Thursday 22 February 2018

'It would be wrong to rush plan on rent sector' - Coveney

Housing Minister Simon Coveney Photo: Tom Burke
Housing Minister Simon Coveney Photo: Tom Burke

Kevin Doyle and Laura Larkin

Complaints from Fianna Fáil that there are "gaps" in the new action plan on housing are premature, Housing Minister Simon Coveney has said.

He has rejected suggestions from Fianna Fáil's housing spokesman Barry Cowen, pictured, that there are "glaring omissions" in the 'Rebuilding Ireland' strategy.

Barry Cowen Photo: Tom Burke 2/6/2016
Barry Cowen Photo: Tom Burke 2/6/2016

"I listened to Barry Cowen in the Dáil and that wasn't the message I got from him. I know he seems to have made statements in the media, but I'm not quite sure what gaps he is talking about to be honest," Mr Coveney said.

The lack of concrete proposals to resolve the rental crisis has been key to Fianna Fáil's criticisms of the plan, but the minister said it would be "foolish" of him to try to rush putting a plan together.

"He mentioned the rental market and the need for change there, but we have agreed to look in detail at the rental market and make decisions before the end of the year.

"I think it would have been very foolish of me in 74 days after the Government being formed to actually try and rush a package for the rental market, we have had a broken rental market for decades in Ireland," he said.

The minister said rents are either "increasing too quickly or collapsing too quickly".

"What we need is a stable rental market where rents are predictable, where there is some rent certainty, where we have security of tenure, where people can actually choose to rent for life if they want to avoid the risks attached to taking on a big debt like a mortgage, that's the norm in most European countries but not in Ireland."

Mr Cowen warned in the aftermath of the publication of the plan on Tuesday that if the Fine Gael-led minority Government didn't fix the housing crisis then Fianna Fáil would bring down the Government.

However, Mr Coveney said he was "not sure what Barry Cowen means in real terms".

"We want to get this right, there is a need for proper stakeholder consultation across multiple different stakeholders.

"We're going to do that and make the right decisions before the end of the year and I expect Fianna Fáil will be part of that process too."

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said yesterday that the plan was a positive move but its implementation would be the real test.

He said every party in Leinster House needs to make "this the number one social issue of our time".

"We have to get meaningful results and get houses built."

Adopting a softer tone than Mr Cowen, he said: "We have identified areas such as the rental sector and student accommodation where inroads could be made in terms of dealing with this problem that haven't yet emerged and aren't dealt with in this plan."

Mr Martin said pressure needs to be put on building council houses.

"I'm not talking about big estates. You could build niche, good quality houses that would provide opportunities for families to have good accommodation and good quality of life."

However, he added there seems to be "a reluctance" to build local authority homes.

Mr Martin also said that Fianna Fáil favours a tweaking of the Central Bank rules that require first-time buyers to save between €50,000-€60,000 in order to buy an average home in Dublin.

"We think it's a difficult place to live in at the moment in Ireland. We think that home ownership is something people should aspire to," he said.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams condemned the €5.5bn committed to housing in the plan, saying it is "not ambitious enough."

Mr Adams said thousands of homeless people will not get a remedy for their plight and the plan put too much emphasis on the private market.

"Why did you ignore the Dáil committee report on housing which called for a moratorium on home repossessions?" Mr Adams asked. The Sinn Féin leader said other recommendations for the Dáil housing committee have also been ignored, including efforts to help people in mortgage arrears and buying homes to house homeless people.

The Taoiseach strongly rejected Mr Adams's criticisms saying the Government was now trying to remedy problems which occurred as a result of the economic crash. Mr Kenny said the entire package would tackle a range of serious problems including building 47,000 social houses. He said there were opportunities for a rapid building programme to house homeless people.

What did Barry Cowen actually say?

"The plan is not complete, that’s for sure. The rental sector and first-time buyers have been long-fingered ... There are gaps in this strategy that have to be filled. We will make proposals to fill them in the event of them not doing so. If after that process we still feel this Government can't address this crisis of course we’re going to have to look for another government to do it."

Irish Independent

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