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Varadkar says councils should help pay for property inspectors instead of 'investing in white-water rafting'

St Vincent De Paul has called for more support from the government to retrofit homes.

The report found that over 10% of one-parent families couldn't afford to heat their home.
The report found that over 10% of one-parent families couldn't afford to heat their home.
Image: Shutterstock/Raquel Mathias

Updated Dec 10th 2019, 4:00 PM

THE TAOISEACH HAS said local authorities could help to contribute to the costs of rolling out more property inspectors “rather than cutting the local property tax (LPT), or investing in white-water rafting”. 

During Leaders’ Questions, Leo Varadkar was asked about new figures from the charity St Vincent De Paul which found that 12.3% of children in Ireland are living in substandard and poor-quality homes. 

Over half of the poorest children, the charity says, are in families that do not receive the fuel allowance. 

It also found that over 10% of one-parent families could not afford to heat their home. 

Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin asked Varadkar to fully implement the recommendations  brought before the Dáil in 2017 for all private rental properties to be fully inspected “so that no child is living in energy poverty because of the failure of this government to fund adequate enforcement of inspection of properties in the private rental or local government sectors”.

The Taoiseach said money is being provided for property inspectors by central Government.

“But it would be helpful if those parties in control of local authorities that could help to contribute to the cost of that would do so, rather than cutting the local property tax, LPT, or investing in white-water rafting,” he said. 

A white-water rafting facility was given the green light by councillors this week. It’s expected to cost in the region of €22 million and take 18 months to complete.

The location earmarked for the project is George’s Dock in the city centre, adjacent to the CHQ building and a short walk from Connolly Station and Busaras.

The facility has received support from athletes and emergency services who will be able to use it for training, as well as those who say it will attract thousands of visitors to Dublin, but has also been criticised as an outlandish project at a time when the country grapples with a homelessness crisis.

It’s understood that the financing for the €22 million facility will come from both Central Government grants – tourist grants and emergency services grants – as well as council funding. 

The Taoiseach failed to mention that around €5 million will be come from City Council Levies, which can’t be spent on housing but rather fall under different public realm categories. For instance, Community Facilities and Amenities. 

Dr Tricia Keilthy, St Vincent De Paul’s head of social justice said the latest report clearly shows that children are one of the groups most exposed to the risk of energy poverty and that growing up in a cold home has a distinct negative impact on a child’s health,” said

The study draws on data from a Europe-wide survey of incomes and living conditions. 

“The findings suggest that policy levers to alleviate energy poverty and improve the quality of the housing stock will lead to significant health benefits and a reduction in health expenditure in the future,” Keilthy said.

The findings also show that five-year-old children living in poor and substandard homes had an increased risk of asthma, while 38% had been on two or more courses of antibiotics in the last 12 months. 

St Vincent De Paul National President, Kieran Stafford, said that his volunteers will regularly “meet families trying to cut down on bills by living in one room of the house during the winter months. Others will be sitting in the cold and dark because they have nothing left at the end of the week to top up their pre-pay meter”. 

The report, coming just weeks before Christmas, recommends a deep retrofit programme of local authority housing and a government commitment to introduce minimum energy efficiency standards into the private rental sector. 

The government’s Warmer Homes scheme offers people on low-incomes funding for insulation, draught proofing and other energy-saving measures. However, it is only available for people who own their own homes and for houses built after 2006. 

“The Warmer Home Scheme may be a good option for older people who own their own homes but for energy poor households with children, it is more likely they are living in social housing or the private rented sector,” Keilthy said. 

During Leaders’ Questions, Varadkar said he as “immense respect for St. Vincent de Paul as an organisation”, but added that he had not yet read the report.

“I will look at the report. The Government will issue a reasoned response when it has had a chance to consider the report,” he said.

With additional reporting by Christina Finn

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