Pandemic sparing Government of street protests over housing, Dáil told

Taoiseach told solution to funds snapping up housing developments ‘is not rocket science’

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said cuckoo funds have been ‘betting on this Government’ to the tune of €53 million every week this year. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said cuckoo funds have been ‘betting on this Government’ to the tune of €53 million every week this year. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

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People would be out on the streets protesting against Government housing policy “if there wasn’t a pandemic”, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy has warned.

The Kildare North deputy said “a whole generation that has just simply had enough” of State housing policies had lost out on the opportunity to buy a home and have secure accommodation.

She said the purchase by an investment of fund of a housing development in her constituency was a “catalyst” for growing anger and she told the Taoiseach “your Government is really up to its neck in it”.

During heated exchanges in the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald warned that the housing crisis had become a “social catastrophe”.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett accused the Government of living in a “parallel” universe as the latest figures showed rents increased by nealy 4 per cent last year while property prices were up 90 per cent in a decade.

However, Mr Martin insisted the Government was dealing “substantively” with housing as he accused Sinn Féin of “shallow” policies and being more about “rhetoric and sloganeering”.

Ms Murphy said cuckoo funds have been “betting on this Government” to the tune of €53 million every week this year.

Driven by policy

She highlighted a report from a financial advisory firm that “the current high level of house prices and rents have been driven in a significant way by Government policy with favourable policies for institutional investors such as ours”.

She added that the gradual move of investment trusts and funds into the market has led to higher house prices and rents.

“The cuckoo funds don’t care about housing crisis, but about the bottom line,” she said, adding that “there is a complete absence of affordable homes”.

She said the funds viewed the lack of affordable homes as a deliberate government policy and she noted rents increased by 62 per cent between 2010 and last year, compared to a European average of 15 per cent.

Mr Martin said the Government had intervened with substantive funding on an unprecedented scale to building 50,000 social and affordable homes. He said a variety of approaches and initiatives were needed to build a substantial amount of housing, including cost rental options. He said the Government’s entire focus in the last 10 months had been around affordability.

But Ms Murphy said “look what’s being spent on long leases for 25 years” with investment funds.

She said Dublin City Council was in the market for 1,000 units since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The 25 year leases will leave “no asset at the end and top dollar being paid”.

Earlier, Ms McDonald said the solution to investment funds snapping up housing developments and apartment blocks from under the noses of first-time buyers “is not rocket science”.

Waiting

She told the Taoiseach that “you say housing is your number one priority but we’re still waiting for your Government to do anything meaningful”.

Calling on him to “do the right thing”, Ms McDonald hit out at the “eye watering” rise in rents in the last decadeand said the Government should support her party’s proposals to cut rents and stop rent increases for three years.

Asking again what the Government proposed to do, she said that if she were taoiseach she would end the “cushy tax deals for investment funds”, insist they pay corporation tax, capital gains tax, stamp duty surcharges and introduce legislation to ban the bulk buying of properties.

But the Taoiseach said Sinn Féin proposal would not build one more house. He criticised Sinn Féin over its opposition to housing developments in Tallaght, Clondalkin, Swords and other towns, each of which he said was preventing the building of hundreds of homes.

He insisted his focus was to deal substantively with the issue while Sinn Féin policies were “shallow” and lacking in substance. He said the Government would come forward with solutions “to investment funds bulk buying or competing with first time buyers”.

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