The Government is "drowning in the shadows of Fine Gael housing policy", a private meeting of Fianna Fáil senators and TDs has heard – along with calls to limit house purchases to one per buyer.
Amid a growing political backlash to recent purchases by large-scale investment funds, the meeting was told by Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien that the purchase of large swathes of housing schemes by investment funds is "unacceptable".
Mr O'Brien told the meeting that he met on Wednesday with Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe on the issue, and is working to end the practice. Meanwhile, the Taoiseach told the meeting that the practice of purchasing full housing estates was "unacceptable" and would be "immediately dealt with".
He said it was never the intended role for investment funds, and that the Government would implement policies so working people could afford their own homes.
However, there is growing discontent on the Fianna Fáil benches. Minister of State Sean Fleming told the meeting the purchase of full housing estates by investment funds was tantamount to “social engineering”, while the pressure was particularly acute among urban TDs.
Dublin South West TD John Lahart told the meeting that young adults are returning "in droves" to their parents' houses, and said if Covid-19 wasn't a factor, they would be on the streets protesting – and that he would be with them. He said the current Government is "drowning in the shadows of Fine Gael housing policy".
Mr Lahart also supported a call from Dublin Bay South TD Jim O’Callaghan to consider amending the affordable housing bill so that buyers of homes could only purchase a single property each.
Taking aim at Strategic Housing Developments (SHD) – large-scale housing projects that go directly to An Bord Pleanála – Mr Lahart said there is a difference between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on the issue, which needed to be emphasised.
He said the SHD concept was a "failed policy" of Simon Coveney and Eoghan Murphy – the two previous ministers for housing before the current Coalition took power.
Mr O’Brien gave a presentation to the meeting on the affordable housing bill, which has come in for criticism from opposition parties who claim it will in fact drive up the cost of housing. According to sources, he said the issue of funds mass purchasing estates was a “legacy issue” which was happening before Fianna Fáil came into Government.
Mr Fleming told the meeting that tax incentives need to be examined.
The meeting also heard concerns that the lack of timber-felling licences being approved is leading to inflation in the cost of the raw material, which in turn has a knock on impact for house prices.
Travel and events
Mr Martin told the meeting that the Government is examining the vaccination dividend, and that there are plans to trial spectators at outdoor sports events in July, informed by similar examples in the European Union and the UK.
He told the meeting that Ireland will be part of the EU programme on travel, saying that connectivity will be restored “as soon as it is safe to do so” as it was crucial for the aviation sector, hospitality and tourism.
While he didn’t specify a date, sources said he was positive about EU plans to reopen travel and the digital green cert programme.
Cathal Crowe, the party’s spokesman on tourism and aviation, told the meeting that Ireland should sign up to proposals to restore flights into Schengen countries.
He also argued the outdoor dining scheme must be broadened so pubs can get funding supports for outdoor seating.