Affordable access to housing ‘vital’, Martin tells young FF supporters

Fianna Fáil leader offers insight into party’s key policies for next general election

Addressing the party’s Ógra conference Micheál Martin said that at the next election people ‘will be faced with a clear choice’. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Addressing the party’s Ógra conference Micheál Martin said that at the next election people ‘will be faced with a clear choice’. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

The Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has laid down what are likely to be key planks of next year’s general election platform and told a gathering of the party’s young supporters that more and more affordable access to housing was “vital”.

He also eviscerated the Government and accused it of being guilty of “endless spin and partisanship” and more focused “on attacking others than on attacking the people’s problems”.

Addressing the party’s Ógra conference Mr Martin said that at the next election people “will be faced with a clear choice”.

He said people could chose between his party or a “a Fine Gael party that has overseen unprecedented homelessness levels, plummeting home ownership and spiralling rents” and “demoralised our health service, generated historic heights in waiting lists and a delayed discharge crisis”.

He accused Fine Gael party of failing to deliver rural broadband and turning the National Children’s hospital “into a money pit” while orchestrating “fictional health budgets”.

He said the Republic faced “grave challenges” and citing housing, health, climate change and technology said the Fine Gael-led government was “letting down a generation”.

Policy failure

Mr Martin then zeroed in on the impact of the housing crisis on young people in particular and outlined what his party would do if returned to office.

“The dream of home ownership was a modest and achievable aim for generations of Irish people. Owning your own home, or finding an affordable and secure place to rent, was inextricably bound with our aspirations,” he said.

He added that as a result of decades of state policy there was a home ownership rate of over 80 per cent 30 years ago with average age of owning a starter home 26.

“In recent years this goal is drifting away from young people across the country. Our home ownership rate has plummeted to 67 per cent and we have gone from being a world leader to below the EU average,” he said . “Those who are lucky to get on the property ladder are now on average 35 years of age.”

He said the reason was “not that young people are squandering their wages on avocado toast” or because they “want to live with Minister Murphy in what he calls boutique-style hotels or what the rest of us call extortionate chicken-battery bedsits”.

He said the reason was a failure “of government policy. That policy has created an affordability crisis that reaches deep into every community but impacts upon young people the hardest”.

He accused Fine Gael of cutting housing investment in its first years of office “even though the worst of the recession was over” and suggested that when “the evidence of a housing crisis started to emerge, they refused to accept that there was any problem. Following their massive loses in the last election they finally accepted the problem and published a strategy which has missed every major target and accompanied rising prices and rents.”

Mr Martin suggested that young people had been frozen out of the housing market by lending restrictions and continued to struggle to save enough for a deposit while making ends meet.

“Affordability, according to a wide variety of independent studies has slipped further away hitting younger people the hardest. Tenants find themselves handing over unprecedented levels of cash despite the fact that paying a mortgage would be far cheaper,” he said.

Five steps

He outlined five steps Fianna Fáil would take to improve access to housing.

First he promised to “freeze rents to reduce costs for young people”.

He said a government led by him would “ensure the Central Bank recognises rental payments to open up the mortgage market” and he said would “launch an ambitious €2 billions affordable housing scheme to boost the supply of homes available to ordinary workers”.

He also promised to establish a shared ownership scheme where the government takes a stake in homes to reduce the price for for young people and said a Fianna Fail led government would launch “a new Special Savers scheme to help tenants save up a deposit to get out of the rip off rental market”.

He also castigated Fine Gael for what he said was “hyper-political” spin.

“As we’ve seen over the last few months, the absolute focus on Fine Gael at the moment is on campaigning,” he said.

“ Certain Ministers appear only interested in appearing in public if they can be guaranteed not to have to talk about their own areas. The only initiatives that party has launched have been absurd attacks directly at us and they have signalled that they intend running one of the most negative campaigns we’ve ever seen.”

He said that “however negative and personal they get, and no matter how much effort they put into their obsessive attempt to shape media commentary, we must have as our primary focus showing the people that there is an alternative.

“They don’t have to accept the arrogance, the out-of-touch complacency and the systematic failure to turn plans into action which we see from this government every day.”