Housing plan delay not down to Cabinet infighting, insist leaders

Launch of multibillion-euro Housing for All strategy put back until end of August

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien: ‘No one is delaying the plan. It is an important plan.’ Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien: ‘No one is delaying the plan. It is an important plan.’ Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

The budget for the Government’s landmark multibillion-euro Housing for All strategy has been agreed, but final decisions on individual developments remain outstanding, the Government insists.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar both rejected suggestions on Friday that the surprise postponement of the plan until August is down to infighting in Government.

Instead, senior Government figures speaking publicly and privately insist extra time is needed to tie down details of the spending involved and ensure the right decisions are made as policies and targets are finalised.

It had been expected that the long-awaited and politically important plan would be unveiled next Tuesday after the Cabinet meeting, but this has now been put back until the end of August.

The Government defended its record on housing amid Opposition criticism of the delay and claims it had been caused by a row between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

The Coalition has been tight-lipped on the overall funding package for Housing for All, though sources insisted the figure is agreed and Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said publicly that it is “locked down”.

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath is expected to bring a memo to Cabinet on Tuesday outlining the sums to be given to each government department for the revised National Development Plan.

Detailed allocation

The share to be enjoyed by the housing budget will be included in this. Senior Government officials will meet on Wednesday to discuss detailed allocation, ahead of the final drafting of the plan over the following weeks.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said on Friday that 5 per cent of the plan “still needs to be worked through”.

It is understood that policy issues that still require a “final push” include freeing up State-owned lands so the Land Development Agency can accelerate construction; the development of rural towns; sustainable retrofitting and planning reform.

The last-minute decision to postpone the launch was seized on by the Opposition as a sign of tensions between the three Coalition parties. It also led to Fianna Fáil backbenchers privately expressing suspicion that Fine Gael has been obstructive. Speaking at an event in Co Galway, Mr Varadkar rejected such claims as “certainly not correct” and said he doubted any Fianna Fáil Cabinet Ministers were saying this.

He said: “We’re very much behind Housing for All and we want to make sure that it’s properly funded and... that any targets that are in it are sufficiently ambitious.”

Additional resources

He said that “many billions of additional resources will be allocated to housing”. Mr Varadkar said it “makes sense” to allocate the additional money to Government departments under the revised NCP and “then produce the plan showing how we’re going to spend it”.

Speaking in Cork, Mr Martin insisted the delay to Housing for All was not due to differences of opinion within the Coalition.

He said: “It is not about that,” adding, “I think we are looking at a few other areas because this is a 10-year plan – so I think a few weeks isn’t a big issue. This has to be a template that sustains for 10 years.

“Obviously there can be modifications along the way but... it’s a broad suite of measures from social right through to affordable and getting more development so we can get more units.

“We need to build more houses. It is very simple from my perspective. It involves getting through a lot of bureaucracy at times. We need to cut through that.”

Speaking to RTÉ Radio, Mr O’Brien insisted: “To be fair, no one is delaying the plan. It is an important plan. For the sake of a few weeks, it’s important that we get it done right.”