off effect is that we have ideal, top class accommodation for the elderly.

I hope that as we proceed with such schemes throughout most towns and villages we will examine ways of making the venture more attractive for voluntary groups who might wish to participate. At present, 95% grant assistance is available under the capital assist schemes. In view of the fact that these schemes depend on voluntary effort, perhaps the grant assistance could be increased to 97% or 98%. It should be considered. The fact that Mountmellick could provide that scheme meant that demand was reduced on the local authority to provide maisonette accommodation, which is traditionally given to people in the over 65 age group. We are in the happy position of being able to offer accommodation to the age group that is often left behind, that is, the 55 to 65 year olds.

If this scheme was copied throughout the country, it would reduce demands on the capital programme for local authorities and provide sheltered and secure accommodation. I also believe that if demand in local authority areas is being met, we could turn our attention to bringing home Irish people who are retired and living abroad and who might be in need of housing accommodation. Provided these people meet criteria such as those set down by Safe Home, they should be entitled to transfer without having to put their names on a local authority housing list. This is important.

I have always been a supporter of the local authority when it undertook to provide Traveller accommodation. If people doubt that, they can check my record as a member of Laois County Council. I have always believed we should take as many people off the roadside as possible. The local authority in Laois has been the top local authority in providing Traveller accommodation. However, I wish to make an appeal. There are a number of schemes in Laois where, unfortunately, the Traveller community would not take the accommodation offered. We should encourage Travellers to accept accommodation, particularly where new houses in new schemes are being offered. We should be more proactive in this regard, especially in view of the recent reports about mortality rates among Traveller women. There should be more emphasis on ensuring that as many people as possible accept such accommodation.

I support what the Minister is doing in the housing sector. I believe the combination of policies is working well and is doing a great deal to house as many people as possible.

  Mr. Crowe: I wish to share time with Deputies Breen, McHugh, Catherine Murphy, Gregory and Cuffe.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

[153]   Mr. Crowe: I welcome this motion from the Labour Party and am glad it echoes many of the proposals that were set out in Sinn Féin’s Private Members’ motion at the beginning of this month. These are progressive proposals designed to help solve the housing crisis for many individuals and families.

Sinn Féin has called for an all-lreland housing strategy to tackle the crisis. We believe that the right to a roof over one’s head is a fundamental human right. Many people believe the State’s housing policy is being written at the behest of wealthy property developers and their speculator friends. Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, seen as a progressive step at the time to ensure a social mix in housing and to deliver additional local authority housing, was diluted just two years later as a result of lobbying by property developers.

It is abundantly clear that the majority of developers wish to literally buy their way out of social and affordable housing commitments to prevent decreasing the value of units in their new plush developments. This Government is once again complicit in the ghettoisation of social housing and only pays lip service to a commitment to promote social inclusion. The stipulation of 20% social and affordable housing in developments is a minimum and Sinn Féin has argued for more.

Of the 81,000 homes constructed last year, a paltry 831 were social and affordable. The Government has failed to deliver on its commitment in the national development plan to deliver social and affordable homes and Ireland has one of the lowest outputs of social housing in the EU. Government inaction will ensure that the NESC target of achieving 73,000 social housing units by 2012 to tackle the housing crisis will not be realised. It is shameful that the Government is putting the wealthy class of developers before families in critical need of housing, a case of once again putting profit before people.

On the issue of management companies, I have received numerous complaints from concerned residents who have been forced to hand over considerable sums of cash to these companies, which are usually controlled by the property developer. These management companies are notorious for failing to carry out their promised maintenance works. The regulation of these companies is long overdue; in fact I question their existence.

This Government’s ideology relies on the market to provide housing. I must admit this policy has proven extremely successful. However, it is only successful for wealthy property developers, speculators, banks, solicitors and private interests. The losers have been those on low incomes, homeless people, people with disabilities and the aged.

It is undeniable that house prices have spiralled out of control in Dublin. Young couples are being forced out of the areas in which they were reared to live in far away commuter towns. Many of [154] those lucky enough to secure a house are then faced with 40 year mortgages, not to mention travelling long distances to and from work. We have a two tier education system and a two tier health system, so why not a two tier housing system? Sinn Féin perceives housing as a basic right, not as an opportunity to reap massive profits through investment and speculation.

It is shameful that the State is subsidising private landlords, through rent supplements, to the tune of €1 million every day, instead of using this money to invest in more local authority housing. Sinn Féin fully supports the Make Room campaign to end homelessness, still an acute problem in this extremely wealthy state. While thousands of investor and holiday homes lie vacant, there are still an estimated 5,500 people throughout the State sleeping rough. In my constituency, the Tallaght homeless information service registered an 83% increase in the number of people accessing services. The local authority says that nobody is sleeping rough yet the local homeless unit gives out up to 200 sleeping bags per year.

The Government’s housing policy is characterised by inequality and segregation. Sinn Féin believes housing is a right, not a commodity.

