We must and we can stop families becoming homeless. Hundreds of thousands of citizens, including thousands of children are being damaged by disastrous Government policy that has created a housing emergency.
Seamus Healy TD: I welcome the Bill and will support it. A right to housing in the Constitution is a key element in tackling the housing crisis, but we must not wait – and we do not have to wait – for a referendum to tackle the crisis. We can and must tackle it now. Government policy has been and continues to be disastrous and disingenuous. The Taoiseach’s claim earlier today that Rebuilding Ireland, the housing policy, is working only proves he is completely out of touch with ordinary people. Hundreds of thousands of citizens, including thousands of children, are being damaged by this Government policy which has created a housing emergency and which has left 1,400 families, 8,600 people, including 3,000 children, homeless and, of course, led to three deaths in recent times.
We must stop families becoming homeless. We need to take measures immediately to stop this. We must stop the State-owned, our banks, namely, Allied Irish Banks and Permanent TSB, demanding the surrender and repossession of family homes and we must stop them evicting families from their homes. No new legislation is needed to do this. A simple instruction from the Minister for Finance to these banks is all that is necessary. It is an absolute disgrace that this has not been done already. The Minister should ensure that it is done immediately.
Emergency legislation must be rushed through the Dáil to stop vulture fund speculators, banks and others demanding vacant possession of purchased apartments and houses. Tenants must be entitled to remain so in purchase situations. If the political will was there, this could be done overnight. Recently, emergency legislation on the Rugby World Cup was put through the House in a matter of hours. These measures would go a long way to stopping families falling into homelessness.
Crucial to solving the housing and homelessness crisis is a formal and legal declaration by the Oireachtas of a housing emergency. If there was political will, this could be done quickly. There is already precedent for such an emergency declaration in the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation introduced by a previous Government.
I welcome the recent statements – in July and again today – of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on housing and homelessness. It stated that in light of the extent of the human suffering caused by this public policy failure, as well as the economic damage it is doing, the housing situation should be treated as an emergency. It further stated that this is not a matter of choice but an absolute necessity. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions also stated, quite rightly, that the policy of reliance on the market has failed disastrously and that a key priority of the State must be to avoid reliance on the private sector and dramatically increase the building of social housing by local authorities. Local authorities should drive this programme, targeting a sharp increase in the output of social housing to a rate of at least 10,000 houses per year. As a result of the disastrous failure of Government policy, some authoritative body must take this issue by the scruff of the neck and make it a national priority. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is ideally placed to do this and I call on it to call a one-day general strike in order to demand a solution to the housing and homelessness crisis created by successive Governments.
Seamus Healy TD – 0872802199
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
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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Another 100 Tipperary Homes to Be Repossessed?
Government owned banks (AIB, PTSB, and EBS) and other lenders have been seeking
repossession of approximately 100 Tipperary homes every month in the past year.
A similar number of family homes will be threatened with eviction before Christmas. In the New Year, this will be augmented by evictions of private tenants if the Courts Bill 2016, currently going through the Dáil, is passed.
Deputies Alan Kelly ( Labour) and Jackie Cahil (FF) voted for the new bill designed to
fast track evictions through the circuit court. Deputy Michael Lowry did not vote in the division on second stage of the Bill.
I call on them now to join me in voting against further stages of the Bill. I am also
seeking support for the formal declaration of a housing emergency by the Oireachtas.
This would prevent the use of the Constitution by Banks to block a moratorium on
evictions while the housing crisis continues. The Oireachtas Commission on Housing
recommended such a moratorium on evictions.
Eviction of blameless families who are the victims of reckless banks and politicians is
savage, cruel and anti-human. It is even more devastating at Christmas time. Suicide rates have increased steeply since the recession.
How many of our neighbours will end up in the next best thing to a stable this Christmas?
Seamus Healy T.D.
Tel 087 2802199