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Francis Noel Duffy pictured with his wife, the Green Party's deputy leader Catherine Martin following their election to the Dáil in 2020. Leah Farrell
Policy Matters

Greens housing spokesperson: 'There's opposition to what we're doing, even within Government'

Francis Noel Duffy doesn’t believe the eviction ban should be reinstated, saying that doing so would be akin to “a communist state”.

WELCOME TO POLICY Matters, a series from The Journal that takes a deep dive into the ideas and solutions proposed by Ireland’s politicians on some of the biggest issues of the day.

As part of the series, The Journal sits down with different spokespeople from across Ireland’s political parties to take a deeper look at what they believe needs to be done across areas like housing, health, the environment and childcare.

Last time around, we spoke to Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin who outlined his plan for tackling the housing crisis.

This week, we hear from a member of one of the Government parties – the Green Party’s housing spokesperson, Francis Noel Duffy.

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FRANCIS NOEL DUFFY, a TD for Dublin South West, is frustrated with how the media cover the Green Party.

“For whatever reason, the Green narrative is too nice. I don’t think journalists want to write about it,” he said.

“People don’t want good news, it doesn’t sell papers. People want pain, suffering, misery,” he added.

Duffy has been a TD since the 2020 election and has been the party’s housing spokesperson since before it went into coalition that same year.

Although he voted against the Green Party entering Government initially, he has been surprised by the influence they have been able to have. 

In a wide ranging discussion with The Journal, Duffy outlined these influences on housing policy and told us how he believes the Government has been radical in terms of tackling climate change. 

He also defended the Government’s lifting of the eviction ban and argued that reinstating it would be akin to having “a communist state”. 

Duffy voted against going into coalition because he felt the Greens wouldn’t get the influence they wanted on housing.

However, he said he has been “shocked and surprised” to find how well he has worked with Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien and added that he is pleased with what the Greens have been able to achieve in housing so far.  

This is despite housing being seen as one of the biggest crises facing the country. 

Prior to being elected a TD, Duffy served as a councillor on South Dublin County Council from 2014 to 2020, having lost out on a Dáil seat in the 2011, 2014 and 2016 elections. 

He remains a practising architect, having previously taught as a lecturer in the Dublin School of Architecture, part of TU Dublin. 

Duffy, who is married to Minister for Tourism, Culture, Media and Sport Catherine Martin, said it is important to have something to fall back on if he does not keep his seat in the next election and said that despite the stress of the job, he does intend to run again.

“If I don’t get re-elected I’ll bow out gracefully and acknowledge the privilege I had, I won’t be sad about it,” he said. 

Looking back at the months immediately after the last general election, when Government formation talks dragged on from February right through until June, Duffy recalled his perception of the various parties’ housing proposals.

He said it was his view that Fine Gael had “very firm positions” on the policies they wanted, whereas Fianna Fáil “weren’t really positioned anywhere” and were “quite open” to Green proposals. 

However, he said in general he felt the Greens were most aligned with Sinn Féin and their policies.

On the Government’s record on housing so far he said: “The housing mandate we got, we’ve implemented most of it, and we’re delivering it.”

He pointed to the abolition of what he referred to as the “totally undemocratic” Strategic Housing Development (SHD) system as one Green Party success story. 

Introduced in 2016, the SHD system was an effort to speed up the planning application process for well-designed, large scale housing schemes on appropriately zoned sites.

However, the system removed the right to appeal planning decisions and led to many contested developments being challenged through the courts. 

Plans to get rid of the system were approved by the Government in 2021.

“I’ve been calling out against it since I became a county councillor, and since they brought it in,” Duffy said.

Duffy also pointed to his involvement in the decision by the Government to scrap co-living plans, something that Fine Gael was in favour of rolling out further. 

Cost rental housing

He made the point that the Greens’ preferred housing model is the Vienna model of cost rental homes which was rolled out in Ireland in 2021.

Cost rental housing aims to provide affordable rented accommodation to people who are above the threshold for social housing. 

The rent for cost rental homes must be at least 25% below regular market rents in an area.

Ireland’s first cost rental tenants moved into their homes in 2021, with 440 cost-rental homes delivered that year. 

 The Government aims to deliver 18,000 cost-rental homes by 2030 and according to the Department of Housing’s most recent progress report, the Land Development Agency (LDA) is expected to deliver over 700 cost rental homes this year.

“We were heavily pushing that that should be implemented – that the state should get involved in producing rentable housing for people above the social housing ceiling.

“That’s implemented. So between the LDA and local authorities, we’re going to build 40,000 units over the next 20 years,” Duffy said. 

Another policy Duffy is proud to see implemented is 100% public housing on public land in Cork and Dublin. 

He said this is one of the biggest things that has come out of the Greens in Government when it comes to housing policy. 

He pointed out that the Green Party also wanted to see it implemented in Limerick and Galway but they weren’t able to get this over the line. 

“Prior to us going into Government, [the Land Development Agency’s] mantra was private housing on public land.

“So they came out last year and basically said 75% of whatever they’re going to build, it would be cost rental, and the other 25% would be social. So they’ve gone from being in the region of 30 to 60% private to all public housing,” Duffy said. 

Indeed, speaking in front of the Oireachtas Housing Committee in January 2022, chairman of the LDA Cormac O’Rourke confirmed this and said: “We do not see a role for ourselves in delivering housing for private sale”.

