Wednesday, 17 December 2008
Dáil Eireann Debate
Homelessness in 21st century Ireland has taken on a whole new meaning and reality for a broad-based spectrum of people who are falling victim to the current economic crisis. We are seeing a new threat of homelessness generated by house repossessions. The social wreckage that has been caused by the giving of loans to people who cannot afford to repay them is impacting on the rapidly rising homeless figures.
According to the Financial Regulator almost 14,000 mortgages were more than three months in arrears at the end of June this year. That figure represents 1.4% of residential mortgages and is up from the end of December 2006, when 11,252 mortgages or 1.2% of all mortgages were in arrears. Figures for repossessions by court order show that there was a total of 128 repossessions between January 2005 and June 2008.
The Labour Party is calling for a new code of practice for financial institutions to provide for a moratorium on repossession orders for family homes during the current recession. I support such a move. I called on the Government in an Adjournment motion last month to introduce mortgage rescue schemes similar to those already in operation in many European Union countries.
The rising number of homeless people will impact adversely on the inadequate Government provision of social housing, with the numbers on the waiting lists rising from 43,000 in 2005 to in excess of 56,000 at the end of March this year. It is disturbing to think there are also 5,000 plus people experiencing homelessness in this country currently, of which a shockingly high proportion are children. Within a quarter of a mile of the Houses of the Oireachtas one can see homeless people sleeping in doorways and alleys. That is a grave indictment of the Government’s housing policy and an indication of the imperative need to address the problem.
The situation arises at a time when the traditional support systems are under severe financial pressure, due to the economic downturn and Government cutbacks. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which has been the bedrock of aid and support, has said this week that several of its branches, particularly in urban areas, are running out of money.
The Simon Community has warned that its services are operating at full capacity and that it urgently needs more support as homelessness is due to rise. Origins of home ownership in Ireland date back to the rural land reforms of the early 20th century and the policy of tenant purchase of local authority housing, which emerged from reform precedents and led to a long tradition of grant giving. Fiscal supports for owner occupation have also played an important role in the development of housing policy. Housing rights, as defined at UN level, include the right to affordable housing, but personal or household costs should not threaten or compromise the attainment or satisfaction of other basic needs.
Rights to adequate housing should be in tandem with a location which allows access to employment, health care, schools, child care and other social facilities. The Council of Europe is creating a precise definition of affordable housing rights in accordance with Article 31 of the revised social charter — although the Government has refused to ratify this article. We are, unfortunately, dealing with a Government that lacks credibility, whose policies have failed to deliver for those most in need — and its housing policy has been high on aspiration and spin, with no delivery. A Government that cannot provide housing for its citizens, which is the most basic of human needs and rights, looks to others to do it. The social partnership agreement, Towards 2016, endorsed the principles set out in Building Sustainable Communities. It envisaged that through the provision of social and affordable housing, the housing needs of 60,000 households would be met between 2007-09, according to the Irish Council for Social Housing. This is just another useless aspiration, an empty promise from the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government, and the way it has behaved since the last general election is scandalous. It promised plenty and has delivered little.
Due to the last housing boom, developers had a free hand, literally, throwing up houses wherever they could without providing the necessary facilities, which of course were promised but never delivered. There are currently 300 recorded unfinished estates in the country, which are long past their completion dates and by no means up to taking-in-charge standards.
The Minister of State has failed to address the excessive enforcement period, which under section 180 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 provides for a seven year check to ensure developers have completed an estate to the required standard. This is totally ridiculous, working as it does in the interest of the developer, against the owner occupiers.
The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement published guidelines on management companies today, but unfortunately it does not offer much in the way of positive help to apartment holders who fall victim to such companies. What is needed is legislation to copperfasten suggestions as outlined in these guidelines, but where is it? My colleague, Deputy Terence Flanagan, has asked on numerous occasions when such legislation will come before the House. On each occasion he was assured it was being drafted, but it is still no further on, today. Unless it is being produced to the standard of a work of art or Celtic treasure, surely the Minister of State will agree that the drafting process is going on for an unduly long time. The losers are the apartment owners who are being ripped off by both the Government and the management companies, which are being allowed to get away with blatant extortion. The Minister of State should end the delay and bring the property services regulatory authority Bill before the House directly after the Christmas recess. That is why I believe we should come back one week earlier to introduce this and other pending legislation. The long break in the month of January is scandalous when the country is in crisis and on its knees.
Deputy James Bannon: An alternative viewpoint to the emphasis on home ownership asserts that by taking a comprehensive view of the rental as well as the ownership occupation markets, a strong case could be made for new affordable housing initiatives being directed in equal measure and perhaps even primarily at the rental sector. I would also support the acceleration of social and affordable housing, although this as such was axed by the Minister for Finance in the 2009 budget and lumped into the Government equity initiative about which we have heard absolutely nothing further — fine words but no follow-on, as usual. This has been the policy of the Government over the past 12 months — negligence to our community.
The association of affordability and the rental sector needs to be examined and plans made to open up the concept to other interpretations, to offer some hope for those seeking access to realistic accommodation. We must look to the rental option, which despite the historical emphasis on ownership, may be the answer to the local authority lists, which are growing in every county as we speak.
I find it somewhat ironic that this Private Members’ motion is being tabled by the Labour Party, in particular. From my experience of the local authority in Fingal, which encompasses my constituency, Dublin North, over the last five years the Labour Party with six out of 24 councillors has consistently opposed numerous social housing schemes as well as successive development plans — voting against housing projects that included the full quota of 15% affordable housing. Perhaps Deputy Ciarán Lynch might pass on to the leader of the Labour Party——
Deputy Darragh O’Brien: That is not the case in Fingal. Deputy Lynch might pass to the leader of the Labour Party that he should, perhaps, exert some control over his councillors so that they actually practise what Labour is preaching here in the Dáil.
As set out in the counter motion tabled by the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, the Government is committed to bringing forward legislative proposals in response to the Law Reform Commission’s report on multi-unit developments. The Government’s legislation programme for the current Dáil session, published in September, listed two important items of legislation for regulating this area. The property services regulatory authority Bill will establish a regulatory authority on a statutory basis. Its primary task will be to operate a licensing system for auctioneers, estate agents and property management agents and to improve standards in the provision of property services by licensees.
The authority will specify and enforce qualification requirements for licences, including levels of education, training and experience and other requirements such as minimum levels of professional indemnity insurance. The authority will establish and operate a system for investigating and adjudicating on complaints against property service providers. In this context, the legislation will refer to the possibility of resolving disputes by mediation between the parties concerned. With a view to improving client protection and ensuring clarity with regard to the services being provided by a licensee, the legislation will require that property services agreements be entered into between service providers and their clients. Such agreements will specify the services to be provided, fees payable by the client, details of redress procedures etc.
