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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C

Opinion 'Tánaiste, Fine Gael's housing policy only benefits developers & vulture funds'

The SocDem’s Cian O’Callaghan responds to comments on the housing crisis made by Leo Varadkar in The Journal.

GOOD NEWS EVERYBODY. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said in this publication that his government’s housing plans “are working”. There was one small caveat though. Mr Varadkar has conceded the plans “are not working fast enough”.

According to the Tánaiste, it is the speed of delivery, not housing policy, that is the root of the housing crisis.

But, have we heard something like this before from senior Fine Gael ministers?

Back in May 2014, when Fine Gael had already been in government for three years with their Labour Party coalition partners, it launched a new housing policy – “Construction 2020: A Strategy for a Renewed Construction Sector”.

In the Dáil, then Finance Minister Michael Noonan assured Opposition TDs that the strategy included measures “to stimulate the development of housing”. In his address, he referred to the “housing crisis” – the first time a senior Fine Gael Minister had done so.

Housing crisis

In truth, Fine Gael has now acknowledged the existence of a housing crisis since 2014 – more than eight years ago.

Since then, we have had a plethora of housing plans, policies and strategies – all of them abject failures.

Previously, when their failure to address the housing crisis was raised by the Opposition, Fine Gael ministers would respond with a single patronising remark: “you can’t build houses overnight”.

An examination of the Dáil record, shows Fine Gael ministers employing that line since 2014.

Now, we have Mr Varadkar using a new iteration of that same sentiment. Their plan is working, but “not fast enough” – presumably because houses cannot be built overnight.

One can only hope that Fine Gael did not spend too much on focus groups testing this new soundbite.

You don’t have to be a housing policy expert to recognise that speed of delivery is not the problem. Fine Gael has now had more than a decade to make progress in housing. Instead, under its watch, the crisis is deepening and getting worse.

Ever-growing issues

The core problem is clear. Fine Gael’s messaging about housing may have slightly changed, but their failed housing policies have remained the same.

The evidence for that is all around us.

There are currently nearly 10,500 people who are homeless and living in emergency accommodation. This figure includes more than 3,000 children – an increase of more than 40% in the past 12 months.

While these figures are shocking, they underestimate the extent of the problem. Homeless figures do not include people sleeping on the streets or in tents; people couch-surfing or sleeping in cars; people staying in shelters fleeing domestic violence; or people who have come through the asylum system but can’t move out of direct provision.

Under Fine Gael’s watch, the rental market has been completely broken. In the past decade, rents have doubled. The average rent for a new tenancy across Ireland is now €1,618 per month. In Dublin, that figure is an astronomical €2,170 per month – or more than €26,000 per annum.

The latest report from, published earlier this month, revealed the rate of rental inflation is higher now than it has been for at least 15 years while the number of available rental properties has fallen to an “unprecedented” low of just 716 homes.

House prices are also back at the dizzying heights last seen at the peak of the Celtic Tiger era. According to the CSO, house prices have increased by 123% since 2013. In the last year alone, house prices have increased by a staggering 14%.

The government’s response to this has been to pitch an “affordable home scheme” in which affordability is apparently €450,000 for a house in Dublin and €400,000 in Cork and Galway. In reality, a mortgage for even the latter lower amount requires a household income of at least €114,000.

While Fine Gael has been at the helm in government, rates of homeownership have collapsed at a dramatic rate. According to the ESRI, the homeownership rate among young people aged 25 to 34 has halved in the last 15 years. You can see then, why young people may not be convinced by Fine Gael claims that it is the “party of home ownership”. The evidence is quite the opposite.

The real problem

Part of the reason for this is the consistent failure of government to tackle the issue of supply. Of the 20,433 new homes delivered last year, just 5,698 were available for individual buyers to buy.

In Dublin city, in 2020, nearly 82pc of residential schemes applied for or granted were built-to-rent – developments which will never be available for individuals and families to buy.

Fine Gael, in government, has consistently incentivised international investment funds, which have snapped up supply and driven up house prices. When it comes to developers, Fine Gael has repeatedly reduced minimum standards for apartments, stating this would make apartments more affordable. It didn’t.

Most recently, developers have been offered enormous subsidies totalling €450 million to build apartments that will be sold at prices that most people will never be able to afford to buy.

We don’t have to go back ten years, or even five, to find examples of Fine Gael’s failures in housing. Last year, the current coalition promised to build 9,500 new social homes. Just over half this number were constructed – 5,202.

The government promised to deliver a very modest target of 350 cost rental homes in 2021, but only 65 cost rental homes were completed. Despite lots of promises and talk of delivering affordable purchase homes last year, the government delivered zero. None at all.

At every turn, targets and commitments are missed. Now, apparently, Mr Varadkar thinks the government “need to have another go at housing” – a remark that will send shivers down the spines of renters and those hoping to buy a home.

At what point will Mr Varadkar acknowledge the blindingly obvious and stop making pathetic excuses? It is Fine Gael’s disastrous housing policies that have resulted in a housing emergency that has morphed into a social catastrophe.

The only people who have done well from Fine Gael housing policies are vulture funds and developers.

That’s the truth. The Tánaiste should own it.

Cian O’Callaghan TD is the Social Democrats’ spokesperson for Housing.

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