Eviction ban

It was put to Duffy that Focus Ireland recently stated that it believes the further increase we have seen in homelessness is partly the result of the lifting of the eviction ban in March of this year. 

The latest homeless figures, released last week showed that homelessness in the state once again hit a record high with 12,847 people accessing emergency accommodation in July. This included 3,829 children. 

Since March, opposition parties have repeatedly called for the eviction ban to be reinstated but the Government has been firm in its refusal. 

On this, Duffy said the first thing he wanted to get across is that the Greens have advocated for a number of schemes which are in place to support renters who are faced with eviction – namely the First Home equity loan scheme, the Cost Rental Tenant in Situ scheme and Government backed mortgages for first time buyers via home loans from Local Authorities. 

My understanding was Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were happy to let the eviction ban be undone, and we just move forward.

“But we called for three different things to happen,” Duffy said. 

The Green party also wanted to legislate for a first right of refusal for tenants to purchase their rented property if it was placed up for sale, but questions over the constitutionality of such a measure have delayed its implementation.

“So we would have called for all those measures to be put in place and maybe it was done quietly, or the press didn’t want to say ‘well, the Greens are looking for [this]’ but we looked for all of those measures which are in place,” Duffy said.

On whether he thinks the eviction ban should be reinstated, Duffy compared doing so to having “a communist state”.

It was put to him that reinstating the eviction ban, and keeping people in the accommodation they already have, would help reduce the growing homeless figures. 

He responded: “Well then it turns into a communist state, that’s what you are talking about. So we purchase everybody’s property, is it?”

The Journal presented him with the recent example of the tenants in Swords who are being evicted from their apartments by a company owned by a real estate group with €6bn in assets. 

Some of these tenants have resisted eviction and it was put to Duffy that they would not be in this position if the eviction ban was still in place. 

“Yeah. I think people in this country, as far as I know, have been evicted for generations. I know that’s a bit of a cliche. So are you saying if people don’t pay their rent, and all that kind of stuff, they should stay?,” Duffy said. 

His argument centred around the rights of landlords to evict someone if they were not paying their rent or if the landlord wanted to move a family member into the property. The Journal put it to him that these exemptions were in place under the eviction ban. 

He responded: “Well at the moment, there are provisions in place where you [a tenant] can buy the house. If you want to buy it there are mortgages available.”

He added that if this was something that a person facing eviction could not afford then there are “cost rental provisions available” and said these are accessible and that there are enough cost rental properties available. 

“The budget is open ended. There’s an open ended budget for the state to purchase the home you’re renting whether you are a HAP tenant, whether you’re a cost rental effective tenant, or if you want to actually purchase it, there are people out there that can afford to buy the homes,” Duffy said. 

Last week, CSO figures showed that over half a million adults in Ireland are still living with their parents. 

It was put to Duffy that there is anecdotal evidence showing how young people renting in Dublin have had to return home to their parents and commute back into the city from other counties for work because they have been evicted. 

Duffy said: “Well, I know I’ve had to commute, you know, from Carrickmacross to Dublin at times. A lot of people have done that over the years. 

“I don’t think it’s a national problem. I think it’s a global problem in any city where prices are at a premium in city centres. Go and try to live in Paris, or London, you know, you’re going to be pushed out to the edge.”

“You’re in a democracy where people have rights to their property,” Duffy added.

On the Government’s record on housing so far, Duffy said he isn’t “happy about the homeless situation” but that the Government is doing what it said it would do in terms of building housing. 

“I’m not happy about the homeless situation but I think there are some forces happening there that we don’t have control over. 

“But in the context of building, the funding has been put behind it, and we’re building more than we said we would build so far each year… At the moment we are doing what we said we would do,” Duffy said. 

Looking ahead, Duffy said he would be happy to work within a Sinn Féin led Government. 

Reflecting on the last election, he said a fairer outcome would have been to have Sinn Féin in Government with Fianna Fáil. 

“You’ve got two centrist parties in Government, and then everyone else is kind of left of that. We’re the only left party in the government so we do a lot of lifting or pushing,” he said. 

“I don’t have a problem working with Sinn Féin. Whoever it is, I think coalitions are probably better than majorities, because then you just get a very hard position, whereas they say more policies are implemented when there’s a larger coalition.”

Retrofitting

On whether the Greens have been able to deliver enough in terms of climate adaptation and mitigation in housing, Duffy said he believes the Greens have been radical in Government. 

It has been reported that there has been significant delays with the roll out of the Government’s Warmer Homes Schemes which provides free energy upgrades for low-income households.

As of the end of May, just 35% of applications received since February had been processed. 

It was also reported recently that the scheme was locking homeowners into many more years of fossil-fuel heating systems. 

Just 20 of the 603 homes provided with a heating system upgrade under the scheme were fitted with a heat pump.

Of the others, 348 were refitted with gas and 235 had new oil systems fitted.

On this, Duffy pointed to the cost involved with deep-retrofitting a home and said “it takes time to transition. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Duffy is very aware that the Greens only have so much influence in Government. 

“I believe that this party, this Government, has being quite radical. I think we’ve implemented so many of our policies, especially in housing and it’s a battle to do everything else, because there’s opposition to what we’re doing, even within Government,” he said.

Duffy added: “I think we’re doing a good job, I have to say, personally, from what we’ve gotten over the line – way more than I thought. I thought we weren’t going to get a lot.”

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