‘Stop blaming Fianna Fáil,’ Government told

Cowen ‘fed up’ with ‘old mantra’ that ‘it’s all your fault’

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on the Environment Barry Cowen: ‘fed up’.  Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on the Environment Barry Cowen: ‘fed up’. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

A Fianna Fáil TD has lashed out at the Government’s persistent criticism of his party’s time in office to defend its own policies.

Environment spokesman Barry Cowen said he was “fed up” listening to the Government’s “old mantra......’oh it’s all your fault and what we’ve inherited and what we did and what we did not do’”.

He said it was time to stop rehashing the arguments from before the last election. Fine Gael and Labour “had a lofty policy document on entering Government about a housing strategy. Well it’s time to put flesh on the bones.”

He said: “You’ve a responsibility. Live up to it.”

Mr Cowen was speaking as the Dáil debated social housing policy and homelessness.

In an emotional outburst, he shouted across at Minister of State for Housing Jan O’Sullivan when she interrupted him as he called on her to consider establishing a national database of rogue developers who failed to meet their planning permission criteria.

Ms O’Sullivan said: “It’s a pity we didn’t have such a database when the Deputy’s party was in power.”

But raising his voice Mr Cowen told her that “irrespective of what went before Minister you have a responsibility to this Dáil to the members of this Dáil to bring forward policy, to bring forward suggestions ....to address the deficiencies that exist today, not yesterday, not last month or not last year”.

He told her: “You won the election and more luck to you. More luck to you. And the best of luck in the ones ahead of you.

“But I tell you you’ll be adjudicated on your deficiencies...when you put no flesh on any bones that you had in your policies before now.”

He said the Opposition was making on “honest effort” to “play our role in addressing what is a crisis” in housing and homelessness.

Ms O’Sullivan said some of Mr Cowen’s proposals were good but “you should remember who caused the current problems”.

The Fianna Fail TD said it was the Minister’s role to listen to the Opposition’s proposals, to evaluate them and “to come forward with concrete proposals thereafter as you have been afforded that responsibility by the Taoiseach of Ireland.

“And please do that and don’t get into the wham bam across the floor to me about what went before me because I don’t know what wasn’t done. “

Mr Cowen later expressed his “regret that I have been forced to raise my voice in relation to some of the suggestions that I wanted to make”.

He said he looked forward to the Housing Bill. “It’s three years in the making”. The Laois Offaly TD said: “Irrespective of who was or is in government, the fact remains that we have become excessively reliant on the private rented sector and local authorities have become over-dependent on schemes such as the rental accommodation scheme.”

Opening the debate Ms O’Sullivan reiterated the Government’s “firm ambition to eliminate long-term homelessness and rough sleeping by 2016”. She said homelessness was a destructive social condition that could wreak havoc on human dignity and well-being.

Highlighting some progress, she said in the past two years in Dublin “1,500 people have moved from homeless services to independent living, with necessary supports. This is the type of housing-led policy I want to see at the heart of homeless services.”

Ms O’Sullivan said that “for too long, an out of sight, out of mind attitude was deemed acceptable in homelessness policy, with people spending many years in hostel or bed and breakfast-type accommodation. A housing-led approach is radically different.”

She said more than €500 million would be made available through the department this year across a range of housing programmes. “I expect that in the region of 5,000 new social housing units will be provided this year.”

Over the next 18 months more than €200 million will be invested to expand and enhance housing stock.

Some €80 million will be invested in regeneration and unfinished estates this year and €68 million local authority building programme was announced on Tuesday. Ms O’Sullivan added that an additional €15 million would be spent to regenerate 500 long-term vacant local authority homes.

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