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Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 990 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney] That goes for children as well as adults. We will continue to prioritise their healthcare with the resources available to do so. If the Deputy looks at the bigger picture, which some people in this House do not, although I accept this is because they want to solve problems, 27,000 patients who were in hospital last May had the opportunity to have their say on how they rated the health service in a national inpatient survey. Some 84% of those who took part rated their stay in hospital as either good or very good. There are good things happening in healthcare in Ireland. We have incredibly dedicated staff who are looking after people well but real pressure points remain and we will prioritise our response accordingly.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty As my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, laid out to the House yesterday, the Government's housing plan, Rebuilding Ireland, is in its fourth year. The results are stark. Homelessness is up 67% while more than 10,000 of our citizens are homeless. That is the new normal under Fine Gael in the country with the fastest growing economy in Europe. The number of homeless children has increased by 81% under the Government. It has nearly doubled. I mentioned one of those children, Sam, in the House last month. He is just one of more than 4,000 children who face into this Christmas without a home. The first duty of any decent society is to protect its children and the vulnerable. As the Tánaiste will be aware, too many of our children are facing into a type of Christmas they simply do not deserve. I refer to a Christmas in emergency accommodation, in a hotel room, or in bed and breakfast accommodation. For some it will be their fourth year in a row.

Last Tuesday, a conference held by Social Justice Ireland told us that there are toddlers unable to walk or crawl because of prolonged stays in emergency accommodation. Their development has been stunted and their future stolen from them. As the Tánaiste will be aware, the greatest cause of family homelessness in this State is the unaffordable and out-of-control private rental sector . Rents have increased by 40% since this Government took office in 2016. The average new rent in Dublin now stands at more than €2,000 per month, while, in Cork, it is more than €1,300 per month. This has locked a whole generation of young people and young families into an out-of-control rental market. It has locked them out of the aspiration to ever own their own home. Reports published by the Central Bank just last week told us that the average deposit for a new house now stands at €87,000. How can individuals and families, locked into unaffordable rents, ever hope to secure a deposit of €87,000? For young people and young families whose rent swallows up their pay packets, the message from Government is clear: their future in Ireland is uncertain.

The Government has refused to take responsibility or to deliver the necessary housing. It has refused to take responsibility for unaffordable rents and for its failure to deliver affordable homes for first-time buyers. While failing to take responsibility for the housing crisis, it has also failed to listen to the alternative policies and solutions that we, in Sinn Féin, and those advocating on the front line have put forward, which would reduce the cost of rent by introducing a tax measure for renters and, crucially, a rent freeze. The Government has rejected that proposal, as has Fianna Fáil. These solutions would put a brake on the out-of-control rental market and would give renters breathing space to save and plan for the future. Will the Government take immediate action and listen to the concerns of renters throughout the State, understanding that the system is out of control? Will it belatedly accept what Sinn Féin has argued for and introduce a rent freeze?

The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney First, I will respond to the general comment that Rebuilding Ireland is not working because the facts do not bear that out. There is still a lot of work to do but more than 50,000 new homes have been built over the past three years. There was an increase of 82% in the number of new homes completed between 2016 and 2018. Some 10,000 new homes will be added to the council housing stock this year, followed by 11,000 next year and 12,000 the year after that. The report published this month states: "It looks as though Ireland's longest-ever run of increasing rental prices may soon come to an end." It was not the Government saying that but We have brought in new laws to significantly strengthen tenants' rights. By the way, Sinn Féin has supported most of these, including some of the rental changes recently introduced by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. The number of apartment completions has increased by more than 81% over the past 12 months. Residential property prices are decreasing in Dublin and price increases are slowing throughout the country as more and more homes are built. We are helping people to buy their first home. To date, 15,000 new homes have been bought by first-time buyers with the assistance of the help-to-buy scheme. If I recall correctly, I was heavily criticised for introducing this scheme at the time but it is working.

  While we have a housing crisis, and have had one for some time, the Government has responded by driving supply across all types of tenure, including social housing, affordable housing, cost-rental properties, and privately purchased houses. We have prioritised first-time buyers because a number of years ago they comprised only a tiny percentage of those buying houses because they simply could not afford to put deposits together. Since the introduction of the help-to buy scheme under Rebuilding Ireland, 15,000 new homes have been purchased by first-time buyers. There are still pressures in the system and we need to continue to increase supply. We need to build approximately 35,000 additional homes a year and we need to ensure that between 10,000 and 12,000 houses are added to the social housing stock each year but we are getting there. Next year, we will spend €2.68 billion on the housing budget, which is multiples of what it was only three or four years ago. Rebuilding Ireland, which is a five-year housing plan, is working and is responding.

  Unfortunately, we still have people who are homeless and under real pressure. If one looks at the homelessness figures, however, in the first six months of this year, almost 3,000 adults and their dependants exited homeless services. That figure continues to increase quarter after quarter. The rate of increase in homelessness has dramatically slowed down. We now need to get on top of it and accept the reality that we must make a significant impact over the next 12 months on the 10,000 people who are homeless today. We are making progress. Some people are trying to use the housing challenge as a political stunt next week to try to raise profile in advance of a by-election and this misses the point.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty It is time the Tánaiste took his head out of the sand and got the point. His plan is not working. No matter how much spin and statistics he puts out, it does not wash.

The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney It is not spin, it is fact.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty The reality is that new rents in Dublin city cost more than €2,000. In the Tánaiste's own home city of Cork, they are €1,300. He may think those levels of rent are acceptable but they are not acceptable to ordinary people. The reality is that, since this Government took office, homelessness has increased by more than 67% and child homelessness has increased by 81%. More than 4,000 children will go to sleep tonight in emergency accommodation, without mentioning the thousands of people who are back living with their families because they cannot afford to rent. The worst of all is the damage we, as a society, are doing to these children. People on the front line have told us about children who cannot crawl and toddlers who cannot walk. I am a father, as is the Tánaiste. One of the best experiences one can ever have is to see one's child taking his or her first steps. The Government is denying children the development milestones they should normally be able to achieve because they are in cramped accommodation in hotel rooms, bed and breakfast accommodation, or hubs. Some of them have spent four years in such accommodation. The Tánaiste can tell those children and their parents that his plan is working; it is not. He can tell the renters who are paying €2,000 a month that his plan is working; it is not. He needs to get his head out of the sand, invest appropriately, and introduce a rent freeze so that the craziness of landlords increasing rents and putting families into homelessness can be stopped.

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