This rental strategy is the product of the new coalition Government of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Independent Alliance. It is a charade and pretence which is deeply flawed. It does nothing for families facing eviction or renters, in particular those currently paying extortionate rents. We should stop adding to the crisis. It is about time the Government and the Dáil accepted and declared we have a housing emergency. The Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, has accepted we have an emergency. He has repeated this several times publicly but he refuses to formally declare a housing emergency in the Dáil. The Minister and the Government were quick to declare a financial emergency when they wanted to continue cutting pay and pensions in the public service when they renewed the FEMPI legislation on 30 June last.
Any Member or public representative will say there is an absolute emergency in housing. Up to 6,400 people are homeless, 2,400 of them children, forced to live in temporary accommodation, hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfasts and even tents. Up to 100,000 people are on local authority housing waiting lists, as well as 50,000 mortgages in arrears for more than two years. Every day, four families lose their homes. Up to 14,500 tenants are in buy-to-let properties where the mortgages for those properties are in arrears of more than two years. Those tenants, unfortunately, whether they know it or not, are facing eviction. Today, 117 families faced eviction courts. Twenty-seven of these were in my own town, Clonmel, 24 in Tralee and 63 in Dublin. These are decent, ordinary families who simply cannot make ends meet and now, through no fault of their own, face eviction.
Many of them are facing eviction by the banks we own, particularly Allied Irish Banks. The Minister could instruct these banks owned by the State to stop these evictions. The State is the owner of Allied Irish Banks and it can simply, by instruction from the Minister, stop its evictions. Only last month, Allied Irish Banks told an Oireachtas committee it had 2,879 repossession cases before the courts. Of this figure, 767 were granted. Only today, the Master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan, clearly shocked by the fact that half of the 98 cases before him were from Allied Irish Banks, asked if the Minister for Finance knew about these repossessions. He does know about them because I have told him about them here on numerous occasions. The Minister has the wherewithal to stop those evictions. It is an absolute shame and disgrace that he does not. He is acting in our name and in the name of the people when he allows Allied Irish Banks evict people from their homes.
The declaration of a housing emergency is necessary if we are to put the right to a family home above the rights of private property. It would allow us have a rent freeze, rent certainty, security of tenure and to stop evictions, both from mortgaged and buy-to-let properties. Landlords have had a bonanza over the past five years as rents have gone through the roof. Deputy Mick Barry gave us figures earlier, showing how many rents are extortionate. This rental strategy is a landlord’s charter. Against the background of significant unaffordable rent increases for ordinary families over the past five years, this rental strategy, a point which Fianna Fáil should remember, will now increase rents again way above the consumer price index. It will mean families who are already struggling will find it almost impossible to make ends meet. If this strategy goes through, one can be absolutely certain that, in the next ten weeks, landlords, in areas where the strategy does not apply, will take the opportunity to increase their rents significantly. We saw this before when the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, introduced his so-called “rent certainty” terms. Immediately, there were significant increases in rents. We will see the same again after this rental strategy is introduced.
Landlords in every town across the country and in my constituency in places like Clonmel, Thurles, Nenagh, Roscrea, Carrick and Tipperary town will avail of that window of opportunity. There will be huge increases in rent in every urban area as a result of the vacuum that will be created by the passing of these amendments and this strategy.
It is absolutely necessary to declare a housing emergency. In the absence of such a declaration, this pro-landlord rental strategy will face legal and constitutional challenges that are likely to succeed.
15 December 2016
Deputy Seamus Healy: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation and I confirm my support for the Bill. I will be voting “Yes” in the forthcoming referendum on 22 May. The referendum arises from the Constitutional Convention vote of 79 to 19 in favour of same-sex marriage. This is a civil rights and equality issue and is about removing the barriers which deny some couples the chance of marrying and having relationships that are constitutionally protected. I believe that loving committed relationships between two consenting adults should be treated equally regardless of gender or sexual orientation. In a democratic republic based on equal citizens, such as Ireland, civil marriage should be open to all citizens, including lesbian and gay people.
As Deputy Pringle has just said, in the many countries where marriage equality has already been introduced, marriage has not been changed or damaged. There are no fewer marriages taking place than before, public perception of marriage has not been damaged and divorce rates have not increased. There is absolutely nothing to fear from allowing people to marry those whom they love and neither is there anything to fear from treating every committed, long-term relationship equally. A “Yes” vote in May will create a fairer society in which, regardless of one’s sexuality, one is not any different. By voting “Yes” we will tell all gay and lesbian people in our community that we want them to be treated the same as everyone else. By voting “Yes” we will tell them that we see them as equal citizens.
Father Iggy O’Donovan in a recent article in The Irish Times raised some issues which should inform this debate and our decision on the issue. He argued that “In Ireland, we have inherited a tradition which has associated religion and politics in a way that has excluded some of our fellow citizens” but that “the State is a secular reality whose principal duty towards religion is to ensure its freedom”. He went on to say, in the context of the referendum: “When we become legislators, though, as we do when we vote in referendums, we legislate for ALL our fellow citizens. We do not vote as members of this or that church or faith.” He argued that we need to remember the difference between civil and religious law and also that it is possible to have “deep and passionately held convictions without seeking to have those convictions imposed by the State on fellow citizens who do not share them and may have opposite convictions which are equally deep and passionately held”. He argues further that “Respect for freedom of others to hold religious or moral views which we ourselves find we cannot share is a sign of strength, not weakness”.
I support the Bill and will be supporting the referendum.
Seamus Healy TD