In the planningarea, the Law Reform Commission made a number of recommendations in its consultation paper issued in late 2006. It recommended a review by planning authorities and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government of planning and housing policy relating to multi-unit developments. It identified issues relating to the physical nature of such developments, such as their size, configuration, facilities and location. In particular, the commission considered that in the past far too many multi-unit developments had not been built to suit families, which was undesirable in terms of sustainability. The commission also recommended that guidelines should be issued on the taking in charge of estates.
I am aware that in its final report the commission commended the progress made by the Minister and his Department on these matters, noting that in the period since the publication of the consultation paper, the Minister has published a suite of planning guidelines focused on planning and a sustainable built environment. These include, in particular, Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Design Standards for New Apartments, published in September 2007. These promote successful apartment living for individuals and families, by responding to people’s reasonable demand for well-designed apartments, particularly in terms of better internal space standards, including storage areas.
I understand also that the Minister has finalised and will shortly publish Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Sustainable Residential Development in Urban Areas, which is accompanied by a best practice urban design manual. These guidelines will promote high quality living standards in new residential developments, encourage higher density developments at appropriate locations, such as those with access to public transport, and emphasise that new residential development must be integrated with facilities and services for the new community and promote energy efficiency. In addition, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government published comprehensive guidance on the taking in charge of residential developments and management arrangements in February 2008.
In its final report the commission stated that it considered these guidelines to planning authorities should have the status of policy directives. While I understand that the Minister does not agree that directives are appropriate, as guidelines of their nature allow a degree of latitude and discretion in their application, consideration will be given to including a provision in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill to replace the current requirement that planning authorities should “have regard to” ministerial guidelines with a stronger provision which would require them to adhere to or substantially comply with such guidelines. This amendment will have the effect of substantially implementing the commission’s recommendation.
In its final report the commission also recommended that the wording of section 180(6) of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which allows occupiers as well as unit owners to vote on the question of taking in charge of a multi-unit development, be reconsidered in light of the practical difficulties pertaining to the current wording. I welcome the fact that such an amendment is being considered in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, and also welcome the full range of actions being taken by Government in this important area.
Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy John Curran): I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this debate. There are many aspects of the housing issue on which we could focus, but I would like to refer to the area of private rented accommodation.
My area, the South Dublin County Council area, was one of the areas used to pilot the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, which has proven very successful. I meet constituents with housing requirements on a regular basis and the scheme is proving popular with them. When the scheme was launched initially, there was much scepticism as to how effective it would be. However, the beneficiaries of the scheme hold it in high regard and it has proved an effective means of providing residential accommodation.
One of the issues raised last night concerned the standard and inspections of rental accommodation. Last night many Deputies called on the Government to enforce and improve standards in the private rented sector, but many of the comments made were inaccurate. I would like to set the record straight on some of those issues.
In the partnership agreement, Towards 2016, the Government committed to updating and effectively enforcing minimum standards regulations for rented housing. Updating these standards is a core component of the housing policy statement, Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities, and the Government recently delivered on this commitment by approving a package of measures to update the standards regulations.
It is important that these regulations reflect the requirements of the modern rental sector and general quality-of-life improvements over the past number of years. With this in mind, and as part of the overall package of measures approved by Government, new regulations entitled the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2008, under section 18 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 were made recently. These will come into effect on 1 February next year, with certain provisions not coming into effect until 2013.
All landlords have a legal obligation to ensure that their rented properties comply with the standards regulations. Responsibility for enforcing the regulations rests with the relevant local authority, supported by a dedicated stream of funding allocated by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The resources allocated by the Department to assist local authorities in their statutory functions in enforcing standards are significant. Over €9 million has been provided to local authorities for this purpose since 2004.
Funding for inspections, which is paid from the proceeds of tenancy registration fees, has more than doubled since 2005 when €1.5 million was disbursed. In the current year, 2008, some €4 million has been allocated for this purpose. Increasingly this funding is being related to inspection performance, effectively rewarding those authorities that are most vigorous in their approach to inspections, and the trend towards performance-related funding will continue.
However, it is not just a matter of increasing funding and hoping that, of itself, will solve the problem. The increased funding is having a significant impact on the number of inspections carried out by local authorities. For example, in 2005 local authorities carried out a total of 6,800 inspections. The following year, 2006, that figure rose to 9,800, an increase of 44%. In 2007, over 14,000 inspections of rental accommodation were carried out by local authorities, an increase of 42% on the figure for the previous year.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: If the Minister of State would allow me make a point of information, I could correct those figures for him. The figures he has given are incorrect. If the Minister of State went to the departmental website, he would find the correct figures.
Deputy John Curran: In 2005, local authorities carried out 6,800 inspections, in 2006 they carried out 9,800 inspections and in 2007 they carried out over 14,000 inspections of rental accommodation. Each year there was a 40% plus increase since the previous year. Clearly, the enforcement regime stepped up to the plate in terms of co-ordination and effectiveness.
This will continue to be the case once the new regulations have commenced. There is no doubt that effective enforcement of the new regulations will be the key to their success. I welcome the fact that local authorities will be encouraged to focus their inspection efforts on properties most likely not to be in compliance with the minimum standards, rather than inspecting new properties that are less likely to be in breach of the regulations, focusing the glare of the inspection regime where it is needed most. This is important.
Deputy John Curran: Sorry for looking at the Deputy. It is important to point out that standards are already improving in this context. We should be heartened to note that the rate of non-compliance with the existing regulations among those properties targeted for inspection has decreased. Whether we agree or disagree on the figures the rate of inspections has risen substantially and it is important to note that with regard to those properties targeted for inspection for non-compliance, the rate of non-compliance has decreased significantly, to 16% of the properties inspected in 2007, compared to over 30% for non-compliance two years earlier in 2005. The rate of inspection has increased substantially and the rate of non-compliance has halved during the period. I will conclude as my time is up.
The motion points out, rightly, that there are important issues to address in respect of housing policy in Ireland. The broad range of changes we have seen in housing, social housing and policy over the past ten years have been, in general, positive. By way of circular letter and changes in legislation, we have seen a move away from the very large local authority housing estates that characterised housing policy in the 1970s, up to the late 1980s and early 1990s. There has been a move away from the very strong segregation of private and public housing. I look back on some of the schemes that were built over the past ten or 15 years and see that there has been a quantum change and improvement in the quality of housing on offer. When one considers that, and puts it together with the improvements in building performance in respect of energy performance brought in by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, we can see the bar is set much higher today than it was in years past. In housing provision the emphasis must be on quality as well as quantity.
It is important to applaud the successes of the voluntary housing agencies that have been at work. They moved in to play a central role in the provision of housing construction and management. In many respects that is a positive situation. One can look at the record of local authorities, particularly one such as Dublin City Council over the years. It has been one of the largest, if not the largest, landlords in the State. It has had a chequered record in management and maintenance of its own housing stock. The addition of the voluntary and social housing agencies that play a very valuable role has been an important one. That role is set to continue.
