People need more homes not political theatre

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has admitted the State is short of 250,000 homes. Photo: Barry Cregg/Sportsfile


Another week begins with yet more days of political theatre as the opposition again tilts at the Government over the human tragedy that is our housing crisis.

It is the opposition’s job to oppose and that is what they are doing. But people need remedies much more than political theatre.

Most of us know the Government is making slow and scant progress in tackling the chronic lack of housing supply. Over a decade of under-investment by the Government and the private sector has delivered a terrible penalty for the Irish nation. We have reached a point where people in good jobs struggle to find a half-decent home to rent, while getting on the property ladder is for many a dream beyond reach.

Yet our current crop of politicians have part-ownership of this mess. Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil, the Green Party have each been variously at the helm of government since March 2011.

Should, as seems quite possible, Sinn Féin and/or the newly resurgent Social Democrats enter government after the next election they will bear no magic wands to resolve this dilemma. Government is slower and harder than opposition where one only needs to be right about all that is wrong.

In November 2014, the then-housing minister Alan Kelly, and future Labour leader, announced a €3.8bn plan to build 35,000 new social housing homes by the end of 2018. Less than two years later, Simon Coveney of Fine Gael produced an even more ambitious €5.5bn plan to provide 47,000 social housing units under his Rebuilding Ireland plan. Spool on to Mr Coveney’s successor, Eoghan Murphy, who jettisoned these plans but produced a similar level of ambitious rhetoric. All three initiatives fell far short of the targets.

The homeless figures have remained alarmingly high and rents have continued to spiral. The chasm between supply and demand in the housing market has remained unacceptably wide.

Nine years after Alan Kelly’s plan real solutions are as elusive as ever. In recent weeks Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has candidly admitted to Fine Gael colleagues that the State is short of 250,000 homes and that it would take years to bridge that gap.

The current Housing Minister, Darragh O’Brien, is working to his plan, Housing For All, which pledges 300,000 new homes by 2030, or 33,000 per year and it is backed by a €4bn annual budget. A clatter of official agencies are involved including central Government, the 31 local authorities, approved housing bodies and the land development agencies.

Co-ordinating those and their associated issues of planning, procurement and funding issues is complex and time-consuming. Efforts to speed up these procedures must be intensified, and that must now become the focus.

This Government remains vulnerable over the manner and timing of the ending of the eviction ban and the opposition is doing its job of playing upon that vulnerability. But more than anything right now people need solutions more than additional verbiage about our housing crisis.