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Labour lights a fire under housing minister: 'Reintroduce your own Bill on cuckoo funds or we will'

Labour housing spokesperson Rebecca Moynihan said in a video this afternoon that she will re-introduce his Bill “word for word”.

Labour Senator Rebecca Moynihan says  the government must act  urgently.
Labour Senator Rebecca Moynihan says the government must act urgently.
Image: @RebeccaMo

Updated May 5th 2021, 8:11 PM

LABOUR HAS MOVED to light a fire under the Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien by calling on him to reintroduce his own 2019 Bill to block cuckoo funds from buying up housing developments.

If the minister doesn’t resurrect it himself as a matter of urgency, Labour said it will.

Labour housing spokesperson Rebecca Moynihan said in a video this afternoon that she will re-introduce his Bill “word for word”.

This would place the minister in a precarious position. Either the government would be forced to support a Bill, drafted by O’Brien but now with Labour’s name on it, or the government would have to vote down the proposed piece of legislation.

The move comes as both the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parliamentary party meetings this evening were dominated by discussions on housing.

It was also confirmed this evening that the housing minister is to address the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on 19 May.  

O’Brien told The Journal yesterday that he thinks his previous Bill is still workable and “still valid”.

It is understood that he has asked officials in the Department of Housing to look at the options available in his old Bill, with a view to bringing changes as part of new Planning and Development legislation. 

This could see legislating for a specific ring-fencing of homes for first-time buyers as per his 2019 Bill or possibly banning cuckoo funds entirely outside of city centre areas.

While he said he hopes to have progress to report in the coming weeks, pressure has significantly ramped up on the housing minister to deal with the issue urgently. 

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said in the Dáil today that she would be willing to sit all night to pass such legislation, if necessary. 

Senator Moynihan said there is an urgent need to reorient housing policy to focus on delivering for people, not investment funds.

“People are rightly outraged about Round Hill Capital buying an entire housing estate in Kildare last week and how it bought another estate in Dublin 15 which it plans to rent out for €2,000 a month.

“In the midst of a housing crisis where hard working people are effectively locked out of buying a home due to consistently poor, speculator-led housing policy, the Minister must act,” she said.

In what could be considered a very smart move by Labour to light a fire under the housing minister to move quickly on matters, Moynihan said if the minister does not act on his own legislation – which she said is designed to help first time buyers get on the market – then the Labour Party will re-introduce this Bill word for word.

“It’s time for action,” she said.

“In opposition, the now Minister seemed to acknowledge the horrific experience of many first time buyers. However, now that the Old Boys Club is back in power, he has been captured by investors and corporate interests.

The issue of housing has been firmly put back on the radar of government this week, with multiple politicians, including those in government, raising concerns about the role investment funds are playing in the market. 

Sources state that Fianna Fáil TD John Lahart gave an angry contribution at tonight’s meeting, where he said that young people are returning home to their parents’ homes in their droves. 

Had it not been for the pandemic, he said young people would be out on the streets, and he would be with them, he said.

The meeting heard that there could be a move to amending the Affordable Housing Bill to include a limit on purchase to one unit per buyer.

One source said: “Fine Gael won’t support this level of market intervention.”

While they said ”we’ll be told the world will come to an end and banks won’t lend if we intervene” there is a need to drive on and be radical, they added.

“We can’t continue the same as we have been,” they said. 

Meanwhile, the Fine Gael parliamentary party heard criticism of the government’s handling of the housing issues and the new affordable homes proposals.

Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan called for an internal committee on housing, something Varadkar said he would consider.

Varadkar said problems regarding home ownership have to be addressed.

He said real differences are required to ensure people have their own homes.

The meeting heard banks worldwide are printing money which led to financial investments in physical assets in Ireland but that these have consequences for those living here.

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The party leader said it was never intended to allow investments funds purchase housing estates and Government was looking at it to ensure it does not become an enduring phenomenon.

Long-term leasing

In addition to discussions about first-time buyers being locked out of buying homes by the actions of some funds, the Social Democrats are also bringing forward legislation to help end the practice of the State entering long-term leasing deals with developers and investment funds. 

Housing Spokesperson Cian O’Callaghan said even a measure that was introduced to ensure local authorities could add to their permanent housing stock – something known as Part V, whereby 10% of new developments are purchased by local authorities – has been quietly amended to facilitate long-term leasing deals.

“Instead of councils buying these properties, they are increasingly entering into long-term leasing deals, in which they pay eye-watering rents for up to 30 years – before handing the keys back to the developer or the investment fund.

“I am introducing a Bill to the Dáil, which will be debated tomorrow, to end this practice,” he said. 

The Taoiseach said today that the government will not oppose the Bill and will work with the Social Democrats to progress the legislation.  

“No county council should be on the other side of this, engaging in long term leases with these institutional investors as far as I’m concerned,” Martin said today.

“Long-term leasing overall doesn’t represent great value for money,” he added.

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