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Appointment of Taoiseach and Nomination of Members of Government

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Appointment of Taoiseach and Nomination of Members of Government

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Snippet Contents:

There has been a huge degree of excitement around the House today for those newly appointed Ministers and "super junior" Ministers of State and their families. There is obviously a significant sense of achievement for them, while for others there is a sense of disappointment. Large numbers of people beyond the gates of Leinster House, however, will be deeply unmoved by what they have heard today. I am talking about the 7,680 homeless people, including 2,780 children, who tonight will sleep in emergency accommodation; the more than 90,000 families who are languishing on local authority housing waiting lists; and the tens of thousands of struggling renters and potential first-time buyers who are locked out of the housing market.
For six years, we have had Fine Gael in government. By any indicator, the housing crisis is worse today than it was when it took office. The outgoing Minister with responsibility for housing, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, took office some 12 months ago. It genuinely gives me no pleasure to say this, but never has a Minister with responsibility for housing promised so much and yet delivered so little. His legacy is a 20% increase in adult and child homelessness in the State, increasing numbers of people at risk of homelessness, spiralling costs for the rental or purchase of homes and a snail's pace delivery of social housing. The Minister, Deputy Coveney's first self-imposed test in the housing action plan was to end the use of hotels for families and to house those adults and children in permanent homes. Just weeks before the deadline for this measure was to pass, it is unfulfilled and he walks away. Just 12 months into a six year plan he is, in my view, turning his back on the thousands of families who were looking to him and to whom he promised hope for the future.
Ultimately this was a decision of the new Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, I have no doubt that if the Minister, Deputy Coveney, had really wanted to stay in housing, he could have done so. This is the sixth Minister in five years with responsibility for housing. Is it any wonder that the crisis has yet to be resolved? It sends out a very worrying signal that the Taoiseach neither understands nor is serious about tackling the housing crisis.
The proposed appointment of the Taoiseach's close ally, the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, as the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government is a big surprise. I know the Minister of State from over the last years and he is very smart. I have no doubt that he will work hard, as the former Minister, Deputy Coveney, did, in the brief. The Minister of State, Deputy Murphy, however, has shown little interest in housing policy during his six years in the Dáil. In total, he has raised the issue of housing on the floor of the House 25 times. He has mentioned the issue of homelessness five times and social housing four times. He has mentioned the private rental sector just once. The Minister of State has an awful lot of catching up to do.
On hearing that he was appointed as the Minister, I wrote to the Minister of State formally, requesting a meeting at his earliest convenience in order to outline our ongoing and deep-rooted concerns over the failure of his Government's housing policy. As I said to his predecessor when he took office, if the Minister does the right thing I will support him and I will stand here and welcome initiatives that he takes that would relieve acute housing stress. When he makes mistakes, however, we will do everything we can to hold him to account.
I note with interest that the Minister of State, Deputy Murphy, has been asked to undertake a review of the Government's housing plan and part of me would like to welcome this, especially the promise of potentially increased social housing delivery and the possibility of a vacant home tax. Given the level of disappointment that many of us now feel after 12 months of the Minister, Deputy Coveney's failure to tackle the housing crisis, I am not going to hold my breath that much is going to change in three months' time.
Sinn Féin will, of course, engage constructively in any review and we will continue to offer credible policy alternatives to tackle the housing and homeless crises. Crucially, we will continue to argue that the over reliance on the private sector to meet social and affordable housing needs, and the weak regulation of the private rental sector, are central to the failures of this Government's and previous Governments' policies. The housing crisis can be solved, but only if the right policies and, crucially, the right level of investment are put in place to ensure that secure and affordable housing is a right affordable to all and not just to the few.