Sunday 23 October 2016

Cowen detached, Durkan rambled, but report shows TDs agree cure

Eoin O Broin

Published 18/06/2016 | 02:30

Committee Chairman, John Curran TD with members of the Housing and Homelessness Committee during the publication of its report. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Committee Chairman, John Curran TD with members of the Housing and Homelessness Committee during the publication of its report. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

After 70 hours of meetings over seven weeks, involving 41 hearings and 90 written submissions, the Dáil Housing and Homelessness Committee has published its report on time.

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The 157-page document, with 109 recommendations including 23 which the committee agreed were priorities, will now be sent to the Dáil and Housing Minister Simon Coveney for their consideration.

All but one of the 14 members have signed up to the final product and the committee has now been dissolved.

Given the wide-ranging views of the members involved how did we manage to produce such consensus, in such a short space of time on a subject with generates so much heat?

Is this a sign that new politics has finally arrived in Leinster House? Will this substantial report lead to a change in Government policy?

The scale of the housing and homelessness certainly focused the minds of all committee members.

From the very outset there was agreement that Government policy wasn't working and something needed to change.

There was also agreement that the over-reliance on the private sector to meet social housing needs was part of the problem.

But diagnosis is always easier than prescribing a cure - especially when the medical team has 14 would-be doctors.

The final report was agreed during 13 hours of meetings held in private session.

Credit must be given to committee chair, Fianna Fáil TD John Curran, who not only managed the meetings fairly and efficiently, but also played a key role in drafting the final list of recommendations.

The same can not be said for his party colleague and housing spokesperson Barry Cowen, whose attitude to the committee can best be described as detached.

The engagement of Fine Gael was much more significant and all three deputies made valuable contributions.

Colm Brophy's experience on the board of the Housing Finance Agency and as a member of the second largest provider of social housing in the State - South Dublin County Council - made a difference.

Despite Bernard Durkan's at times inane ramblings on the evils of housing associations both he and his colleague Fergus O'Dowd were strong advocates of local authority-led public housing and greater regulation of the private rental sector.

Independents made their mark too. Mick Wallace brought his hands-on experience as a builder and developer to bear with characteristic rough-edged passion. Maureen O'Sullivan, understated as ever, kept a focus on groups too often forgotten by others.

Other members, such as Michael Harty, may have appeared quiet but were absorbing the mountains of information presented to the committee like a sponge.

There is little doubt that the final report represents a real step change in the direction of housing policy.

Minister Simon Coveney's Action Plan on Housing, due in August, is the litmus test of new politics and whether his Government has the political will to tackle the housing and homelessness crisis.

Eoin Ó Broin is a Sinn Féin TD and member of the Oireachtas Housing and Homelessness Committee

Irish Independent

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