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Government approach to housing driven by lust for profits of developers and land speculators - Ó Caoláin

1 November, 2006


Speaking in the Dáil this evening on the Sinn Féin Bill to amend Part V of the Planning and Development Act, Sinn Féin Dáil Leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said the Government's approach to housing is driven "by the lust for profits of the land speculators and the developers." Deputy Ó Caoláin went on to commend the MakeRoom Campaign to end homelessness by 2010 which is being spearheaded by Focus Ireland, the Simon Communities, the Society of St Vincent de Paul and Threshold.

He said, "The Fianna Fáil/PD Government has been in power since 1997. Back then the housing crisis was developing rapidly and it was quite clear what was going to happen as the economy grew. But the Government failed to act. They placed total reliance for housing on the private sector. Their approach was and is driven by the lust for profits of the land speculators and the developers. This has played into the hands of the lending institutions who are profiting from the massive scale of mortgages weighing down on young families. We pointed out at that time that the local authorities must be given a lead role in providing homes for our people. That was ignored. Local authority housing as a proportion of overall housing supply has fallen to a record low under this Government. This State has one of the lowest outputs of social housing in the EU, at fewer than two new homes per 1,000 built.

"Thousands of social and affordable homes would now be in place if Part V has been left as it was when the Act was passed. It would have had -- and can still have if reinstated -- an impact on the problem of homelessness in this country. It is a scandal that this nation where wealth is abundant still sees so many people sleeping rough on our streets.

"I want to commend the MakeRoom Campaign which is being spearheaded by Focus Ireland, the Simon Communities, the Society of St Vincent de Paul and Threshold. They have said that with strong political leadership, a responsive policy agenda and adequate resources, homelessness could be ended. The target of 2010 for ending rough sleeping and long-term homelessness has been set by the Government. The reality is that that target will not be reached unless the Government prioritises social and affordable housing, based on the needs of people.

"I want to endorse the position of the MakeRoom campaign that the first step in the solution to homelessness lies in the delivery of a needs-assessment. This means assessing the housing and other needs of every person who becomes homeless or is at risk of becoming homeless. Individual solutions can then be developed to meet each person's needs, including appropriate housing and support services such as counselling and healthcare." ENDS

Full text of speech follows:

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Sinn Féin Private Members Business -- Housing

Earlier today when I asked the Taoiseach about the purpose of this Bill, the reinstatement of the original Part V of the Planning and Development Act, he claimed that the Government changed it because of demands from all sides, including here in the Dáil. There was certainly pressure from some on the Government benches but the change was strongly opposed in this House, including by Sinn Féin.

We all know where the pressure came from. It was from the developers and speculators who contribute so much to the funding of the Fianna Fáil party. It was one of the quickest turnarounds ever for a political lobby. People with disabilities campaigned tirelessly to get a rights-based Disability Bill. The final bill was a bitter disappointment and was not rights-based. It was the outcome of years of work by the sector and still the Government did not relent and produce a rights-based Bill. Yet the developers and speculators got what they wanted in record time. They got this key element of the Planning and Development Act turned around. For this Government property rights speak louder than human rights, including the right to housing.

The Fianna Fáil/PD Government has been in power since 1997. Back then the housing crisis was developing rapidly and it was quite clear what was going to happen as the economy grew. But the Government failed to act. They placed total reliance for housing on the private sector. Their approach was and is driven by the lust for profits of the land speculators and the developers. This has played into the hands of the lending institutions who are profiting from the massive scale of mortgages weighing down on young families. We pointed out at that time that the local authorities must be given a lead role in providing homes for our people. That was ignored. Local authority housing as a proportion of overall housing supply has fallen to a record low under this Government. This State has one of the lowest outputs of social housing in the EU, at fewer than two new homes per 1,000 built.

The consequences of the housing crisis go far beyond the issue of accommodation. Poor housing is a contributory factor to poor health among sections of our population. The exorbitant price of homes has knock-on effects for the care of children. It leads to both parents in young families having to work ever longer hours. The pressure on family budgets and on the demand for childcare places is enormous. More importantly, the quality of life for children and for parents is adversely affected.

Thousands of social and affordable homes would now be in place if Part V has been left as it was when the Act was passed. It would have had -- and can still have if reinstated -- an impact on the problem of homelessness in this country. It is a scandal that this nation where wealth is abundant still sees so many people sleeping rough on our streets.

I want to commend the MakeRoom Campaign which is being spearheaded by Focus Ireland, the Simon Communities, the Society of St Vincent de Paul and Threshold. They have said that with strong political leadership, a responsive policy agenda and adequate resources, homelessness could be ended. The target of 2010 for ending rough sleeping and long-term homelessness has been set by the Government. The reality is that that target will not be reached unless the Government prioritises social and affordable housing, based on the needs of people.

The MakeRoom campaign has stated that in recent years, the profile of homelessness has changed, with fewer people sleeping rough. However, thousands of people remain without a home, many living for years in insecure hostel or emergency and temporary accommodation. They say that turning the corner on homelessness will require much more comprehensive and sustainable housing solutions.

I want to endorse the position of the MakeRoom campaign that the first step in the solution to homelessness lies in the delivery of a needs-assessment. This means assessing the housing and other needs of every person who becomes homeless or is at risk of becoming homeless. Individual solutions can then be developed to meet each person's needs, including appropriate housing and support services such as counselling and healthcare.

The social housing stock in the 26 Counties, comprising local authority, voluntary and co-operative housing sectors, stands at just over 127,000 homes for rent, one of the smallest in the EU. That is a direct result of Government policy for nearly a decade. It means that housing has become a privilege and that over 43,000 families find themselves on the bottom rung of the ladder, on local authority waiting lists. Those local authority homes have not been delivered. The Taoiseach and the Housing Minister like to read off figures for this year. But they are playing catch-up. They have had nearly a decade to address the housing crisis. They have failed. Let them redeem some semblance of credibility by supporting this Bill to reinstate the original Part V. If they will not do so at least let some of those on the Government backbenches show some courage and vote for this legislation.

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