  Mr. J. Breen: Recently, when Deputy Crowe put forward a motion which sought some of the goals outlined in the motion before us, I spoke about the need for modernising our housing policies so accommodation can be delivered. It is time this Government delivered on the promises it has made. However, while I fully support certain proposals contained in the Labour Party motion, I do not believe the promises which have been broken by this Government can be replaced by some of the more unrealistic targets it sets out.

I accept that we should have a proper national housing policy which delivers good quality and affordable houses to those who most need them and that such a policy should be accompanied by proper planning and infrastructural guidelines so that the ghetto-like estates built in the past by local authorities are not repeated. However, the proposal that up to 50% of units in developments in housing blackspot areas should be affordable is counter-productive because it would discourage developers from building in such areas and allow local authorities to abdicate their responsibilities to deliver housing, with the result that fewer houses would be provided. I could never support the proposal that all residential developments in housing blackspot areas would be acquired through compulsory purchase orders. As cities and towns grow, their boundaries change, so that what was once agricultural land can become suitable for urban development in a matter of years. The fact that boundaries change as towns grow does not mean that lands which have been in family ownership for generations should be acquired through compulsory purchase orders. There is no point in replacing broken promises [155] with similarly unrealistic plans. Therefore, while I want to see a concerted and vigorous effort to address homelessness, it is futile to believe that any measure we introduce this year will end homelessness by 2010.

I have sought regulations on gazumping and auctioneering since I was elected to this House and have repeatedly urged the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to address the issue by introducing legislation. When a house is put up for sale at auction, every bidder’s name, address and other contact details should be recorded in a register which is made available for inspection by anybody who wishes to check the bona fides of a bid. In the event of irregular bidding, penalties should ensue. It is time the wheel turned in favour of the consumer.

  Ms C. Murphy: We all share the need to live somewhere. It would be impossible to imagine, for example, an election in which housing was not a dominant issue. I anticipate that many of the issues addressed in the motion before us tonight will be raised in the coming months.

New problems are arising in terms of management companies for traditional housing estates, which are tantamount to the return of domestic rates. Although this morning in the District Court, 20 cases taken by a management company were struck out, the lack of legal protection is astonishing given the time that has passed since the issue first came to light. Given that a minimum of 70,000 houses nationally are located in completed housing estates where local authorities have not taken responsibility for public spaces, I am convinced there is better protection for consumers who buy bags of crisps than for those who buy houses. When a developer does not complete roads or landscaping before starting to sell dreams off the plans for his or her next site, the residents of incomplete estates are left with nightmares.

At the height of the housing boom in 2005, a mere 730 people purchased homes under the shared ownership scheme. The fact that shared ownership is the only loan available to those who are unable to get mortgages from private lending institutions demonstrates the inadequacy of the scheme. Given that 2,500 local authority houses, excluding those in refurbishment schemes, currently lie vacant, the turnaround time for re-letting is unacceptably long in some locations. Steel shutters ghettoise such areas and make it impossible for residents to build a sense of pride. The lack of urgency in addressing that issue is breathtaking.

The delays in delivering affordable housing, including developments under the Part V scheme, have added to the growing local authority waiting lists. Single income households and individuals face particular difficulties in that regard. The housing waiting list in County Kildare comprises [156] 3,000 individuals and families, which equates to a decently sized town of 15,000 people.

The Government’s amendment demonstrates how far removed from reality it is. Thankfully, it will not be long before the Government has to acknowledge that.

  Mr. McHugh: I welcome the Labour Party motion on housing, which comes at a time when many young people are striving to save the money to buy their first homes. Many fail to achieve their aim of owning the home in which they live. The motion before us makes a number of proposals, some of which I support and others which I do not. However, I concur with the motion’s general tenor that we require a new beginning.

The proposal for increasing the maximum proportion of social and affordable housing in a Part V scheme from 20% to 50% is impractical. In 2000, the then Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey, introduced a proposal for a completely new departure which should have been implemented. However, instead of progressing, we began to regress when the subsequent Minister, Deputy Cullen, began to row back on the provisions introduced by his predecessor. Rather than going from 20% to 50%, a reversion to the terms proposed by the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, would perhaps be preferable.

The Labour Party motion also refers to the efficient management of housing estates, a matter on which the current Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is not discharging his responsibilities in an honourable manner. The Minister wrings his hands and repeatedly states that the matter is the responsibility of local authorities when he should be acknowledging that local authorities come under his remit and that the buck ultimately stops with him. If local authorities are not taking charge of estates, the Minister should provide the resources they need to discharge their responsibilities. He should stop talking and begin to take effective and meaningful action so that residents can see real results.

The quality of design in housing estates and the recreational and other facilities provided in them leave a lot to be desired. It is true that some developments are built to high standards but it is equally true that others are substandard and, as a result, have contributed to many of the social problems being experienced at present. Again, the Minister has ultimate responsibility for ensuring that standards are improved.

