No proper explanation given for almost €1bn going to landlords in budget, Green TD says

Neasa Hourigan seeks fuller detail on where €218m allocated for homeless services will go

Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan also called for clarity on the help-to-buy scheme which had cost €310 million since July 2016. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan also called for clarity on the help-to-buy scheme which had cost €310 million since July 2016. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

No proper explanation has been given for almost €1 billion going to landlords for private rental accommodation, a Government TD has said.

Chairwoman of the Oireachtas Budgetary Oversight Committee Neasa Hourigan told the Dáil that the State was spending 30 per cent of housing budget in this way .“That is current, not capital expenditure that the taxpayer will need to fund every year,” the Green Party TD said.

The €941 million going to private landlords was paid through the housing assistance payment (Hap), the rental accommodation scheme (Ras), and the long-term leasing of houses.

“While there may always be a need for the State to rent housing privately, the rationale for such a large percentage of the budget going on rent as opposed to a greater investment in publicly delivered social housing is not presented, she said.”

She also called for clarity on the help-to-buy scheme which had cost €310 million since July 2016.

“Is that actually helping or are we simply pushing up property prices and putting this money into the pockets of property developers?” the Dublin Central TD asked.

During the ongoing Dáil debate on the budget, she also sought fuller detail on where the €218 million allocated for homeless services was actually going. She said the funding was very much needed but she asked how many of the organisations were for profit, “a worrying development we are now beginning to see”.

Minister of State for Overseas Development Colm Brophy highlighted the additional €30 million Irish Aid funding which he said would be used to “help those most vulnerable to adapt to the effects of climate change”.

A dedicated climate unit had been established within Irish Aid and it will develop a strategy for climate finance.

Mr Brophy also said he will publish a new diaspora strategy within the next few weeks and he welcomed the extra €13 million for the emigrant support programme.

Christmas bonus

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said she was reducing the eligibility period for people to qualify for the Christmas bonus social welfare payment.

Jobseekers normally have to be receiving a social welfare payment for at least 15 months before they receive the Christmas bonus, a double payment in advance of the holiday.

Ms Humphreys is however cutting that requirement to four months for both jobseekers and those on the pandemic unemployment payment.

Spending on the bonus is expected to cost €350 million, “far in excess of the €279 million paid last year”, the Minister said.

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane claimed the health budget was a “plan to develop a plan” when the budget should be “a plan that will deliver”.

He said the reality is that 850,000 people are waiting either to see a consultant or to get a hospital procedure.

Forestry

Minister of State for Agriculture Pippa Hackett said more than €100 million would be spent on the forestry sector which “we simply must get moving again”.

She said 2020 had been a disappointing year for reaching afforestation targets, much of it due to delays in issuing licences. There has been a crisis in the industry in the wake of multiple appeals against forestry developments, resulting in the appeals process being overwhelmed.

Ms Hackett said the department has invested heavily in additional resources to work systematically through the backlog of forestry applications. “We are now well-placed to accept new applications.”

The Minister said she was “ambitious for forestry and for a new and better way of doing it”, through a programme which will “encourage planting diversity, action on climate and improvements in environmental and biodiversity outcomes”.

Minister of State for Health Mary Butler said the additional €50 million for mental health services in this year’s budget included €38 million for policy and operational development and €12 million to ensure existing services.

She said it meant the total HSE mental health allocation is €1.076 billion, “the biggest ever mental health budget”.