Housing is now a Budget priority
The Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, last week announced his intention to repay early, and in full, the outstanding programme-related International Monetary Fund debt of around €4.5bn and the bilateral loans from both Sweden and Denmark, amounting in total of €5.5bn. In doing so, he said Ireland greatly appreciated the support and assistance from the IMF and the "European partners", which was provided at a time of great uncertainty for Ireland and which was key to our path to recovery: "Their support, friendship and solidarity will not be forgotten," Mr Donohoe said, in a comment which may ring somewhat hollow with certain citizens. In terms of helping to draw a line under a most ruinous lost decade, however, the announcement last week is to be welcomed. The Finance Minister must now turn his hand to the Budget next month.
In a speech on Friday, Mr Donohoe also gave an indication as to his thinking. When it came to the Budget, he said, behind all the talk of deficit targets, of growth and of the fiscal space, laid real lives that need improving and public services that require investment. As important as the amount of money we are spending and taxing is, so too is what we are doing with those resources, and to what end, he said. "Our challenges with housing policy and homelessness are pressing and sobering examples of this," the Finance Minister said. In that regard, he was entirely correct. What is widely referred to as the "homelessness crisis" is indeed the most pressing issue to contend with. The deaths in recent weeks of four homeless people on the country's streets, and the upward trajectory of homeless numbers are a stark reminder of this. Whether there are other factors, or not, at play in the deaths of homeless people, as has been said these were Irish citizens that deserved better and at the very least a basic standard of living.
The homeless crisis is, however, related to the wider issue of housing in more general terms, be that the problem of escalating rents, the inability of young families to trade into accommodation more suited to their needs and, indeed, obstacles in the way of those who may wish to trade down. There is also a glaring problem in relation to the huge number of around 200,000 vacant properties nationwide. It is clear that what we might call the 'housing market' remains largely dysfunctional. The issue has become so critical that there is a need for direct intervention by the Government. It is no longer good enough to leave the market to work through the various issues.