  Mr. Gregory: I support the Labour Party motion on the introduction of a new national housing policy so that everyone can have a home of good quality. This may be a difficult task but, if the political will exists, it can be achieved despite the damage which has been done by the [157] present Government and its builder and developer friends.

The average cost of a house in Dublin now exceeds €420,000, while houses in former local authority estates in Cabra and East Wall are beyond the reach of the young people who grew up in them. Only relatively affluent professionals can afford to spend half a million euro to purchase homes in these areas.

Earlier this evening, I attended a meeting between residents from the Ballybough area and Dublin City Council. The residents are long-standing tenants in the council’s inner-city houses who had previously had to put up with Dickensian conditions in corporation flats. Now they want to purchase their homes from the council but, even with discounts for long tenancy, the price is beyond their reach because the market value is being applied. A new tenant purchase scheme is needed, with a better discount for tenants. A special case can be made in that regard for Dublin, where house prices greatly exceed the national average. I urge the Minister to respond to this need by acting responsibly.

I note in today’s edition of The Irish Times that the Government’s affordable housing strategy is already failing in Dublin city before it has even left the ground, mainly because the so-called affordable houses comprise small apartments and, in most cases, the least attractive units in developments which often only attract single people. Most families and couples in Dublin continue to aspire to a house of their own and the unaffordability of houses in the city is driving families to counties Meath and Westmeath.

8 o’clock

Others are tying themselves to a crippling, life-long mortgage and paying crazy prices for the smallest and least attractive houses. Only investors and the affluent can really afford an average house in Dublin city today. This is the legacy of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government, which has neglected this vital social issue for so long, largely because it is beholden to its builder-developer paymasters. I support this motion in its entirety because a radical and comprehensive housing policy is essential to reverse the neglect of the past decade.

  Mr. Cuffe: What does one say to a young mother when she approaches one for local authority housing having been told she must wait seven years? What does one say to a mother with two children under the age of two who is living in a shack in the back garden of a house with 12 occupants? What does one say to her in the knowledge that the waiting list for housing has trebled in Dún Laoghaire over the past ten years during a massive economic boom? How does one relate to her that councillors of a party in Government, Fianna Fáil, voted against the development of local authority housing a couple of miles from where she is living?

[158] Does one tell her the council cannot afford to buy land while the Progressive Democrats, the other party in Government, wants to give back €2.5 billion in stamp duty? Does one say to her that the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Noel Ahern, did not even show up at a debate on the issue this evening? Does one tell her that one of the finest entrepreneurs and builders, Mick Wallace, is saying the Government does not have its act together on social housing? It is hard to look such a person in the eye and tell her she will be waiting seven years for a house in spite of an unprecedented economic boom.

One could say to this lady that State lands earmarked for development five years ago are lying idle, in spite of a promise that social housing units would be built there within months. One could say that those responsible for the tens of thousands of one-off houses in the country do not pay a penny towards social and affordable housing because they are exempt from doing so under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. One could tell her the Minister of State with responsibility for these matters filleted the Act, which promised a great dawn for social and affordable housing.

One must say to the woman that we need to build 10,000 social housing units per year. One must say to her that there are many good ideas, given that developers in London are building houses for €100,000. In Dún Laoghaire, however, one cannot put a down-payment on a house that costs under €500,000. One must say to her that the Government needs to be changed if she is to have a decent chance of having a home built within seven years, let alone three, to keep her safe and secure.

The way we build homes and the building regulations need to be changed. We are falling behind the rest of Europe in this regard. If one wants to build a house tomorrow in Northern Ireland, it must have a condensing boiler and it must have higher standards of insulation than those which obtain here. We are belatedly introducing the EU building performance directive, but according to standards that are much inferior to those that apply abroad. Even the most pedestrian house built today will receive a “C” rating under the system proposed and we therefore need to improve the building regulations as much as anything else. We need a change of Government if we are to deliver the housing required by the aforementioned woman and her children.

  Mr. Stagg: I wish to share time with Deputies Wall, Burton and Connaughton.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Mr. Stagg: As a socialist, I believe in a rights-based society and I therefore believe every man, woman and child has the right to a home and to security, comfort and dignity therein. I do not [159] expect Fianna Fáil to do more in this regard than it has done in the past ten years. There have been ten years of unsurpassed wealth, with no excuses as to resources or ability, yet there is sweet Fanny Adams to show for them. Fianna Fáil’s miserable efforts have resulted in the virtual collapse of the social housing project and an unprecedented number of homeless citizens in this rich Republic. Consequently, 45,000 families, or approximately 18,000 men, women and children, are on the ever-lengthening waiting list for council houses.

Fianna Fáil’s conscious policies and decisions have made it impossible for hard-working young families to buy their own homes. This did not happen by accident; it was deliberately engineered by a series of actions by Fianna Fáil Ministers that rewarded and continues to reward their rich friends at the tent at the Galway races.

