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Minister warns councils he will use emergency powers if inaction on housing continues

The minister said some local authorities are ‘making excuses’ about their lack of progress.

Image: Leah Farrell

HOUSING MINISTER EOGHAN Murphy has warned a handful of councils that he will step in and use emergency powers if they fail to make progress on the housing crisis.

The minister told reporters at the Fine Gael party think-in in Galway today that he has written to “two or three” local authorities that he feels are not taking sufficient action.

“When we see the number of families in emergency accommodation today and tonight it is unacceptable.

“That is why I wrote to local authorities, certain local authorities, to tell them that there are changes they need to make immediately and if they don’t I will have recourse to emergency powers within my department to step in and take control of some of those functions.

“So I can be sure we are working with the best people possible, so that we can get those people out of emergency accommodation and get them into homes,” said the minister. 

He said when he looked at the numbers over the last number of months and the number of people in emergency accommodation, he saw that “certain local authorities” are not doing enough.

“[When] I still haven’t seen the solutions coming through and I am still hearing excuses that are unacceptable, I now have no choice but to tell them either use their emergency powers and if they won’t I’ll be stepping in,” said Murphy.

He said the vast majority of councils are doing good work, highlighting Dublin City Council which has tendered for a large-scale modular home scheme.

Council housing targets

However, he said that those that are not meeting the targets, which he set out in January, will face action.

Giving an example, there are some councils that have not yet built any family hubs, which he said help reduce the time families stay in emergency accommodation. 

The letters, which were sent yesterday, indicate that the minister expects to hear back from the councils by the close of the week. A meeting with local authorities is due to be held next week. 

Earlier in the day, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted that his government has not made adequate progress when it comes to the homeless figures. 

When asked today about the public being “fed up”, the housing minister said he could understand why people are.

“I understand that people are frustrated – people are being hurt very badly by the crisis we have in housing at the moment.”

However, he said the government is committed to fixing the problem, adding that it is taking time in some local authority areas to get a grasp of the issue.

“It is taking too much time…I think it is right for them [people] to say enough is enough in certain areas,” he added.

The minister has faced a barrage of criticism over the summer months about his performance in the department, and is facing a no confidence motion from Sinn Féin when the Dáil returns.

Stepping in to defend Murphy, the Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said today that there was resounding support for the housing minister among his parliamentary party colleagues.

Murphy said creating a sustainable housing plan is his only focus, adding:

“I am determined to see that through and to deliver progress where progress isn’t being made, to call it out and correct it and drive things forward.

“The buck does stop with me.”

New Land Development Agency

Meanwhile, in relation to housing, the minister said he will bring proposals to Cabinet to establish a Land Development Agency, with €1.25 billion behind it.

The Taoiseach said this move is a “step change” in the government’s involvement in the housing market.

“We are going to build new homes and lots of them,” he told his party today.

Social housing, affordable housing, private housing and cost rental on state owned land and privately owned land. An intervention which is 50 years overdue and in time, I believe will be seen to be as significant as the decision to establish the ESB, Aer Lingus or the IDA.

The housing minister said the intervention of taking over State land is needed. 

Last year, Varadkar said Nama would be repurposed into property developer, but this has yet to be delivered. When asked today if this new agency will be born from Nama the finance minister said how it will be structure and design of the body will be made next week.

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