In my area of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, I note very significant new housing developments that will be under the control of the National Association of Building Co-operatives and other agencies involved in housing construction. This is a positive role.
The targets were set quite high in the national development plan but we are not far off them. Last year, in Towards 2016, we had a record 9,000 social housing starts. That is not bad. We could do a lot better but it is a step in the right direction.
Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: We would also love if there were to be an endless stream of funding available from the Exchequer to double, treble or quadruple the housing output. That is not the case. Ireland Inc. is in difficulty at the moment.
Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: ——overnight to every household in need of housing makes a mockery of the financial process that Ireland Inc. must go through. Itmakes a mockery of the need to balance the books at the end of the day. My view is that we should increase housing output. Many people on the Deputy’s side of the House have pointed out the number of people joining the live register who have come from the construction sector.
Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: We have a plan. We not only have a plan to tackle homelessness, but we have a plan to improve both local authority and affordable housing and the other range of options that exists.
Looking at the plan for homelessness, I would prefer if there were a lot more detail in it. However, I believe it is a step in the right direction. I am somewhat disturbed by Deputy Bannon’s remarks that all we need to do is provide houses. Most informed people in the House recognise that homelessness is tied into a range of issues relating to——
Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: We must provide for all those needs in addition to providing a roof over people’s heads. There has been considerable progress in the provision of wet hostels and in the provision by many agencies of emergency accommodation and long-term accommodation to meet those needs. I wish there were time to have a very informed debate in the House——
Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: ——as to the role of the homelessness agency and the more recent remarks by the Lord Mayor of Dublin expressing concern. She has significant direct experience in dealing with homelessness.
Let us consider homelessness. The Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, clearly showed the extent to which the Government has demonstrated its commitment to tackling homelessness. It set itself a target of ending long-term occupation of emergency accommodation and the need to sleep rough. This commitment is clearly shown by the fact that, despite the most difficult budgetary situation in decades, we are increasing the funding for homeless accommodation by 5% to over €62 million in 2009.
Some Opposition Deputies claimed that 5,000 people will be on the streets this winter. This is wrong and I do not know whose interest they are trying to serve by exaggerating the figures for homelessness. The 2008 housing needs assessment, the most reliable and accurate means by which national housing need is measured, identified 1,394 homeless households that had applied for, and been considered eligible, for social housing support. That is a decrease of 30% on the last assessment in 2005.
The needs assessment does not capture all homeless people, only those who have applied for social housing. The Count It In report launched by the Minister last Monday provides a very comprehensive method of measuring general homelessness. It indicates that homelessness in Dublin has not changed significantly since 2005. There has been a small decrease relative to population growth. This did not stop Deputy Ó Snodaigh from coming out with his gem, namely, that the number of homeless people is growing by 1,800 every year or that there are 2,300 people on the streets of Dublin.
Deputy Áine Brady: ——provides a very refined and comprehensive method of measuring homelessness. It indicates there were 110 sleeping rough, down 40% on the figure for 2005, and less than 5% of the figure used by Deputy Lynch. Of course, this is 110 persons too many. That is why Departments and agencies are working to eliminate the need to sleep rough and long-term homelessness. Those are the key aims of the strategy on homelessness. This blatant twisting of statistics does nothing to advance these aims.
With regard to the overall net need figure published for the 2008 housing needs assessment, it is unclear how Deputies have managed to concoct the charge that we massaged figures when an increase of 30% in the number of households in need was reported. Surely massaging the figures would have yielded a better result.
As usual, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, rather than engaging in a serious discussion on the issue, went straight to wild accusation. Had the Deputy actually read the needs assessment guidelines given to local authorities——
Deputy Áine Brady: ——which I understand were given to him on foot of a parliamentary question in October, he could not have made such an error. In summary, those guidelines make clear that it is true that households that apply to a local authority for housing support which are already in local authority housing, are not included in the assessment. These cases are called transfers. The exception is those who apply for reasons of overcrowding or unfit accommodation.
Deputy Áine Brady: With regard to those in the private rented sector, the Deputy will find that the guidelines also set out instructions for local authorities to pay particular attention to the long-term housing needs of this group in their assessment. The Deputy will also find an instruction to authorities to pay particular attention to capturing the housing needs of older people and those with a disability.
It is in nobody’s interest, least of all that of the Government, to misrepresent the number of households in need of housing support. An accurate picture of need is our key tool in prioritising the very substantial resources the Government is making available. The Minister of State has been very clear in identifying the challenges that lie ahead for housing and the broad range of measures he is putting in place to meet these challenges. Once again this demonstrates the Government’s commitment to meeting housing need. It is to be hoped that in future debate on this issue of great importance to the Government the Opposition might offer more constructive participation, rather than making unsubstantiated and factually incorrect accusations.
Deputy Charlie O’Connor: Colleagues on the Opposition benches will know I am a quiet, sensitive soul from Tallaght so I was hoping they might take it easy with the heckling and let me get my message through, because I cannot handle it like everybody else. Just to calm him down, I compliment Deputy Ciarán Lynch on his work in this regard, which I appreciate. It gives us an opportunity to discuss the issue of housing, about which I have much to say. If Members want to follow me around Tallaght, Firhouse, Greenhills, Templeogue, Brittas or Bohernabreena any week——
Deputy Charlie O’Connor: ——they will see that of all the issues I try to deal with, and I do my best, housing is one of the biggest. As someone who was a member of the local authority from 1991, was chairman of the council in 1999 and is a proud Dáil Deputy for the area since 2002, I will not be afraid to bravely say from the Government benches that we must continue to do that. I am pleased the Labour Party leader has come into the House especially to hear my contribution. Deputy Gilmore is very welcome.
As my party colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, pointed out yesterday, the doomsday scenario being painted for mortgage holders is inaccurate and irresponsible when all logic suggests that early contact between a distressed lender — we all know them — and a borrower is the best way to avoid the trauma of repossession. There are those who continue to raise the spectre of mass repossession, encouraging people to keep their heads in the sand and avoid the very engagement that could ease their troubles. I sincerely hope that mortgage holders facing difficulties with their repayments pay less heed to that loose talk and take heart from the findings of the Financial Regulator on arrears and repossessions.
I wish to put on record some of the facts on home repossessions. Following a new examination of procedures for handling arrears and repossessions of properties, the Financial Regulator has confirmed that repossession is a very last resort for lenders, which should be welcomed across the House. The study did find that in line with the requirements of the Irish Banking Federation code of practice on mortgage arrears, which is mandatory for the covered institutions benefiting from the State guarantees, lenders accept revised payment arrangements when a person is in financial difficulty and is willing to repay a mortgage. The consumer director in the Office of the Financial Regulator has urged people to contact their mortgage providers as soon as they become aware they will experience difficulty in meeting their mortgage repayments, as if they do so it is unlikely the question of repossession will arise.