The land and building speculators and so-called investors were given massive, generous tax breaks that enabled and encouraged them to involve themselves aggressively in the housing market. They still enjoy these tax breaks exclusively and taxpayers are still paying this particular piper. The result has been a financial bonanza for the few fat-cat friends of Fianna Fáil and an unmitigated social and financial disaster for a large section of society. Fianna Fáil’s policy has resulted in a massive building boom, although those who need houses cannot afford them due to the housing inflation caused by the tax-break-sheltered speculators. It is such that one in six houses built in the past five years lies idle and is held by an investor vulture for inflationary gain.

The investor-vultures are the people the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Noel Ahern, said should be taxed out of existence. He is the Minister of State and not a neutral observer. When will he act or was his statement just an idle threat? The budget is due in a few weeks and it will present him and his ministerial colleagues with the opportunity to take action. However, the speculators and vultures are losing no sleep. They know they have greased the paw of the Fianna Fáil election machine and that the party always looks after those who pay up.

A good and representative example of the depth of the housing crisis is evident in a town in my constituency of Kildare North, namely, Celbridge. It is a town comprised largely of private housing estates and has a population of 18,000. There is a very low level of unemployment in the town, yet there are 1,600 families on the waiting list for affordable and social housing. At the current rate of provision of affordable, council, voluntary and co-operative housing, it will take some 20 years simply to clear the backlog. This is unacceptable and the Labour Party can and will do much better.

The Labour Party, if in Government, will work to achieve its objective of providing a secure, comfortable home for everyone living in the [160] State. We have the resources and all that is needed is the political will, which Labour has. The party’s spokesperson, Deputy Gilmore, outlined to the House last night and in his policy documents, launched earlier this week, a package of measures to deal with the crisis caused by Fianna Fáil and its fat-cat friends. These include bringing an end to homelessness, which is a scandal in this rich country. We can afford to and must do so. Also included in the package of measures are a building programme to provide homes for those on the housing waiting list, with a turnover of 10,000 houses per year; ensuring tenants have the right to purchase their homes; measures to acquire building land to provide homes at prices affordable to young working families; and an end to the poverty trap caused by the rent subsidy scheme.

On behalf of those on the waiting list for housing, those who cannot afford a home in the inflated market, the homeless and those who care for them, and parents who rightly fear their children will never have their own homes, the Labour Party, when in Government, will tackle and solve the housing crisis. It needs their electoral support to do so. The speculators, builders and investment vultures will vote for Fianna Fáil, as they always do, while the aforementioned people should vote against that party in their own interest.

  Mr. Wall: I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, on his paper detailing a new national housing plan. In it he has included a section whereby persons who are tenants of voluntary rental subsidy schemes can purchase their own homes. This scheme was implemented some years ago to provide houses for those on low incomes. At the time, it seemed a good scheme, and many obtained their first family home through that process. However, since that time we have moved to a position where a participant in such a scheme cannot purchase a house, and the rent he or she pays is uncapped.

In many instances those schemes are adjacent to, or part of, a local authority initiative. There is the person in the voluntary rental subsidy scheme paying an uncapped rent and unable to purchase his or her house. On the other side of the road, the local authority tenant has a capped rent and can purchase his or her house after a year’s tenancy.

That inequality is unbelievable in current circumstances, since those involved in the rental subsidy scheme put their money together and co-operated to develop a scheme and policy on housing applicable to them. However, the sad situation is that the Government has never accepted they are entitled as a community to purchase their own homes and move forward as families in an area that they developed. They worked together to ensure the community would develop as such, and yet we see inequality between the two sides of the road. Local auth[161] ority tenants may buy after one year, and the other person, with a 99-year lease, can never say he or she can pass on the house to a loved one or own the family home.

This was discussed here when questions were last put to the Minister. Deputy Stagg raised the feeling that something can be done in this regard. I ask the Minister to move forward and ensure that in the budget provision is made on funding the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to put in place a tenant purchase scheme, as detailed in the housing plan that Deputy Gilmore proposes.

As Deputy Catherine Murphy has already mentioned, there are major problems regarding shared ownership. We see it is practically irrelevant in Kildare, since the ceiling that Kildare County Council has put on the loan of €185,000 is not applicable to any housing estate in the county. Even secondhand houses are going for more than €200,000. There are several problems in this regard. First, people who qualify for the €185,000 do not, in any instance, qualify for the rent subsidy that attaches to the scheme, owing to their income being over the limit of €25,000. There is therefore no longer any relevance to the rent subsidy part of that scheme, which must be urgently examined.

The 100% loans now available from the banks require that a person have an income of over €45,000 to apply. A certain group is not able to purchase a house, since the scheme is not there. Even if successful, they would not consider the scheme charged a good rate. I checked with all the banks today, including AIB, Bank of Scotland Ireland, Bank of Ireland, and the TSB. Every one had a lower rate of repayment than the shared ownership scheme. That unacceptable position will have to be addressed, and I ask that the Minister consider those two items and decide in that regard. When the Labour Party is in Government after the next election, they will certainly be addressed.

