FF to push Government on slow progress in tackling housing crisis

Move comes as party prepares to decide on confidence and supply deal extension

Leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin, is pictured with Anne Rabbitte TD, Fiona O’Loughlin TD and  Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee at the party Think-in in Malahide on September 11th. Mr Martin has been keen for a retrospective review of the confidence and supply agreement  Photograph: Conor McCabe

Leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin, is pictured with Anne Rabbitte TD, Fiona O’Loughlin TD and Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee at the party Think-in in Malahide on September 11th. Mr Martin has been keen for a retrospective review of the confidence and supply agreement Photograph: Conor McCabe

 

Fianna Fáil is to push the Government on what it says is slow progress on using credit union funds to help tackle the housing crisis, as the party prepares to decide whether to extend the confidence and supply deal.

It is arguing that the Government has not delivered on a promise to establish a mechanism that would allow credit unions to invest money in housing projects.

The Irish League of Credit Unions says it has an initial €700 million ready to put into housing, but Fianna Fáil claims that required reforms from the Department of Finance have not been implemented.

The issue is expected to feature when the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael negotiating teams meet again this week to review the deal which underpins the minority Government. They are scheduled to hold three sessions – focussing on the departments of finance and jobs, as well as on Brexit – between Tuesday and Thursday.

The Central Bank earlier this year announced that credit unions could provide funding to approved housing bodies to build social housing.

Departmental assistance

Fianna Fáil, along with other opposition parties, has claimed that the department should assist with the establishment of a so-called special purpose vehicle that would allow credit unions to invest in house building.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe recently told the Dáil his role, and that of the Central Bank, has been to ensure there are no regulatory barriers to prevent credit union housing investment.

“The Central Bank has now fulfilled its role and I have fulfilled my role in this regard,” he said.

However, Fianna Fáil sources said assisting credit unions to invest in housing is one of the key issues it wants dealt with in the confidence and supply talks.

Sources in Micheál Martin’s party say the review phase of the talks could be finished by the end of the week. Mr Martin had been keen for a retrospective review, while Fine Gael has been keen to move on to negotiating an extension.

Once the review is complete, Mr Martin will decide if the arrangement should be extended with many of his TDs expecting him to offer Mr Varadkar support for another year.

Fine Gael sources insist the entire process of review and renegotiation must be concluded by Christmas, but are uncertain about what Fianna Fáil will ask for in any potential renegotiation.

The budget for next year has been set, meaning changes would have to be come from already promised spending.

One Fine Gael figure remarked that any move to re-open the budget would lead to choices on what areas of spending to cut, such as medical cards. Any new policy initiatives to be tabled are likely to focus on areas that do not require additional State spending such as the special purpose vehicle for credit unions.

National broadband plan

The talks have also heard from senior officials from the Department of Communications who expect to make a recommendation on the national broadband plan in the coming weeks.

Sources present said the officials were keen to stress that it was “all systems go” in the wake of the publication last week of a report by Peter Smyth into the events that led to the resignation of Denis Naughten as minister for communications. There was an expectation that they will recommend acceptance of the bid to provide rural broadband to the Government, sources said.

Mr Smyth’s report examined meetings between Mr Naughten and David McCourt, who is fronting the remaining bid for the rural broadband contract, by Granahan McCourt. His report concluded that the process had not been fatally undermined by the men’s contacts.

While significant concerns over the price of the broadband contract remain – with some Government sources believing it could rise as high as €3 billion – the officials said the sum would be paid out over 25 years. However, sources with knowledge of the discussions say there will not be further negotiation on the price of the contract.

The Dáil is expected to discuss the broadband issue this evening when it hears statements on the Smyth report.