Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Fianna Fáil putting the developers before the people - Crowe

1 November, 2006


Sinn Féin Social Affairs spokesperson Seán Crowe TD, speaking in the Dáil today, proposed a bill that would reverse the loophole introduced by the Government in 2002 allowing developers to buy exemptions from the requirement to provide 20% social and affordable housing in new developments. Accusing the Government of hiding 'behind the stream of selectively chosen statistics' he claimed Fianna Fáil was 'more comfortable with a system where developers can get out of their commitments by handing over cash than one that deliver housing for families'. Deputy Crowe concluded by repeating Sinn Féin's long-standing position that housing is a basic socio-economic right and saying it is 'time to develop a housing policy aimed at delivering social and affordable housing, not one aimed at delivering higher profits for the construction industry. The Bill Sinn Féin is putting before the Dáil tonight will give all parties the opportunity to pick a side, and to take a stand.'

The Dublin South-West TD said: "The right to a roof over your head is one of the most basic rights a person should have and it is a right which Sinn Féin believes is so important it should be contained in the Constitution. No family should be forced to wait for periods of up to seven years on a housing waiting list as is the case in parts of this city. Nobody should be forced to live in substandard rented accommodation for years because of government neglect. Nobody should be forced to live on the streets because of government indifference.

"After nine years in government, during a time of unprecedented economic prosperity the undeniable fact is that this government has failed and this Minister has failed.

"And the Minister knows he has failed. He is acutely conscious of it. But rather than face reality, he turns away, he pretends, ostrich like, that if he refuses to acknowledge the existence of a crisis, that it will simply cease to exist. That it will go away.

"He hides behind the stream of selectively chosen statistics that I have no doubt he will regurgitate again today or tomorrow. He hopes that if he can throw up enough smoke, dazzle us with enough mirrors, we will believe that a Government which writes its housing policy at the behest of developers is interested in creating policy to deliver for people.

"But no amount of spin will hide the real facts. There are 44,000 households on social housing waiting lists. Social housing output as a percentage of overall annual housing output has fallen dramatically in the last four years from around 10 per cent in 2002 to 5.8 per cent in 2005. Less than 5 per cent of the homes completed in the first three months of this year were for local authority tenants. Of the 81,000 houses built last year only 830 were in the social and affordable sector.

"And in relation to houses which have been built, there has been an 11.9% increase in the price of new houses state wide and a 14% increases in house prices in the Dublin area. The average price of a house in Dublin in 2005 was €386,089. In 2001, this was €252,000. There has been a 17% increase in the price of second-hand homes.

"The government is now 15,000 units short of the amount of social and affordable housing they committed to deliver by the end of this year in the National Development Plan. If that isn't a crisis then I don't know what is.

"The Bill being put forward by Sinn Féin tonight sets out a realistic plan to try and help achieve the NESC target of 73,000 extra social housing units by 2012, a target the government is nowhere near achieving. We want to amend the Planning and Development Acts 2000-2002 to oblige developers to provide 20% of social and affordable housing and remove the option for developers to make a financial contribution to local authorities in place of providing social and affordable housing units. This will ensure that Part V delivers social and affordable housing in an integrated manner as originally envisioned.

"The decision of the government in 2002 to abandon any real effort to deliver social and affordable housing has had a dramatic impact across the state.

"I would like to give a concrete example, a case study, of one local authority where the impact of Part V since the Government introduced the developer's loophole of 2002 can be clearly observed. Using figures I received from my colleague Cllr Joe Reilly, who I hope will be able to raise these issues here after the next election.

"Meath County Council has received financial contributions from builders totalling just under four and a half million Euros since 2002. The total number of social houses provided in Meath is three. Three. All located in Johnstown, in Navan. In terms of affordable housing, we have 73. In fairness, it should be noted that there are another 41 houses that in the six years since Part V was first introduced are 'in progress'. So this is the record of Part V in Meath. Seventy three affordable units. Forty-one in progress and a grand total of three social housing units. About one every two years.

"The total number of applicants on Meath County Council's local authority waiting list is 780. Is it in this lifetime or the next that Minister Ahern is aiming to eliminate social housing waiting lists? Does he want it recorded that Fianna Fáil the party he represents is more comfortable with a system where developers can get out of their commitments by handing over cash than one that deliver housing for families?

"And the difficulties don't stop there. The erosion of the social sector means that the private rental sector increasingly acts as a refuge for people on low incomes. In the 26 Counties in 2005 over 60,000 individuals in the private rented sector were in receipt of the Rent Supplement, representing an annual expenditure of more than €368 million. This means that every day in the 26 Counties alone more than one million euro of public money is shovelled into the pockets of private landlords rather than being used to build social housing. This has got to stop. We need a managed transition away from state subsidy of private tenancy and towards increased public resources for social housing, where tenure is by definition more secure.

"If Part V were amended to provide social units to those were in need of social housing, we would not have to spend €1 million a day of public money on subsidising the private rented sector. And there are huge differences in the quality of housing being rented. At a meeting with the Vincent de Paul today I heard about a house in a neighbouring county where a family are living in rat infested accommodation which has been condemned three times. This accommodation is being paid for by the tax payer through rent supplement. It is a disgrace that any family is being asked to live in such conditions. And it is a disgrace that it is not only tolerated by the state but paid for by its taxpayers.

"All of this argues that Part V should be returned to its original purpose and for the government's approach to housing to change.

"People need to be treated on the basis of equality and parity in housing needs to be the number one goal in housing policy. The policy of mixed tenure development should be at the forefront of any new plans for house building regardless of whether the development is in Dun Laoire-Rathdown or Tallaght.

"Part V can help in the provision of high standard, quality accommodation to some of the 44,000 who currently exist in local authority waiting list limbo. But amending Part V is only one step. My colleagues will deal with other measures that need to be addressed.

"Every person in Ireland has the right to live in security, peace and dignity, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. Every person has a right to housing regardless of income or access to economic resources, economic status, group or other affiliation or status, and has a right to freedom from discrimination in housing. Sinn Fein is committed to bringing about a progressive improvement in living conditions for lower income people, and to allow for tenure of choice. Sinn Fein aims to end the housing crisis, eliminate homelessness and ensure that adequate and appropriate housing is available and accessible to every person on the island without exception.

"It is time to put the needs of families before the needs of developers. It is time to develop a housing policy aimed at delivering social and affordable housing, not one aimed at delivering higher profits for the construction industry. The Bill Sinn Féin is putting before the Dáil tonight will give all parties the opportunity to pick a side, and to take a stand."

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