  Ms Burton: I thank my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, for raising this important issue.

A critical question for the Labour Party is affordability of housing for first-time buyers and people moving to larger properties as their families grow. There is a growing issue, particularly on the fringes of Dublin, as people buy small, affordable homes or apartments through such councils as Fingal, Dublin city and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Currently, if they have a family, they are not given another chance to get a family-sized home. They are restricted regarding affordable housing to one purchase only. When family size increases as people marry, enter relationships or have children, a one or two-bedroom affordable apartment, which was appropriate for a single person or couple, becomes completely unsuitable. The Government offers no assistance to such people, and Labour wants to see that property trap removed.

[162] The pre-budget outlook published by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, shows an estimated €70 million will be paid by first-time buyers in 2006. Those are first-time buyers of secondhand homes in expensive locations, with houses costing more than €317,000. The position of such first-time buyers and people trading up to buy a modest family home costing over €317,000 is in stark contrast to the avoidance mechanisms that have been tolerated by the Government, and which the Minister for Finance defended again today where developers invest in multi-million euro land and property deals. Those who buy apartments and houses in the developments pay the stamp duty, but the developer pays nothing on mega-million euro land deals. The Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government has left two loopholes, the first being a licence to build so that no land changes hands and no stamp duty arises, as the Minister told us today. The second is that, instead of transferring land, one transfers shares in a company, which attracts a stamp duty of only 1%, whereas the transfer of valuable development land would normally attract the top rate of 9%.

Perhaps Members are aware of the deal regarding the Irish Glass Bottle Company site, which was recently sold for over €400 million. That was done by share transfer, attracting a stamp duty rate of just 1%. The developers made a cool €30 million through avoiding stamp duty, and the Minister for Finance defended that today. They saved almost half of what first-time buyers are paying in stamp duty this year. It is set out in the Labour document that we want such blatant injustice regarding the tax and property system reversed in favour of first-time buyers and people who want a modest family home.

I wish to say a word on mortgages. I am not sure if many Members are aware that, in the last 18 months, their cost has risen by 50%, so the average mortgage repayment in the Dublin area has gone from €1,453 to €2,167. Over a calendar year, one must find €24,000 to pay for the average mortgage on a small property before anything else. In addition, one must eat and provide for other necessities. It is not possible to live on air in one’s apartment. It is outrageous that the acquisition of a family home has been put beyond people’s grasp by this Government.

  Mr. Connaughton: I thank the Labour Party for this motion and Deputy Gilmore, in particular, for his lifelong interest in this issue. It is a human right for every person to have access to a good quality house at a price that is affordable to them. This is something we tend to forget. The Government has been boasting since the publication of the Book of Estimates that between 70,000 and 90,000 houses were built this year. This is undoubtedly a positive development in itself.

It is difficult to see, however, how the Government can take the credit for it. It is the young people who must commit to mortgage repay[163] ments for the next 40 years who deserve credit. It is good that they have the confidence to make that commitment. As Deputy Burton observed, however, if interest rates increase by a further 2%, many people will be in a woeful situation.

The main benefactor of this situation is the Government. It is akin to a laying goose as the Government coffers are filled with direct and indirect taxes on every house that is built. If ever there was a case where the Government is entitled to no credit whatsoever, it is this. That credit should be reserved for the young people who are paying way above the odds for their homes while the Government reaps the benefits.

I have the good fortune to have been in this House for a lengthy period and was involved in the Fine Gael-Labour coalition Government in the 1980s. Many commentators now subscribe to the mantra that the lights almost went out on this country at that time. The reality, however, is that more local authority housing was built in those years than at any other time because that Government had a social conscience. In County Galway at that time, a local authority housing list of 700 or 800 was considered a disaster. The current list stands at 1,700. All these families are in need of assistance from Galway County Council because they cannot afford to purchase their own homes. Any Government worth its salt, with the resources available to it that we have been told about in the last several days, should be ashamed of itself. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

There are many changes that could take place easily enough but which have not been made. The difficulties in regard to the tenant purchase scheme do not relate only to Dublin. It suits any Government, for a variety of reasons, that tenants should own their own property. It removes the obligation of maintenance on the part of the State and allows tenants to become home owners who will take pride in their property. I do not understand why it is not made easier and more acceptable for local authority tenants to purchase their homes. Authorities in other jurisdictions have found it is better to sell houses at half price in view of the benefits accruing to both tenants and local authorities.

I always believed in the concept of affordable housing but it must always be related to the ability of the person involved to pay. That affordability element is no longer in place. Even the so-called affordable homes are no longer affordable. I hope Labour and Fine Gael will be in a position from next May to implement the proposals in the Labour Party motion.

  Miss de Valera: I welcome this opportunity to address some of the issues raised during the course of this debate. We heard much from the Opposition yesterday about the plight of first-time buyers. I reassure the House [164] that access to affordable housing for first-time buyers remains a core objective of the Government’s housing policy. This objective is being supported by record levels of housing; one in three of all homes in Ireland was built in the last ten years.

