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Housing and health issues set to return to centre stage

Inside Politics: Government hopes new Affordable Housing Bill will see 6,000 homes being built over next three years

The Government hopes the new Affordable Housing Bill will result in 6,000 homes being built over the next three years

Prior to last year’s election, the constant refrain was that the campaign would be dominated by two issues - health and housing and the crises in both.

We didn’t know it then, but the situation in health was to get a hell of a lot worse.

Prior to the pandemic and the relentless reporting of new cases of Covid-19 and, sadly, the related deaths, there were closely watched numbers in housing too.

They may not be getting the same level of attention at the moment, but when the coronavirus emergency recedes we can expect housing figures to return front and centre to the political debate.


The number of homeless people in emergency accommodation is down from a high of more than 10,500 in 2019 to 8,060 in March.

The pandemic impacted construction last year - though not as much as feared. More than 20,600 homes were built; albeit that’s still short of the estimated market demand of about 28,000.

Now, Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien is adding new numbers to the mix. As Harry McGee reports in today's lead, the Government hopes the new Affordable Housing Bill approved by Cabinet will result in 6,000 new homes being built over the next three years.

And there are other figures too - proposed price caps of €500,000 on apartments and €450,000 on houses in Dublin city and Dún Laoghaire under the controversial new shared-equity scheme.

There are lower caps elsewhere in the capital and around the country under the scheme where the State can take a 20 per cent equity share in a family’s first home.

However, the caps were immediately attacked by the Opposition as making the houses anything but affordable.

The Social Democrats accused the Government of “living on another planet”, and Sinn Féin claimed the scheme is not affordable and will lead to higher prices, something Mr O’Brien denies. He defended the price caps, saying they were based on the median prices in all of the regions.

Aside from the debate on the Affordable Housing Bill, Mr O’Brien faces the prospect of needing to deliver 33,000 homes per year from 2022 onwards to meet Government targets as he confirmed that no more than 14,000 units will be built in 2021 due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald put the Government on notice last week that the Dublin Bay South byelection will be “all about housing - cutting rents, affordable houses, social housing and ending the scandal of homelessness”.

Whatever about the issues that will dominate that contest, the pandemic will hopefully be a distant memory by the time the next general election is due in early 2025 at the latest.

The Government, and Fianna Fáil in particular, will very much need initiatives like the affordable housing plan to have shown results by then.

Fundamental issues like having a roof over your head will return to the fore in voters’ minds when they are no longer consumed with when they will get their jab, return to work or even just enjoy a pint in their local.

On the vaccines, they may be with us for some time yet as Cabinet approved plans to buy almost 10 million more of the Pfizer/BioNTech jabs in 2022 and 2023 for booster shots and campaigns in the future.

Not everyone seems to want vaccines, however, and Paul Cullen reports healthcare staff who refuse to be vaccinated face redeployment under proposals being examined by the HSE.

The HSE has been reviewing the rollout amid supply issues and expert advice that the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines should be predominantly used for the over-50s due to a link with very rare blood clots in younger age groups.

Jack Horgan-Jones analyses what's going on with the vaccine programme and questions if a decision to recommend an age-based rollout may mask a bolder play to avoid wastage.

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Al fresco dining in Temple Bar will cater for almost 3,000 people once Covid restrictions are eased, Olivia Kelly reports.

Health Editor Paul Cullen reports on the fallout from another plan recently discussed at Cabinet, outlining how doctors at Beaumont Hospital - the State's main centre for treating patients with brain injuries - want to move hospital if the Government goes ahead with the creation of a major trauma centre at the Mater hospital.

Freya McClements reports on political upheaval in the North. Former MEP Martina Anderson confirmed she will not stand in the next Assembly elections.

And the DUP has set a date for its leadership election.

Keith Duggan remembers the "you-had-to-be-there" goal that saw Ireland qualify for the 1994 World Cup following the death of its scorer Alan McLoughin at the age of 54.


The new Department of Health secretary general, Robert Watt, appears at the Oireachtas Committee on Health this morning from 9.30am. He’s in to answer questions on the recent Prime Time Investigates programme on the alleged gathering of sensitive information about children who were involved in dormant legal actions against the State.

It’s his first appearance at an Oireachtas committee since being appointed to the top civil service job at health and announcing he is waiving the more than €80,000 salary increase that comes with it until the economy begins to improve.

The long-touted crackdown on cheap alcohol will finally be happening from January 1st next year as the Government decided to press ahead without similar measure in the North and amid resistance from retailers, the drinks industry and Border TDs.

The Minister leading the charge, Frank Feighan, will be joined by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar at a press conference to outline the plan almost a decade in the making.

Dáil proceedings kick off at noon with a Sinn Féin motion on ‘Ending the Crisis in the Private Rental Sector’.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin takes Leaders’ and Taoiseach’s Questions from 2pm.

Bills on Climate Action, Private Security, Ticket Touting and Personal Insolvency fall under Government Business in the afternoon before Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien takes parliamentary questions in the evening.

Expect the usual accounts of the private meetings of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parliamentary parties tonight.