The Financial Regulator has carried out research which bears out the effectiveness of arrangements adopted by mainstream lenders for dealing with mortgage arrears. Out of a total of almost 1 million mortgage accounts, a total of 128 residential properties were repossessed in the three years to June last and of these 19 were investment properties. Comparing 2007 to 2008 to date, there is no indication that the trend has accelerated significantly.
Statistics from the Financial Regulator illustrate an increase in the number of people falling into arrears, which reflects the deterioration in economic and financial conditions. Once again, however, the picture emerging from the regulator’s research — that is, the one based on actual evidence — is that this is not the epidemic of loan difficulties some would have us believe exists. According to the research, the number of mortgage accounts in arrears represents less than 1.5% of total residential mortgages. Nevertheless, for the households experiencing those difficulties, this is evidently a traumatic time. It is essential that we maintain our strong performance in this area and ensure best practice procedures are in place for dealing with mortgage arrears governing the activities of all lenders.
As a Dublin-based Deputy, I welcome the fact the Minister of State responsible for housing has acted so promptly, meeting both the Financial Regulator and the Irish Banking Federation earlier this week to examine how the code of practice could be extended to the whole of the mortgage lending sector. Progress on this is expected, I am told, in the new year. This is a further demonstration which I am sure will be accepted across the House of the Government’s close attention to and proactive engagement with this important issue. Safeguarding the interests of households that experience difficulties in meeting their mortgage repayments owing to circumstances beyond their control can make a significant contribution to supporting confidence in the economy and its future prospects.
I also wish to refer to the issue of homelessness. Deputy Ciarán Lynch spoke well and sincerely about the issue yesterday. I will not stand here and deny there is a problem. Those who know me know I am a proud Dubliner from these parts, although they might not know it from my accent. Like everybody else, it upsets me to walk the streets, not only in my home town but in the centre of the city also — I hope the city-based Deputies do not mind. We have gone through a time of economic growth and we are now in very difficult times but I always made the point, standing by my social inclusion principles, that at a time when all boats are rising, we must remember the little boats, and shame on anybody who does not do so. At a time of difficulty, we must help the little boats.
There is a range of issues and all Members are having many issues brought to their attention each day. It is sad that one can walk these streets and find people who are homeless. I will take Members out to Tallaght, where I live——
Deputy Charlie O’Connor: The Deputy is the hypocrite in saying that. Private Members’ time is just play-acting. It is what the Opposition Deputies do every Tuesday and Wednesday but they do nothing about the issue. When you were in Government, you did nothing about it either. Have a look at the record.
Deputy Charlie O’Connor: Unlike the leading Labour Party heckler, they do something about it. They do not just roar and shout about it. In that regard, the Tallaght homeless advice unit does a superb job, for which I compliment it.
Deputy Joe Costello: That is the Deputy’s prerogative. We are delighted to have the opportunity to allow Deputy Charlie O’Connor to stand by his socialist principles tonight. We will look to see which way he walks.
Deputy Joe Costello: I compliment Deputy Ciarán Lynch for tabling this motion, which is extremely relevant in terms of the times we are in and the fact we are coming close to Christmas. The opening sentence of the motion sums it up where it refers to “the huge increase in the numbers on social housing lists which have jumped from 43,700 to nearly 60,000, an increase of more than 30% in just three years”. That is an increase in the social housing lists in three of the supposed best years ever in the history of the State. While the private residential construction sector was literally going through the roof, on the other side of the coin local authority housing construction was spiralling downwards. That was the contradiction of the Celtic tiger.
A huge surplus overhang of private construction, which nobody wants or can afford to buy, is lying idle at present or in various stages of part completion. It is frozen in time and I am sure this year will be remembered as the great recession of 2008. Meanwhile, 60,000 households who are desperately in need of social housing have no new homes to go to. The Government put pressure on local authorities to provide social housing through the public private partnerships, giving their developer friends a share in the rich bank of prime location social housing sites and dressing it up as “social regeneration”. Residents were promised long overdue social and community facilities and new modern homes to replace much neglected and poorly maintained flats. The Government parties told these residents it would be a win-win, that the developer was taking the risks and that there was no risk to the local authority. There was supposed to be no risk to the tenants. However, we saw what occurred on 26 May. Five public private partnership projects worth in the region of €2 billion collapsed, four of which were in my constituency. It was not the developer who took the risk and paid the penalty but the tenants who had worked hard with the developer, the local authority and the Government and who had waited years for the regeneration of their communities. In my constituency last week another public private partnership regeneration project went belly up and the hopes of a further 100 tenants have been dashed.
I note the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Finneran, is present. The Government’s policy of forcing local authorities to fund projects through PPPs and under Part V of the housing Act was clearly aimed at helping developers to profit from public lands in good times. The Government facilitated such people at the time, but washed its hands of responsibility when the going got tough. That is what is taking place.
The budget for 2009 provides further evidence, as if it were needed, that the Government is looking after the developer at the expense of social housing provision. The new home choice scheme was not produced by a benevolent Government wishing to provide housing for first-time buyers. Rather, it was a rescue package for developers to continue to sell houses at inflated prices. While local authorities are starved of funding to provide for those on housing waiting lists, the State is paying a small fortune to private landlords in rent allowances. In the meantime the recipients of rent allowance are not allowed to work and, therefore, forced into a poverty trap. If they could access local authority housing, they would be in a position to find a job and thus improve their circumstances and those of their family.
The right to a home is one of the most basic civil and human rights. For more than 11 years the Government had unlimited funds to put together a comprehensive housing programme. The figures speak for themselves. The developer and landlord led approach to the provision of social housing by the Government is a complete and utter failure. The Labour Party motion proposes a new way forward which, if adopted, could resolve the failures of the current social housing policy.
Deputy Seán Sherlock: There is a local authority housing development in Mitchelstown, north County Cork. The houses are some of the finest I have ever seen and there is a mixture of social and affordable housing. However, many of the affordable houses are empty because they cannot be sold. The empty houses have given rise to anti-social behaviour, as a consequence of which they have been vandalised. The estate is wonderful and the residents are very proud of where they live. They have organised residents’ associations. However, they are very concerned that some of the empty affordable houses will not be sold, as they have been on the market for almost two years. I have a list as long as one’s arm of people in the Mitchelstown area who would gladly take one of these houses if they were transferred to social housing status.
Officials in the northern division of Cork County Council told me that because of certain funding and resource stipulations put in place during the preparation of the affordable housing scheme, the status of these houses cannot be changed from affordable to social housing. I am certain that is not the only such estate in the country. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should allow some flexibility. In cases where the social housing waiting list is of a certain size, it could show some degree of flexibility to ensure such houses are occupied. In this way the problems of anti-social behaviour can be offset. We need a common-sense approach to the use of empty houses under the auspices of local authorities.
