Taoiseach Micheál Martin has acknowledged that housing is the biggest challenge facing the country, and said that the Government is working to produce a policy to tackle the issue of cuckoo funds buying up estates.
Mr Martin said the Government fully recognised that the current generation of young people were the most disadvantaged of all such generations when it came to buying affordable homes.
“Anything we can do in terms of housing, we are going to do because it’s the No 1 crisis facing the people, young people in particular who are in search of a new home – that’s something that worries me a lot,” he said.
The past week has seen revelations that foreign investment funds are buying up entire new estates in Maynooth and parts of Dublin and the Government has been urged to act promptly to prevent similar moves elsewhere.
Mr Martin said that Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien are working on a strategy, including changes in taxation, to prevent a repeat of such practices.
“Paschal Donohoe is looking at the situation from his perspective, taxation and Darragh O’Brien is also looking at it from a planning perspective … when we have precise, specific proposals, then that is the time to announce them.”
Mr Martin played down the importance of a report in the Irish Mail on Sunday which said that Mr O’Brien had invested in one such fund when working in the financial sector prior to his election as a TD.
According to Mr O'Brien's Oireachtas Dáil Register of Interests, he invested savings with a global Real Estate Investment Trust (Reit) run by Standard Life Assurance but relinquished his shares in 2009.
Mr Martin said he had not seen The Mail on Sunday report but investment funds entering the Irish market to invest in high-density builds for rent was not unusual at the time as the market was at a low ebb and little was happening.
He said that the situation had changed hugely from then and the State was now the major player in the housing market but the challenges remained huge to provide the necessary housing to cater for demographic changes.
Mr Martin also played down suggestions of a rift between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael over housing amid suggestions Mr O'Brien came in for some criticism from Fine Gael TDs at last week's parliamentary party meeting.
Mr O’Brien is to take the unusual step of addressing Fine Gael’s private meeting of TDs and Senators in the coming weeks.
“I think that is a positive development and as far as we are concerned, Daragh has hit the ground running in terms of housing – quite a number of new initiatives have come forward, even from last July with the Voids programme.
“That was where we put money aside to get houses that had fallen into disuse, local authority houses, and we brought back about 3,000 plus in a short space of time into use within six months which is very, very good work.”
Mr Martin said that this year the State will provide some 12,750 social houses for people of which 9,000 will be new builds and while Covid-19 had affected the targets so far, he hoped that they would still be met by year’s end.
He pointed out that last year there were 20,000 built but 8,000 of those were social housing, suggesting that the private sector was no longer as strong in Ireland as it was in the past when banks lending money drove construction.
“The big player in the housing market at the moment is the State. We will provide 12,750 social houses – 9.500 of those we want to build – ow some of those targets have been hit by Covid but we hope we can pick it up
“So when you take last year there was only 20,000 houses built – 8,000 of those were social houses so the private sector is not strong actually in Ireland as it once was – banks drove housing in earlier eras through financing, they are no longer doing that.
“The State actually through one scheme or another is the big actor now in housing provision and what was announced last week by the Minister [Darragh O’Brien] relates to affordable housing,” he said.
Mr Martin said that there were now a number of schemes such as the Serviced Sites Fund, the Shared Equity Scheme, the Help to Buy Scheme which were designed to deal with the affordability issue for first-time buyers.
Mr Martin said that notwithstanding the impact Covid-19 restrictions had on the construction industry in the first months of the year, he was still hopeful that the sector would be able to deliver the 25,000 new homes target.
“Housing is a huge challenge and we need to get to about 33,000 per annum to provide for the demand that’s out there – when this Government came into office, we were doing about 20,000 odd – this year we had targeted 25,000.”