Significant numbers have benefited under an expanding range of affordable housing schemes. Other general measures are in place through the tax system to assist first-time buyers, such as stamp duty concessions and mortgage interest relief. We have evidence too of strong activity by first-time buyers in the market. It is estimated that 45% of new house loans in 2005 were taken out by first-time buyers. The average age of first-time buyers in 2005 was 30 years. This compares with a corresponding average age in the United Kingdom of 34 years.

The Government will continue to prioritise effective action to maintain current high levels of supply in the housing market and, in particular, will accelerate measures to assist those who cannot access affordable housing without assistance. This will include evolving polices to meet changing circumstances. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Ahern, yesterday highlighted the new innovations in housing policy introduced by this Government. One of these is the ground-breaking legislation that is Part V of the Planning and Development Acts 2000-2006. Output under Part V is gathering momentum. Instead of welcoming this, however, the current debate is based on misleading information about the potential yield.

Several Deputies argued for the use of State land for affordable housing. I remind them that the Government has already assigned lands for this purpose and, furthermore, has successfully used land swaps to turn some two acres of State land into almost 500 discounted affordable homes. We have done so in a relatively short space of time, with some 400 of the homes coming on stream this year and the balance following in 2007.

A further innovation is the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. I acknowledge the welcome given by the Opposition yesterday to this scheme. Good progress has been made in implementing RAS, and nearly all housing authorities have begun to transfer cases to the scheme. It is projected that by the end of 2006, between 4,500 to 5,000 households with a long-term housing need will have transferred from rent supplement to accommodation provided by local authorities, either to RAS, or some other type of social housing.

We are providing the resources and evolving policies in line with principles set down in the housing policy framework, Building Sustainable Communities, published in December 2005. The framework firmly sets the housing policy objective of enabling every household to have available an affordable dwelling of good quality, suited to its needs and, as far as possible, at the [165] tenure of its choice, in the broader context of building sustainable communities. Our approach has been endorsed by the social partners in Towards 2016. Record levels of funding have once again been provided for social and affordable housing programmes, and benefits will be seen in terms of outputs in 2007 and beyond.

At a time of phenomenal change for the housing sector, the Government is delivering on housing. We are not complacent about the future, however, and are determined to maintain our record of achievement in this vital area.

  Mr. M. Higgins: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this debate. I propose to share time with Deputy Gilmore.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Mr. M. Higgins: One would need great neck to make the claim the Minister of State has made that the Government is succeeding on the basic issue of housing. How many units of social housing did the Government promise, how many units did the NESC tell us were necessary and how many have been provided? This Government, which strongly represents the speculative mentality in regard to the building of homes, has provided only approximately one third of what was provided in the 1970s. Government back bench Members hopped up to tell us it was because of the return of migrants, the expansion of the population and other demographic factors. If that were all true, how can they then defend building only a third of the social housing compared to that provided in the 1970s? The Government has added a tissue of untruths to the debate.

The social and affordable housing that was promised has not been built. It continues to surprise me how the social partners are satisfied at being conned as to the numbers of social and affordable housing units being built. Some 40,000 affordable houses were promised by the Government but since 1999, it has only provided 3,000. One does not need to be a genius to work out that 3,000 subtracted from 40,000 is 37,000. As long as Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats are in government, there will never be a fundamental change in the legendary source of housing speculation and inflation of the price of building land. The All-Party Committee on the Constitution agreed on the implementation of changes that Deputy Gilmore proposed in his motion on acquiring land for housing. I am proud that the stamp of the Labour Party is on the motion. I congratulate Deputy Gilmore and other Labour Members who have supported it.

When the people will vote, they will know that the Progressive Democrats, when in government, will steal from the public what it does not own. It stands for the taking of public property and handing it to the private sector for speculative gain.

  Deputies: Hear, hear.

[166]   Mr. M. Higgins: That is its mark, aim and achievement in government.

We have explicitly stated that we will put an end to the sale of State land. To those who ask how they are to know the difference between one party and another in government, it is in this motion. If one wants to imagine nothing can be done about housing speculation or the market, then one can have more of the same misery. If one wants a change, then one changes the Government’s components.

The Government has failed in housing provision. In doing so, it has torn the heart out of the economy and destabilised society. Those on the left know that one never speaks about the house one lives in as only an asset. It is a home. The absence of a good, secure and comfortable home has effects on one’s partner, children and neighbours. Imagine our State saying the speculators must be rewarded but will not guarantee the right to a home. That is some Republic. The principle of the right to a home must be accepted. It does not mean the Government is required to provide everyone with a home tomorrow morning. Instead we should look to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that states it should be progressively realised. While not all builders are speculators, there is that small speculative clique which hoards lands near cities. It knows it is always safe with Fianna Fáil and even safer with the Progressive Democrats, which will take State assets and transfer all to them. Stealing from the public for the benefit of the few.