I refer to the tenant purchase scheme. I have encountered many people who have paid rent to local authorities and invested thousands of euro in their house during the years. As a result of restrictions on the tenant purchase scheme, they are prevented from purchasing their house. If there was greater flexibility and the discounting system was more extensive, many older local authority residents who have invested much money in their house and made it their own could purchase it. It would realise a certain amount for the State and allow it, in turn, to embark on a further housing programme. I realise that my colleague, Deputy Lynch, has done a lot of work in this area, which I acknowledge. The State must find imaginative solutions to this problem and should examine the possibility of introducing such schemes. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Cuffe, stated in his contribution to the debate that some progress had been made. However, a good deal more could be made and many imaginative solutions implemented. We may propose such solutions through motions and the work of Deputy Lynch who is the Labour Party spokesperson on the issue. Such solutions must be taken on board. We seek to work positively to address the issue.
Many rural dwellers do not wish to be shepherded into large urban areas to be facilitated in social housing. The State must make provision for such persons and allow them, if eligible for social housing, to be housed within their communities. The vibrancy of any community depends on a housing mix in which that demographic is also catered for.
I reject the comments made on the homeless in Dublin. The first citizen of Dublin stated homeless services were as chaotic as the lives of some of the people for which they were in place to help. One should listen to such statements because the first citizen is a member of Fianna Fáil. I understand from reading the newspapers that she works hard to help people on this issue. Her assertion contradicts the statement by the Minister distributed to previous speakers which, in turn, rejected the statements of Deputy Lynch on the matter. She merely states a fact, as will be evident when the Lord Mayor’s dinner which will be attended by several thousand takes place. It has not been derived from a civil servant writing a speech for someone to deliver in the House, the contents of which may try to reject statements made on the Opposition side of the House. The problem of homelessness has been articulated by someone who is knowledgeable and has worked in the area for many years.
I refer to rented accommodation. During the debate on the Social Welfare Bill I raised a matter of some disgrace for the Government. There was a decision by the Minister of Social and Family Affairs to give €7 to senior citizens, single parents and others in rented accommodation. However, the value of that rise was removed in one fell swoop by the Minister through a claw-back measure and given to owners in the rental accommodation sector — friends of Fianna Fáil.
In many cases, such unfortunate people are obliged to live in hovels because of the downturn in the economy. The owners of such buildings lease them to try to lower the cost factor in respect of the mortgages that have caused so many problems for the banks lately. However, no inspection system exists to assess the hovels into which senior citizens and single parents are being put and that is a downright disgrace. The Green Party is as responsible as Fianna Fáil in this regard as the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is in charge but has done nothing to counteract this.
Perhaps the Government’s financial position is in such a state that it must claw back €4 from the senior citizens and single parents who live in such hovels. Every Member is familiar with the conditions to which I refer. During the general election campaign, one would know whether one was approaching rented accommodation because the door would be hanging off, the windows would be bad etc. However, were the occupant to seek help to do something, it would transpire that the landlord had an agent through whom one spoke and no work ever got done. This is the position we face in respect of rented accommodation. I refer to those who are in need of houses that are not being provided by either the Government or the local authorities that seek funding from the former for such housing.
The Minister, Deputy Gormley, and the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, both are present in the Chamber this evening and I ask them to put in place an inspection system in respect of rented accommodations to benefit those who suffer and who in many cases are afraid to make a complaint to the local authority because the hawks who are in charge of such places threaten to evict their tenants if they report them. This is a fact of which all Members are aware, because everyone encountered such scenes during the election campaign. When debating the fair deal scheme, Members may argue that one’s home is one’s castle. Although the people to whom I refer are far from living in a castle, absolutely nothing is being done about it. If anything is to emerge from this debate, it is that the Minister should give an undertaking to the House that he will provide an inspection system that will offer some assurance as 2009 approaches.
Deputy Arthur Morgan: Behind the headlines of the banking crisis, bank guarantees and proposals for recapitalisation lies a human story. The credit crunch and subsequent recession is not only putting developers out of business and constructions workers out of jobs, it also is putting people out of their homes. According to Threshold, every week an increasing number of people are having their homes repossessed because of difficulties in paying their mortgages or are being threatened with illegal eviction as some landlords attempt to hike up rents. This of course is against the general trend in respect of rental rates at present and approximately ten families a week experience such threats. Earlier this year, Threshold estimated that at least seven families were having their homes repossessed by the banks every week and as many as ten families in the private rented sector were being threatened with, or actually evicted from, their homes.
Moreover, yesterday’s newspapers reported that according to the Financial Regulator, almost 14,000 people were unable to meet their monthly repayments on home loans. The same report indicated that 1,000 people have run up mortgage arrears with sub-prime lenders. According to yesterday’s edition of the Irish Independent:
However, the scale of the crisis is probably worse, as a significant number of cases of voluntary surrenders never make the headlines. While it has been suggested by certain mortgage experts that there may be a substantial number of voluntary repossessions, the exact number may not come into the public domain as the banks will try to keep a lid on it. John Monaghan of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul spoke recently of personally knowing of 16 cases of voluntary surrender, one of which involved a sub-prime lender.
When responding yesterday to the crisis facing families with mortgage and rent payments, the Minister of State spoke with breathtaking arrogance and again demonstrated that Ministers are on a different planet. He accused Members of “foaming-at-the-mouth scaremongering” and “wide-of-the-mark claims” but the facts to which they have referred have been taken from reports such as that produced by Threshold, as well as the number of cases of repossessions that come before the High Court on a weekly basis. Last Monday, almost one third of cases listed before the weekly chancery summonses resulted in an order for possession. This is simple fact, not scaremongering.
It is clear to everyone but the Minister of State that this is a crisis and it beggars belief that his only response is to give people “sound advice on what action to take” and to “warmly welcome the publication by the Financial Regulator of best practice guidance”. Despite all the reports of the rising numbers of people who are in default of their mortgage repayments, the Minister of State did not come up with a single new initiative to deal with this emergency. There is no doubt that repossession orders, evictions and defaults in mortgage repayments are tied to rising unemployment. More than 100,000 people have been laid off in the past 12 months and the unemployment rate could rise to 10% by the end of 2009. Due to the Government’s mishandling of the economy and the public finances over the past 11 years, take home pay rose at a far greater rate than did unemployment benefit. There is a substantial difference between people’s average pay and unemployment benefit. This means that workers who now face unemployment and are on welfare will take a significant cut in their income. As Ireland has the highest mortgages and rent payments in Europe, this obviously has placed the homes of hundreds of thousands of people in jeopardy.
The problem is further compounded by the reported delays of up to 12 weeks in processing applications for jobseeker’s allowance. If job losses rise as expected over the next 12 months, the delays in processing jobseeker’s allowance can only increase. In addition to the economic impact, the real human costs are almost unquantifiable. Repossessions and illegal evictions significantly increase people’s level of housing need and increase their risk of homelessness. As with social housing and homelessness, the Government is failing to address this specific level of need and all indications suggest the problems are going to get much worse.
