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 Header Item Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages (Continued)
 Header Item Housing (Amendment) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 802 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter] It marks an important milestone in the maturity and politics of the State that we are taking this step. I am very pleased the Bill has met with the approval and support of all sides of the House. Many of us come from different political backgrounds and perspectives and it is a good day for the Oireachtas that the Bill has passed through both Houses without contention and with considered and interesting contributions from Members, both those attached to a party and Independent Members.

I thank Members for their constructive and support engagement and I thank Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl for his generous comment. I am very pleased we can mark that at 6.20 p.m. on this day in this House, the Bill has completed its passage.

  Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne): Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne A message shall be sent to the Seanad acquainting it accordingly.

Housing (Amendment) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)

  Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Deputy Sandra McLellan: Information on Sandra McLellan Zoom on Sandra McLellan Sinn Féin supports this Bill, but with some reservations. Housing is a hugely important issue for people and for the State. As we know only too well, it was housing or an obsession with property and the buying and selling of houses that brought this country to the brink of financial ruin. While we support the Bill, we believe that in terms of housing, the State is failing the people miserably. When we look at the issue of housing in Ireland, we see a dismal picture. Thousands of families are in mortgage arrears and struggling to survive. The Central Bank's figures show that more than one in ten mortgage holders is now in arrears of three months or more and that some 27,000 people, or almost 18% of buy-to-let mortgages are in arrears.

How does the Government respond to this crisis? It responds by introducing legislation that makes it easier for banks to repossess family homes. This type of policy decision and other initiatives of the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government are yet again on the side of the rich, the privileged and big money. Time and again they favour the banks and the big financial institutions over the people. Even more depressing, we have a chronic shortage of social housing, with almost 100,000 people on the housing waiting list. This is an appalling indictment of any state. Fine Gael and the Labour Party have failed people, especially those who depend on social housing. The State has a duty and an obligation to house people. If it is to do this in an efficient and successful manner, it must ensure the public housing stock is maintained at levels that can accommodate those who require housing.

On the question of rent supplement, the picture is also bleak. Some 94,000 people are now dependent on rent supplement to keep a roof over their heads. This is taxpayers' money. In other words, it is money from the public purse that is going to private landlords and property speculators. This is an appalling state of affairs and is a direct result of the policies of this and previous Governments and their abysmal failure to ensure the State's public housing stock is adequate for its housing needs. Another 24,000 people are in receipt of State money from the rental accommodation scheme. This highlights the Government's failure to address in any meaningful way the whole debacle around the housing issue and the resultant crisis. The real casualties of this are families, children, young couples and single people.

Nowhere is the human impact of fall-out from the State's indifference and ineptitude more glaring than in the numbers of homeless young people, who must either sleep on the streets or take their chances in dangerous and frightening hostels and emergency accommodation. The Government pledged to end homelessness by 2016, yet it goes about achieving this target by slashing the housing budget. It introduced draconian laws, capping rent supplement and hounds people into finding cheaper accommodation. The result is that many people, many of whom are vulnerable, disabled, have an addiction problem or are just poor, end up living in sub-standard accommodation.

A recent investigation by Dublin City Council of just under 1,500 flats found that 1,400 did not meet the minimum legal standards for private rented accommodation. The council found that flats had no private bathrooms, people lived in rooms without windows and flats were damp, had mould, poor electrics and inadequate heating. A well thought out proper State housing policy would ensure diversity would be the hallmark of housing in the State. In other words, there would be a balance between public and private housing stock, rather than as we have currently, an excess of privately owned dwellings coupled with an appalling lack of public and social housing.

I mentioned on a previous occasion that foster care allowance should not be included as reckonable means. It is not reckoned when calculating social welfare payments. Also, the fact people on supplementary welfare allowance cannot go on the housing list is wrong. I know of people who have been removed from the housing list when reviewed because of being in receipt of supplementary welfare allowance.

The issue of transfers from one local authority to another is huge. This problem arises in particular where there is a marriage break-up and the person from another part of the country cannot transfer. Other times the problem arises when the person on the list wants to move to get a job or when a person wants to move from one area, such as Cork, back to the home area, such as Galway, to care for an elderly parent. This issue needs to be examined.

It is very important local authorities keep a database of the people who have applied to local authorities and have failed to be approved for housing. On a number of occasions I have been aware of people who have had three or four failed housing applications. Some of these people suffer from mental illness and are on rent allowance, but when the rent allowance is cut off and the local politician makes representations on their behalf, the local authorities say they have no record of applications made by these people. However, the local politician might have a thick file covering three years recording the fact the person has been trying to get on the housing list. Therefore, a database documenting failed applications would be helpful.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe I welcome this Bill, which allows elected representatives to take part in setting rent rates in local authorities. This already happens in some local authority areas, but for the most part one relies on the goodwill of local management. Sinn Féin is in favour of stronger local government and we welcome the transfer of decision making powers to properly funded local councils. It is important that this Bill ensures rent levels will not be set by county or city managers alone, but that there will be an input from local representatives. This is a positive development. The Bill will allow councillors to use their local knowledge and enable people to hold decision makers to account.

However, the Bill will not resolve or solve the housing crisis facing people in the State. We have a severe housing shortage, with 97,000 people on the housing waiting list, 94,000 on rent supplement and 24,000 on RAS. This is a problem the Government has failed to tackle. It has allowed the need to grow, rents to rise, conditions to deteriorate and speculative landlords to make huge profits in the absence of public provision. Successive Governments have overseen the depletion of the public housing stock, the over-burdening of the voluntary sector and the drive to subsidise private landlords, developers and speculators who provide what is often below standard housing at a very high price.

A recent parliamentary question submitted by Sinn Féin to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government revealed that in the more than three years of NAMA, only 263 of a promised 3,949 units have been delivered for local authority use. We face one of the biggest housing crises the State has ever seen and if the Government continues to provide social housing at this critically low rate, the crisis will only get worse and will affect more individuals and families. It is a major issue that people across the country are in sub-standard accommodation while units lie empty in estates near them. People cannot understand why these units are not being used to relieve the crisis.

The Minister of State said previously that she would address and speed up this process, but units are not being delivered at the speed people expect.

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