Historians will come to write about this period and ask how we used the fruits of economic growth. They will write of people whispering about the number of houses they own. No longer in the Republic is it a matter of having a roof over one’s head but how many one has managed to acquire with tax benefits. It is a question of how many properties one has acquired on the blood of those whose likelihood of having a roof over their heads one has, by one’s actions, put out of reach. That is the Government’s Republic. The housing crisis has not only torn the heart out of the economy and destroyed communities, it has dashed young people’s hopes of owning a home.

Deputy Gilmore proposes a proper regulated public and private rental sector, social housing for those who cannot afford it and affordable housing to be provided through reforms on land acquisition. In the miserable society we live in, newspapers are sold by suggesting it is a social success that a former corporation house has broken the €500,000 barrier or that a house in the Republic has passed the €1 million barrier. At a reception several years ago, a Secretary General boasted to me, “I never thought I would live to see my children buying houses for €500,000 in this country.” After a lifetime in the public service, this was the extent of the moral vision of this miserable git. The truth is that everything from health, social [167] life community, good planning is affected by one’s home.

The Government surrendered to the speculative clique in the building industry on Part V of the Planning Act. Deputy Carey should return to the Chamber to explain why he finds our proposal on this unimaginative. Maybe he will tell us the terms of the Government’s surrender where they claimed working people could not live alongside those whose aspiration is to live in gated communities. The Government will have created a society where people who cannot afford to buy their own houses will be on one side of the street. Those taking the blood money from their 20 or so houses will be living behind their electronic gates, protected against the people they are supposed to be living with in communities. The Government will have done all this in its Republic.

If this is ever to change, it will mean removing the Progressive Democrats from office. It is the party that represents those who want to put their private hospitals on the grounds of public hospitals. They who want to sell State sites owned by CIE and other State agencies. It is the party of the miserable Minister of State at the Department of Finance who stands with an auctioneer’s hammer in his hand, declaring “everything is up for sale”. Everything is up to be robbed from the public when it comes to the Progressive Democrats. Builders know that Fianna Fáil, with its own slick mohair inheritance from the building industry, will always facilitate a conversation with a Minister.

In the time of the greatest economic growth in the State’s history, has social protection been extended? A home is the security to which a child returns after school. It is the place where the elderly spend the remaining days of their lives. The Government now requires them to sell their homes to go into nursing homes.

  Deputies: Hear, hear.

  Mr. M. Higgins: A home in Fianna Fáil thinking, already contaminated by the Progressive Democrats, is an asset and no longer a home in this republic of greed. How can Ireland be the second richest country in the world yet have the second lowest level of social protection in comparison with its European neighbours? Why will the Government not accept a rights-based approach to shelter? Why will it not implement the proposals of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution?

The Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, and her colleagues come to the Galway Races and proclaim,“Isn’t Galway really flying? There are cranes everywhere.” There are cranes in Cork, Dublin and elsewhere making money for those who have buckets of it already. At the same time, 2,546 families in Galway city have waited six to ten years for a house. Gardaí, teachers and others [168] with moderate incomes are unable to purchase a house there.

The moral challenge for any society is how its economy is regulated. Today, thankfully in Ireland, it is a question of how to distribute the fruits of economic growth. How could the Government have so much wealth and produce so much misery? How could it have such an absence of courage in defining rights? When history judges us it will say that at this time when everything could have been achieved, much damage was done. The damage will have been led by putting housing out of the reach of those who wish to have their basic right to shelter accepted as a principle.

  Mr. Gilmore: I thank all the Members who contributed to this debate, particularly those Opposition Members who are supporting the Labour Party motion this evening.

Yesterday evening, in response to the motion, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Ahern, offered a mixture of flattery and delusion. Having considered the Labour Party motion and concluded that it was a good idea, the Minister of State’s response was to remind the Labour Party that the Government has already launched that policy and welcome that party’s endorsement of its approach. The Labour Party, he said, had picked up on many of the elements of the Government’s statement in its policy document. It appears that the Government’s first response when faced with ten good ideas from the Labour Party on how to deal with the housing problem is to throw the cloak around it and say “that is a great idea and we are doing it already”. If that were really the case the Minister of State would not have proposed an amendment to the motion which begins with the words “To delete all words after ‘Dáil Éireann’ ” and substitute a long litany of delusional Government platitudes.

The Minister of State acknowledges the achievements of the Government in “improving affordability for first-time buyers through targeted measures”. The Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland in its Financial Stability Report published last week states: “Following the publication of last year’s Report a reacceleration emerged in annual house price increases. . . . [A continuation of high] increases in house prices, along with increasing interest rates, is contributing to a deterioration in affordability in the residential market.” So much for the Government’s platitude that it is improving affordability.