Nevertheless, many things could be done, if the political will to do them existed. The Government could intervene to halt repossessions and illegal evictions. It could use its political and financial influence with both banks and wayward landlords. The Government could introduce a two-year moratorium on repossessions, while requiring lenders to conclude an affordable mortgage and debt payment arrangement, which would protect a minimally adequate standard of living. The Government also could increase the resources allocated to the money advice and budgeting services, MABS, to ensure that debtors are guaranteed access to MABS personnel when they are negotiating the affordable mortgage and debt payment arrangements. The lending institutions who, together with the Government are responsible for this crisis, should be compelled to suspend interest and other charges and penalties, as these only exacerbate a family’s financial distress.
Furthermore, introducing a court protocol to require lenders seeking a repossession on secured debt to be forced to show they have explored all possible alternatives through the above debt settlement mechanism is another option that should be explored. Repossession should always be the last resort and mortgage lenders must be compelled to carry their responsibility for lending recklessly, which has caused the nightmare for many unfortunate families in the first place. To help people who are now unemployed, the Government should increase awareness of, and access to, mortgage interest supplement to assist those mortgage holders experiencing temporary financial difficulties. This would require a reversal of the cuts made in the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which will limit the payment of mortgage interest supplement.
The Government must engage in a similar process with private sector landlords and their lenders, securing a protocol on repayments by developers to their banks; a moratorium on evictions; greater access to MABS for those in financial hardship; and a significant increase in the resources of the Private Residential Tenancies Board to deal with those threatened with illegal eviction.
Repossessions and illegal evictions are bad for families, bad for communities and even bad for the economy. The Government must intervene now and take the necessary steps to reduce the burden on those currently experiencing such housing need, and to halt the growth of families being placed in financial hardship and at risk of homelessness by lenders and by some landlords.
The proposed recapitalisation scheme may provide a golden opportunity to tackle the impending housing crisis that faces us. While speaking to an Oireachtas committee on 14 October last, Mr. Patrick Neary, CEO of the Irish Financial Service Regulatory Authority, told us that such speculative lending to the construction and property sectors in the State amounted to €39.1 billion and that he anticipated “losses on property-related loans”. He also stated that “increased provisions and write-offs will be necessary”.
Mr. Neary also revealed that a PwC audit of the six largest Irish banks had found that €15 billion of the lending was secured on those properties alone. Can we learn anything from the Swedish experience in the early 1990s, where a similar case of ill-advised commercial lending in a property boom led to a collapse in its banking system? As part of the Swedish bailout, its government forced banks to write down losses and sell off the distressed assets. In the Irish case, some of the assets in question are the land banks amassed by speculators, unfinished housing estates and commercial retail ventures that should be sold off as bad debts.
The Swedish Government formed a new agency to supervise institutions that needed recapitalisation and another that sold off the assets, mainly property, that the banks held as collateral. In Ireland, we have a unique opportunity to return control of the planning process and commercial development to local government by breaking up the property cartels that have been holding Dublin city and many other towns across this land to their own development strategy, wilfully thwarting local council development plans. As property prices fall and these assets are sold, local government could provide a unique route to dealing with the growing housing crisis and the taxpayer could be given a better return for the investment in the banks, rather than let cash-strapped developers sit on these assets now only to make a significant profit on them in the decades to come. I hope the Minister will heed some of these suggestions.
Deputy Finian McGrath: I thank Deputy Morgan and Sinn Féin for allowing me the opportunity to share its speaking time. I also thank the Acting Chairman, Deputy Cuffe, for the opportunity to speak on this Private Members’ motion on housing, and particularly social housing and homelessness.
I speak as a former full-time voluntary worker and also as a former soup runner for Simon Ireland, the homelessness charity. I worked in the night shelters and in the housing projects, and I also worked on the streets assisting the homeless. It deeply saddens me that this debate is still going on and that we are still here pushing the housing issue and the urgent need for action on this matter.
It is time to ask serious questions about what is going on in the State when there are still 60,000 on social housing waiting lists and an estimated 5,000 people experiencing homelessness at any one time. Coming up to Christmas, this is all the more relevant when one thinks of the families and the young children involved. It is important to remind ourselves, those of us who have a home, of the families and the young children who do not have a home.
Why is there always a problem or a big deal about funding issues such as the medical card for the elderly, retention of class sizes, cervical cancer services and tonight’s issue of homelessness? There is never an issue about assisting the banks or the meat industry. I supported the action needed on these issues, but what about families and young children without a home? This is a question we all and the Government must ask ourselves. The Government can get €180 million to support an industry and come up with €10 billion to support the financial services and the banking industry, and although I accept we have an economic problem, how come we can never find the few millions of euro required to fund homelessness services, cervical cancer services or education and class size issues? It is important that we ask these questions in the debate tonight.
Why are these always at the bottom of the priority list? Tonight’s motion, which I strongly support, attempts to bring them to the top of the list. Where I come from, health disability, education and housing should always be top of any priority list. These are the kinds of tough decisions that I would like to see people in this House make, and they should be made in the interests of the weaker sections of society.
There is nothing tough or macho about cutting services. It is a hell of a lot tougher to tell people straight that we are increasing taxation in order to develop public services or housing projects for the homeless. That is the reality we should face as well.
If we approve an additional 10,000 social housing units each year for the next three years, one should think of those from the construction sector who are on the dole at present coming into the industry and then paying their taxes. That would make a massive contribution to the economy. These are the tough decisions that I would like made, in the interests of the people, in this debate.
I also strongly support the part of the motion dealing with the code of practice on the financial institutions providing for a moratorium on repossession orders for family homes during the current recession. This is a sensible proposal and is one of the other reasons I am supporting it. In the current climate, that is sensible and we all should agree that is a solution for many families.
I also strongly support the section which calls for the resourcing and funding of The Way Home, a clear strategy to address adult homelessness. These all are sensible proposals which should be backed by every Member of the House.
The motion refers to anti-social behaviour. Most Deputies deal with this matter on a regular basis at clinics in their constituencies. This is a significant problem and it only surfaces when somebody is actually killed. Most people do not even bother reporting anti-social behaviour to the Garda and others are so intimidated by fear that they regularly contact their Deputies and councillors rather than contact the Garda. Fear and intimidation are widespread in our communities and some of these people from hell are destroying private and local authority houses while 60,000 good people wait for a home. It is not acceptable.
I urge all Deputies to support the motion tonight. There are a number of key proposals to resolve the housing issue. They are good for the housing sector, good for the workers and, above all, they are good for those on the housing lists and the homeless.
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): I thank the Opposition parties for giving us the opportunity to reflect on an area in which we continue to be highly innovative, highly effective and unstinting in our efforts to ensure that we have a coherent housing policy framework that can cater for housing needs as comprehensively as possible.
