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 Header Item Tobacco Control Measures (Continued)
 Header Item Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy John Perry: Information on John Perry Zoom on John Perry] I appreciate fully the point made by Deputy Phelan. She correctly described the impact on public health of the sale of tobacco. I suggest the promotion of nicotine patches is an issue she could discuss with the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly. It may be possible to have nicotine patches on open display to make them more available to the consumer. The cost of 20 cigarettes is the best part of €70 a week. This is a major expenditure for people on low incomes. More than 5,500 people die in this country every year from smoking related diseases. The consumption of cigarettes is detrimental to people's health.

I refer to the issue of the illegal importation of tobacco products. Cigarettes are being sold door to door. This is illicit tobacco and the quality is dubious. Any tobacco is bad but this illicit tobacco is substandard and the quality is even worse.

The Minister for Finance referred to the possibility of a VAT rate of 9% or 13.5% on nicotine replacement patches. I suggest the Deputy could pursue this issue with him. I am certain a self-financing mechanism would benefit the State and the health of the population. I agree with the Deputy that these products should be more available.

Deputy Ann Phelan: Information on Ann Phelan Zoom on Ann Phelan I thank the Minister of State for his very positive response to this issue. I take the point about the 9% VAT rate and the 13.5% VAT rate. Anything that could be done to lower the rate to encourage people to quit the smoking habit would be welcome. I will pursue the issue with the Minister for Health.

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan The social housing programme has collapsed in most constituencies, including mine. Dublin City Council figures show that last year, 16,600 families and individuals were on its housing waiting list, with 7,538 on the transfer list. A total of 32% of applicants were waiting more than five years, with 2,544 waiting more than seven years. I describe these figures as deeply damaging to the credibility of Dublin City Council and the Government. In addition, Fingal County Council confirmed to me that 9,082 families and individuals were waiting for housing on its council housing list.

When Members of this House are able to retire to our comfortable homes or lodgings after long days in the Dáil, 80 to 90 people will be sleeping on the streets of this city. They will sleep outside on this very night as they have done over recent bitter November nights. It is unacceptable and disgraceful.

Like other Members I receive many phone calls and e-mails from constituents. I meet many of them at my weekly information clinics who are in dire straits with regard to housing. They describe very difficult home circumstances. They may be on a housing waiting list for anything from five to 13 years. A typical example is a young woman with three children who has been living for the past five or six years in very cramped conditions with her adult siblings and her parents in a modest two-bedroom house.

A few weeks ago I asked the Taoiseach whether a social housing investment programme would be implemented in 2012. I have studied budget 2013 as best I can but I have not found any evidence of any serious intent on the part of this Government to address this issue. I estimate that perhaps only a few dozen individuals and households were rehoused in the past year in my constituency out of the 4,000 on the Dublin North-Central housing list.

The Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, is committed to tackling the issue but it is impossible for any progress to be made unless proper funding is allocated to kick-start the social housing programme. This would also have a beneficial effect on the construction industry.

I have spoken about the appalling treatment of citizens who have been left on the waiting list, in some cases for up to 15 years. I have long urged Dublin City Council to move away from its historic points-based, priority-based housing list system to a system based on time on the list, as used in Fingal County Council. I am a former Dublin City Council councillor. The council last week decided to move to the system of time on the list, which is a fair and transparent system. It is a case of first come, first served. It now awaits the Minister, Deputy Hogan, to sign the regulation. When will he sign that regulation?

Under the Fianna Fáil regime led by Ahern and Cowen, the failure of local authorities to provide social housing meant a massive growth in the private rental sector. In the past five years since 2007, almost €3 billion has been expended on rent supplement allowances. This money has gone into the pockets of private landlords. Ordinary constituents wonder why that money was not used to fund a housing programme.

When will the promised housing Bill come before the House? I refer in particular to provisions in respect of the administration of voluntary housing bodies. My constituency has organisations such as NABCO, Iveagh Trust, Respond and Clúid. There is no legislation governing estate management and tenancy and it is urgently needed.

The Minister, Deputy Hogan, gave two deadlines - the first Sunday in September and then a further ten days - to the developers, builders, auctioneers, insurance companies in respect of the pyrite disaster. He keeps issuing deadlines but when will he take action? When will he decide to levy the industry which did those terrible things to households? People are upset that they are expected to pay a housing tax - which the House will discuss tomorrow - on houses which are worthless because they need to be remediated. I ask the Minister of State to bring these points to the attention of the Minister.

On a final point, I ask the Minister of State to ask if the Minister will join us next Monday at 7.30 p.m. at Priory Hall for a candlelight vigil. Those families - a total of 250 people - are facing a second Christmas out of their homes at Priory Hall. I am sure they would be delighted to see him at the vigil next Monday night at Priory Hall.

Deputy John Perry: Information on John Perry Zoom on John Perry I thank Deputy Broughan for raising this issue. I may not have the comprehensive reply he wants but I will bring his concerns to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Hogan. The current economic crisis is severely testing the capacity of the State to meet social housing need. Financial considerations mean local authorities are effectively no longer engaged in large-scale housing stock construction programmes at the very time when demand for housing services is at its greatest. The Government's housing policy statement, published in June 2011, sets out a new approach for housing provision that recognises these key unfortunate realities. It is specifically predicated on a tenure-neutral approach that focuses on enabling households to access the housing solution that best suited to their needs at a point in time. While home ownership is still a very valid aspiration for a majority of households, it is no longer the acme of all tenure options.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, in conjunction with the housing authorities and with not-for-profit approved housing bodies, is engaging in a range of innovative and flexible housing solutions to meet housing need in general, and homelessness in particular. I acknowledge the Deputy's campaigning work on behalf of the homeless I sympathise with the fact that up to 80 people are sleeping on the streets of Dublin tonight. I cannot even imagine what it must be like on such a cold evening. I appreciate the Deputy's point about homelessness.

The Department's approach to homelessness is to focus on providing people with a home where they can live as full and valued members of society.

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