The Minister of State said that the Government is “taking action to improve the regulation of property services and to address various issues relating to the management of common areas and facilities in private developments...”. It is doing no such thing and in the text of the Minister of State’s speech the issue of dealing with manage[169] ment companies is lost somewhere between the Law Reform Commission, the auctioneer and estate agents review group and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The Government has certainly not taken any action to control and regulate management companies and management charges in private developments.

He spoke about the introduction of “ground-breaking legislation under Part V of the Planning and Development Acts” and said that the Government is “significantly increasing delivery under Part V in terms of both social and affordable housing;”. It is not. The Government gutted Part V of the Planning and Development Acts. Even by a conservative estimate, Part V should by now have delivered 40,000 homes, instead it has delivered 3,000. That leaves 37,000 families who should today be living in an affordable home that this Government handed back before Christmas 2002 as a gift to private developers.

The Government says it is bringing forward the housing action plan to increase the supply of [170] social housing. We can judge it only by its results. In the richest of times, after ten years of this coalition in Government there are twice as many people on social housing lists as were on it when the coalition took office. That is so even after the Government changed the method of counting these people in order to make the figures look good.

The Government compliments itself on the introduction of the rental accommodation scheme. This scheme and the rent allowance scheme, as operated, are nothing more than the privatisation of social housing for the benefit of many of those who have in the first place benefited from tax-supported investment properties.

This country needs a change in housing policy and if this Government votes down the Labour Party motion tonight the only way this will be achieved is by a change of Government.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 65; Níl, 59.

    Ahern, Michael.

    Andrews, Barry.

    Ardagh, Seán.

    Blaney, Niall.

    Brady, Johnny.

    Brady, Martin.

    Breen, James.

    Brennan, Seamus.

    Browne, John.

    Callanan, Joe.

    Callely, Ivor.

    Carey, Pat.

    Carty, John.

    Cassidy, Donie.

    Collins, Michael.

    Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.

    Coughlan, Mary.

    Cowen, Brian.

    Cregan, John.

    Cullen, Martin.

    Curran, John.

    de Valera, Síle.

    Dennehy, John.

    Devins, Jimmy.

    Ellis, John.

    Fahey, Frank.

    Finneran, Michael.

    Fitzpatrick, Dermot.

    Fleming, Seán.

    Gallagher, Pat The Cope.

    Hanafin, Mary.

    Haughey, Seán.

    Hoctor, Máire.

    Jacob, Joe.

    Kelleher, Billy.

    Kelly, Peter.

    Kirk, Seamus.

    Kitt, Tom.

    Lenihan, Brian.

    Lenihan, Conor.

    McDowell, Michael.

    McEllistrim, Thomas.

    McGuinness, John.

    Moloney, John.

    Moynihan, Michael.

    Mulcahy, Michael.

    Nolan, M.J.

    Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.

    O’Donnell, Liz.

    O’Donoghue, John.

    O’Donovan, Denis.

    O’Flynn, Noel.

    O’Keeffe, Batt.

    O’Keeffe, Ned.

    O’Malley, Fiona.

    Parlon, Tom.

    Power, Peter.

    Sexton, Mae.

    Smith, Brendan.

    Smith, Michael.

    Treacy, Noel.

    Wallace, Mary.

    Walsh, Joe.

    Wilkinson, Ollie.

    Woods, Michael.

Níl

    Allen, Bernard.

    Boyle, Dan.

    Breen, Pat.

    Broughan, Thomas P.

    Bruton, Richard.

    Burton, Joan.

    Connaughton, Paul.

    Connolly, Paudge.

    Costello, Joe.

    Crawford, Seymour.

    Crowe, Seán.

    Cuffe, Ciarán.

    Deasy, John.

    Deenihan, Jimmy.

    Durkan, Bernard J.

    English, Damien.

    Enright, Olwyn.

    Gilmore, Eamon.

    Gogarty, Paul.

    Gormley, John.

    [171] Gregory, Tony.

    Harkin, Marian.

    Hayes, Tom.

    Higgins, Joe.

    Higgins, Michael D.

    Kehoe, Paul.

    Kenny, Enda.

    Lynch, Kathleen.

    McEntee, Shane.

    McGinley, Dinny.

    McGrath, Finian.

    McGrath, Paul.

    McHugh, Paddy.

    McManus, Liz.

    Mitchell, Olivia.

    Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.

    Murphy, Catherine.

    Murphy, Gerard.

    Naughten, Denis.

    Neville, Dan.

    Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.

    Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.

    O’Dowd, Fergus.

    O’Keeffe, Jim.

    O’Shea, Brian.

    O’Sullivan, Jan.

    Pattison, Seamus.

    Penrose, Willie.

    Perry, John.

    Ryan, Eamon.

    Ryan, Seán.

    Sargent, Trevor.

    Sherlock, Joe.

    Stagg, Emmet.

    Stanton, David.

    Timmins, Billy.

    Twomey, Liam.

    Upton, Mary.

    Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Stagg and Kehoe.

Amendment declared carried.

[172] Question: “That the motion as amended be agreed to” put and declared carried.