Deputy John Gormley: In short, it is a housing policy that sets out a vision to guide the transformation of the housing sector over the medium term by delivering more and better quality housing responses, and by doing this in a more strategic way, focussed on the building of sustainable communities. It is a housing policy that has, at its heart, a range of flexible and graduated housing supports to meet the full diversity of need. It is a housing policy that delivers real and tangible outcomes for households in need, with over 13,000 social and affordable housing units delivered in 2007 and the needs of almost 18,300 households met across the housing spectrum.
Deputy John Gormley: ——my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, has already gone into detail on our solid record of achievement. There is no need for me to dwell further on that.
Deputy John Gormley: Fortunately, the Opposition motion also gives us the opportunity to compare our ambitious agenda for further reform to the Opposition’s fairly bare cupboard. For example, while its motion seems to suggest that it has no future plans to cater for the needs of older people and people with a disability, we are committed to completing and publishing a national housing strategy for people with disability, carrying out a review of the operation of the housing adaptation grant schemes for older people and people with a disability, and implementing recommendations and developing an approach to the delivery of sheltered housing for older people to feed into the Government’s national positive aging strategy.
Deputy John Gormley: Opposition Deputies neglected to mention climate change. Perhaps they have found a solution to the greatest challenge humanity faces but, if so, they are keeping it to themselves. However, they have given us an opportunity to outline the leadership we are showing in ensuring that the residential sector plays its part in meeting our emissions reduction targets.
Deputy John Gormley: In the next breath, they went on to suggest that we should continue to purchase properties developers are unable to sell. That inconsistency appears to have been lost on many Opposition Deputies——
Deputy John Gormley: ——as does the fact that a significant proportion of the output under the main programme has for several years come from turnkey acquisitions and Part V agreements. We will encourage local authorities to continue sourcing newly built properties, particularly given the greater value to be achieved in the housing market.
Deputy John Gormley: Second-hand acquisitions and leasing arrangements are also important because they can open up urban areas that have traditionally experienced housing needs and a shortage of accommodation.
Deputy John Gormley: They have allowed us an opportunity to outline the steps being taken across several Departments to bring forward legislative proposals in response to the Law Reform Commission’s report on multi-unit developments. These will ensure the difficulties that arise in regard to the management of these developments and the operations of property management companies are fully addressed.
Deputy John Gormley: My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with responsibility for housing, Deputy Finneran, is also ensuring the implementation of these measures. I remind my colleagues in the Labour Party who constantly interrupt——
Deputy John Gormley: In regard to Deputy Finian McGrath’s contribution, I worked in the homelessness sector during the late 1970s. Along with the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, I have made it a priority to increase funding for the homelessness sector notwithstanding the severe economic recession. We have spent €100 million, which represents an increase of 5%. That is a decision of which we can be proud and we will continue to provide for the most vulnerable in society.
Ar son Sinn Féin ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le gach duine a ghlac páirt sa dhíospóireacht seo agus le Páirtí an Lucht Oibre as an rún seo a chur os comhair na Dála in éineacht le Sinn Féin. On behalf of Sinn Féin I thank those who have participated in this debate and especially those who have exposed their outrageous dispositions to these glaring social needs. Ranked not least among these is the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, whose efforts last night regarding turkeys and stuffing was an absolute disgrace. I thank the Labour Party for joining Sinn Féin in putting forward this motion on the crisis in housing and homelessness in our country.
All I can say in response to the Minister’s remarks on inconsistency is “wow” because he should know a great deal about that subject from his time in Government. I will rehearse a statement with which I very much agree:
These words are not mine. They are the words of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, when he spoke on behalf of the Green Party in November 2003 in support of a Sinn Féin Bill that would enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution. He was describing the disastrous lack of policy on housing in successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments over the past decade. That approach to housing was developer driven and greed based. It was fuelled not by the housing needs of the people but by the profit motive of developers and the avarice of banks and other lending institutions. We can see the consequences in the virtual collapse of the Irish financial system and the deepening recession in the economy.
Ironically, after a decade of madly spiralling house prices, over-dependence on construction for employment, reckless lending, massive mortgage debt and the construction of unprecedented numbers of private dwellings, we still have a housing crisis because tens of thousands of our people do not have adequate homes. More than 60,000 people are on the local authority waiting lists for housing, a jump of more than 30% in the three years during which the Green Party has been a shareholder in this coalition arrangement. At the same time the phenomenon has arisen of empty houses and apartments in unfinished estates around the country, especially in the commuter belt surrounding the greater Dublin area. This is a mess of the Government’s own making.
I was shocked and greatly disappointed by the remarks made by the Minister of State. I have seldom heard such an insulting speech as the one he delivered. His juvenile jibes at the Labour Party and Sinn Féin for bringing forward this considered and substantive motion are beneath contempt but they will be especially felt by the homeless and those who languish on housing lists throughout the State, including in his own constituency of Roscommon-South Leitrim. His contribution will not be forgotten by the people who have been languishing for years without their needs being addressed.
More than 40,000 households in the private rental sector are in receipt of rent supplement. These households are more likely to live in dwellings which do not meet the Government’s existing standards. Many tenants are on low incomes and are more at risk of living in sub-standard units.
The capacity of local authorities to enforce standards needs to be increased. This critical area has not been sufficiently addressed. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government must ensure that local authorities take a proactive approach to their responsibilities for inspecting rented accommodation as part of the first line of defence for those who are in need of support and who cannot be expected to indefinitely occupy inadequate or inappropriate housing.
I urge all Deputies to support this motion and to reject the Government’s amendment. We do not have to walk far from the gates of this institution to see the reality of the 5,000 people who are homeless on the streets of our major towns and cities at any given time. That is an absolute disgrace and it cries out for the Government to face up to its responsibilities. The contributions we have heard last night and again tonight are another exercise in hand wringing with no commitment and clearly no strategy. The Minister and his team of colleagues in Government, at either Minister or junior Minister level, must pull their act together or the next Government will have to pick up on the failures the current Government has presided over.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I thank Deputy Ciarán Lynch for proposing this motion, Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh for seconding it and the Sinn Féin Deputies for co-signing the motion with the Labour Party. I thank all the Deputies who have contributed to the debate this evening and yesterday.
A couple of nights ago I watched on my television the appalling sight of children in Zimbabwe suffering and dying from cholera. President Mugabe then appeared on the screen to tell us this was all some kind of Western conspiracy, there was no cholera in Zimbabwe and anybody who had the disease had been cured.
I do not want to accuse our Government or imply it has gone quite as far as President Mugabe but there are parallels in the kind of delusion that people in power for too long tend to suffer. The contribution last night of the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, and to some extent that of the Minister, Deputy Gormley, tonight is evidence of that kind of delusion.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: It is the kind of thing one sees happening to emperors at the end of an empire. The Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, stated the motion before the House is ill-judged and accused the Labour Party, and myself in particular, of being hysterical, scaremongering and causing panic and unease. The point of the motion is to address the panic, unease, fear and in some cases hysteria among people who are now afraid of losing their home.
