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Morgan urges support for Sinn Féin Housing Bill

2 November, 2006


Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan has urged TDs to support a Sinn Féin Bill to amend the changes, brought in by the Government in 2002, to Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. Speaking in the Dáil today Deputy Morgan said, "Good housing is one of the most important elements of a healthy society, and is crucial to the welfare of our people and communities. It is for this reason that access to adequate housing is widely recognised as one of the most fundamental human rights. Sinn Fein supports this right and it is time now for the government to stop paying lip-service to housing. It is for this reason I urge the House to support this Bill."

Full text of speech:

Arthur Morgan PMB Speech

I listened to Minister Ahern's remarks last night on the Bill brought before the house by Sinn Fein with amusement. Everyone is quite clear on the fact that we are in the midst of a housing crisis in this state except the minister with responsibility. We have listened to all sorts of figures and stats bandied about by the Minister about waiting lists falling and housing output increasing. This assertion by the Minister neglects the underlying reasons as to why the social housing waiting lists have fallen, and the housing output is up. The reason for the waiting list dropping from 48,000 to 44,000 is largely because of a 22 page assessment form that had to be filled in by families on the housing waiting list. The reality is that the Department were approving eligibility to go on the social housing waiting lists based on this 22 page form alone and this didn't account for the fact that many people were quite simply, unable to fill out the form. Or they may have made a small error on the form and their applications were discounted. Or they simply didn't return the form and do not know that they are no longer on the housing waiting list.

There was a lot of talk from the Minister in this debate about people "misinterpreting" Part V of the Planning and Development Acts. I put it to this house there is absolutely no misinterpretation of Part V on our behalf. You said in one part of your speech that Part V was an "important mechanism in the approach to meeting the increasing demands to housing". Yet, later on in your speech, you said that the maximum potential yield from Part V could be up to 3,000 units per annum. So, it is quite clear that Part V in its current state is not delivering what the Government would have us believe. It is not delivering on social housing units that are needed to house the 44,000 family units that are on the social housing waiting lists.

Part V is not about "developing preferred options" as you put it. If the local authority has no funding -- there is no option. When Local Authorities are so under-funded it is completely irrelevant -- of course they will take the money off developers. If Part V was delivering we wouldn't have the thousands upon thousands of people on waiting lists, and the thousands upon thousands more who do not have the means to purchase their own homes because this government have done absolutely nothing to stabilise the worsening increases in house prices, and as a result are living in sub-standard private rented accommodation owned by landlords who don't even comply with the very basic, minimum legal requirements.

It was asked by the Minister last night what would amending Part V of the Planning and Development Act achieve. Well, let me explain it to you in very simple terms; the bill states that developers will provide units or sites. So logic would dictate that it will provide exactly that; units or sites.

Developers throughout this state have been let off the hook left, right and centre when it comes to this cash option. They ARE buying their way out of their social obligations. The overall housing output is up but the social housing output is decreasing steadily by the year in percentage terms. Many people cannot afford to buy, and many more cannot get on the social housing list, and even if you do get on the social housing list you could be waiting anything up to 7 years to get a house or longer in some cases.

All this talk of €38 million being ring fenced for social and affordable housing is almost useless unless your department has plans to start the ball rolling for construction of another 73,000 social housing units between now and 2012 as per the NESC recommendations that will meet the social housing need in this state.

Yes Part V, as it stands, provides flexibility. It is flexible enough to ensure that more private units are built and the fat cat pals of Fianna Fail can get even fatter. Your friends from the Galway races scratch your back with political donations and you scratch theirs with the absolute farce that is Part V.

Sinn Féin has brought this bill before the house because we believe in equality. Providing quality housing that is available to all and not just those who are lucky enough to have the means to afford it. We believe that people should not be forced to live in ghettos.

It is an absolute scandal that we live in a state where, 44,000 families are on the social housing waiting list, where we spend more than a million euro a day on subsidising private landlords through the rental accommodation scheme, where mortgage interest rates rise percentage upon percentage each quarter, and where house prices on the whole can increase by 17% in comparison with the previous year and the government still have the cheek to tell people "yes we are combating the housing crisis", or, in the case of the Minister, is actually denying there is a crisis.

The problem of the housing crisis should have been dealt with years ago. Governments knew this was going on as far back as 1973 when the Kenny report was published and nothing was done about it. Local authorities should be allowed to acquire land through compulsory purchase orders at its existing use value plus 25% as recommended by the Kenny Report. This position was also supported by the Constitution Committee. If Local Authorities weren't forced into a situation where private developers were calling the shots, we wouldn't have a situation where we need a Part V. But, the reality is that we do need it.

Part V, if amended, could deliver meaningful targets for social house building. It is not the complete answer, but it is a beginning. The 2000 Act version of Part V was never given a chance to have its potential fully realised. You said yourself Minister, that it was slow to get going, your Government simply never gave it a chance.

There is not enough social housing provision to meet the need of those on local authority housing waiting lists and not enough housing available for purchase at an affordable price. Where there are new building programmes, the segregation that exists in housing developments throughout the state is astonishing. Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which, when originally introduced, provided for local authorities to insist that up to 20% of a private housing development be reserved for social and affordable housing. However, a number of problems exist. The manner in which social housing has been mixed with affordable housing has resulted in a diminished emphasis on the goal of social integration. As well as this, the presence of the range of 'get out clauses' introduced in 2002, allow developers to pay compensation rather than build social units. As a consequence most developments have not included a mix of tenure, and the positive potential of this legislation has been wasted. Indeed, in 2005, of over 80,000 housing units built, less than 1,400 were in the social/affordable category.

Good housing is one of the most important elements of a healthy society, and is crucial to the welfare of our people and communities. It is for this reason that access to adequate housing is widely recognised as one of the most fundamental human rights. Sinn Fein supports this right and it is time now for the government to stop paying lip-service to housing. It is for this reason I urge the House to support this Bill.

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