Speaking on the Courts Bill 2016. Repossessions must be stopped.

I have tabled amendment No. 5, the first paragraph of which encapsulates its intent. It states,”Dáil Éireann formally declares that a housing emergency exists in the State and while this emergency continues the right of any person to remain in the dwelling in which the person currently resides will take precedence over any property right of any other person”, and there are actions flowing from that. Fundamentally, the greatest issue facing the country now and for some time to come is the housing emergency. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government told the Irish Examiner last May that he accepted there is a housing emergency. This is clear to the thousands of people who are homeless currently. A total of 6,847 people are homeless, of whom 2,470 are children. According to figures published yesterday, 420 families lost their homes over the past three months, which equates to four a day.

Many of them are forced by banks and building societies to hand back their homes, the homes of others are being repossessed. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government accepts, and is quoted publicly as saying, that there is a housing emergency. I heard the Tánaiste acknowledge that in the House a fortnight ago. We need to take real action to ensure that those people who face the ultimate trauma of losing the roof over their heads are protected. It is essential and urgent that this Dáil formally declare a housing emergency in order to ensure a halt to evictions, to impose a rent freeze, to ensure that private property rights are made subject to the common good and to see to it that the right of individuals and families to remain in their homes supersedes the right to private property.

This Government declared a financial emergency and introduced legislation to cut the pay and pensions of public servants. It renewed that emergency on 30 June last. There is major trauma and daily evictions. We need to ensure that families facing homelessness, through no fault of their own, are protected and have a roof over their heads this Christmas. The formal declaration of a housing emergency is an absolute necessity. The Taoiseach has written to the European Commission on this issue. While we have not declared a housing emergency, the Commission will not take that request seriously. There has been no response to the request. The Commission needs to know the problems in this country with people living in tents, hostels and hotels. Focus Ireland tells us that 20 families and 40 children are made homeless per month. Recent figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, show that there are more than 14,500 buy-to-let properties in arrears of more than two years. Unfortunately, whether the tenants in those properties know it or not they face eviction. Most of the families made homeless in the past 12 months were renting buy-to-let properties whose landlords were forced to sell by the banks. That practice needs to be stopped.

This situation developed as a result of the privatisation of the public housing programme in the early 2000s by a Fianna Fáil Government. I was a member of South Tipperary County Council at the time and when that was announced at our housing meeting, I said it would give rise to huge problems. We need a large quantity of local authority public housing for our citizens. In the 1970s we were able to build up to 10,000 local authority houses each year and we need to get back to that level. The Minister and the Government are simply tinkering around the edges. We need to declare a housing emergency in order to ensure that every citizen and family has the right to a roof over their heads this Christmas. The repossessions, which remind us of the battering rams used down the centuries in this country, need to be stopped.

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