In the High Court last week there were 37 cases for repossession of homes and we know cases are being queued for house repossessions. We have heard of something in the order of over 7,000 people who are now in receipt of mortgage subsidy, many experiencing the pleasures of social assistance for the first time. Some 14,000 people are now behind in their mortgage payments by a minimum of three months. There are many people who are worried about losing their home, and as more people lose their jobs and businesses, that is likely to increase.
It does not have to be like that. There is a way in which people can be reassured that they can continue to live in their own home. It is possible to devise arrangements whereby for the period of the recession — we may be talking about a period of two to four years — people can at least be reassured that they will not be put out of their home. That is a practical proposal which can be achieved through arrangements with the banks, for which the Government is acting as guarantor. Apparently the Government will recapitalise the banks by putting at least €4 billion from the pension reserves into them in some form or other.
In any event, if people have their homes repossessed, the Government will have to pay rent allowance or provide social housing or some kind of shelter for people losing their homes. It makes sense for those arrangements to be recast so that people will know if they lose their job because of bad times for a couple of years, at least they can continue to live in their own home.
If the Government did this, far from creating panic, fear and all the other things we are accused of, much of the fear among people about their future and where they will be for the next couple of years would be reduced. If the Government could do that much in that kind of climate, new possibilities would be opened for the direction of the economy. Confidence would be increased and the kind of reassurance would be provided for people to enable other necessary actions through social partnership over the next year or two. It is a practical proposal.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Government indicated it would keep the mortgage market under review, having regard to the information available from the Financial Regulator and banking sector. Is this the same Financial Regulator and banking sector that provided the Government with information on the state of the banks over the past year? This is hardly comfort to people worried about losing their jobs.
We can consider the position the Government has led us into. This country has had a number of years of record housing output. Over the past three years we produced 90,000, 80,000 and 75,000 housing units respectively. In that period, the Government managed to bring about a 30% increase in the number of people on council housing waiting lists. There are 60,000 families——
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: ——and more on the list because the figures have been doctored. Sticking with the official figure, even the 60,000 on the council waiting list is the highest number of people applying for council housing since 1964. That was a time which caused people to rise in Dublin and march on the streets and led to the establishment of the housing action committee.
We have proposed a very simple solution. We have indicated there is a housing overhang but the Minister, Deputy Gormley, came in here and thought it outrageous that we should suggest that surplus houses built in the private sector might be made available to address a public housing need.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: That year saw the highest number of people waiting on council houses. With regard to the multi-purpose legislation, the Labour Party has been asking the Government to introduce legislation to address problems with management companies, fees and the running of these apartment blocks for years. We are still waiting for it.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Government regularly accuses the Opposition of not putting forward positive suggestions. We have a number of positive suggestions in this motion that will deal with the housing problems people are experiencing today. We have not said anything unduly critical of the Government in the motion and yet a blinkered, arrogant and out of touch Government has decided to amend it from existence and put in some kind of self-serving——
|Ahern, Dermot.||Ahern, Michael.|
|Ahern, Noel.||Andrews, Barry.|
|Andrews, Chris.||Ardagh, Seán.|
|Aylward, Bobby.||Behan, Joe.|
|Blaney, Niall.||Brady, Áine.|
|Brady, Cyprian.||Brady, Johnny.|
|Browne, John.||Byrne, Thomas.|
|Calleary, Dara.||Carey, Pat.|
|Collins, Niall.||Conlon, Margaret.|
|Connick, Seán.||Coughlan, Mary.|
|Cregan, John.||Cuffe, Ciarán.|
|Cullen, Martin.||Curran, John.|
|Dempsey, Noel.||Devins, Jimmy.|
|Dooley, Timmy.||Fahey, Frank.|
|Finneran, Michael.||Fitzpatrick, Michael.|
|Fleming, Seán.||Flynn, Beverley.|
|Gallagher, Pat The Cope.||Gogarty, Paul.|
|Gormley, John.||Grealish, Noel.|
|Harney, Mary.||Haughey, Seán.|
|Healy-Rae, Jackie.||Hoctor, Máire.|
|Kelly, Peter.||Kenneally, Brendan.|
|Kennedy, Michael.||Kirk, Seamus.|
|Kitt, Michael P.||Lenihan, Brian.|
|Lenihan, Conor.||Lowry, Michael.|
|McEllistrim, Thomas.||McGrath, Mattie.|
|McGrath, Michael.||McGuinness, John.|
|Mansergh, Martin.||Martin, Micheál.|
|Moloney, John.||Moynihan, Michael.|
|Mulcahy, Michael.||Nolan, M. J.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|O’Brien, Darragh.||O’Connor, Charlie.|
|O’Dea, Willie.||O’Flynn, Noel.|
|O’Hanlon, Rory.||O’Keeffe, Batt.|
|O’Keeffe, Edward.||O’Rourke, Mary.|
|O’Sullivan, Christy.||Power, Peter.|
|Power, Seán.||Roche, Dick.|
|Ryan, Eamon.||Sargent, Trevor.|
|Scanlon, Eamon.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Treacy, Noel.||White, Mary Alexandra.|
|Allen, Bernard.||Bannon, James.|
|Barrett, Seán.||Breen, Pat.|
|Broughan, Thomas P.||Bruton, Richard.|
|Burke, Ulick.||Burton, Joan.|
|Byrne, Catherine.||Clune, Deirdre.|
|Connaughton, Paul.||Costello, Joe.|
|Coveney, Simon.||Crawford, Seymour.|
|Creed, Michael.||Creighton, Lucinda.|
|D’Arcy, Michael.||Deasy, John.|
|Deenihan, Jimmy.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|English, Damien.||Enright, Olwyn.|
|Feighan, Frank.||Ferris, Martin.|
|Flanagan, Charles.||Flanagan, Terence.|
|Gilmore, Eamon.||Hayes, Tom.|
|Higgins, Michael D.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Kenny, Enda.|
|Lynch, Ciarán.||Lynch, Kathleen.|
|McCormack, Pádraic.||McEntee, Shane.|
|McGinley, Dinny.||McGrath, Finian.|
|McManus, Liz.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Morgan, Arthur.||Naughten, Denis.|
|Neville, Dan.||Noonan, Michael.|
|Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.||Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.|
|O’Donnell, Kieran.||O’Dowd, Fergus.|
|O’Keeffe, Jim.||O’Mahony, John.|
|O’Shea, Brian.||O’Sullivan, Jan.|
|Penrose, Willie.||Perry, John.|
|Quinn, Ruairí.||Rabbitte, Pat.|
|Ring, Michael.||Shatter, Alan.|
|Sheahan, Tom.||Sheehan, P. J.|
|Sherlock, Seán.||Shortall, Róisín.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Stanton, David.|
|Timmins, Billy.||Tuffy, Joanna.|
|Upton, Mary.||Wall, Jack.|
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