There have been two bright spots for the Government over the past few days when it comes to the battle to tackle the housing crisis - or crises.
The first came in the form of a set of newly released figures that this week showed housing starts nationally totalled nearly 20,000 in the first nine months of the year, up 22 per cent on an annual basis, and were 6,474 in Dublin, up 18 per cent.
Analysts pointed out there is often a 12-month lag between the release of such statistics and actual home completions and that, in fact, more houses could end up being built by the end of next year than had been predicted.
The second piece of encouraging news for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy appears on our front page today.
Eoin Burke-Kennedy has details here of a new ESRI report that states Irish houses are not overvalued despite prices rising by 85 per cent since 2013.
The study has found ‘markets are not experiencing unsustainable levels of price growth or that the market as a whole is “out of sync with fundamentals” such as employment, wage growth and household spending’.
Lead researcher Conor O’Toole said although “house prices across Ireland appear to be well explained by economic fundamentals such as labour market developments, affordability continues to be a challenge”.
In fact, house prices in Dublin are now more than nine times the average salary, and there lies a major part of the problem: affordability. Many renters are paying hundreds of euro above what they would have paid during the boom.
Lest anyone in Fine Gael cling too doggedly to the long-awaited aforementioned good news, it remains a fact rents have increased for the 14th quarter in a row.
Which brings us to the next general election (yes, we can bring almost everything back to election talk in this digest).
Some canvassers hitting the doors for the upcoming by-elections are reporting back, unsurprisingly, the two biggest issues are still health and housing, much like the local elections a few months ago.
It was of particular interest - and went somewhat under the radar yesterday - that Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin rowed in behind Labour, the Soc Dems, Sinn Féin and others in calling for a rent freeze.
“If the Taoiseach were to go out and talk to people he would know this is the big issue,” Martin said.
“Young people are very angry, and their parents are very angry. When one knocks on doors one is told by parents there are five or seven people living in the house because their adult children cannot afford to rent,” he said, calling for a “dramatic change” : a rent freeze.
Fine Gael will (and has) argued it believes a rent freeze will lead to unintended consequences such as a dampening in supply.
This may well be a position based on advice the party genuinely believes, but it looks set to find itself in a lonely position in this regard when the impending general election finally comes knocking.
Water issues boiling over
In the coming days, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to publish the findings of an audit into the Leixlip plant following a second boil-water notice, which was lifted yesterday.
The notice may have been removed, but the plant “remains vulnerable,” Irish Water has said.
Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger has called for a Dáil debate on the level of investment into water services, although many in the Oireachtas might be loathe to revisit an issue that has been a political flashpoint in recent years.
It may prove necessary, though, because alongside the good news for 600,000 homeowners is more worrying water-related news today.
Kevin O'Sullivan reports "raw sewage from the equivalent of 77,000 people in 36 towns and villages" is being released into coastal waters and rivers every day.
“The pace of improvements needed is so slow raw sewage discharges will continue past 2021 in 13 locations, in spite of commitments to end such discharges before then.”
A report on the issue by the EPA has found the pace at which Irish Water is fixing deficiencies in waste-water treatment infrastructure “is too slow”.
Meanwhile, read more about the boil-water issue here.
What's that? It's the lesser-spotted Grealish, and Miriam Lord is on the case.
And in the news section: Grealish is accused of "disgraceful racism" after questioning the source of money sent to Nigeria, report Harry McGee and Marie O'Halloran.
Fine Gael is set to take TD Maria Bailey off its Dún Laoghaire general election ticket at a meeting of its executive council on Thursday, reports Fiach Kelly.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe takes parliamentary questions at 10.30am.
Leaders’ Questions are up at noon followed by questions on promised legislation at 12.32pm.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar takes questions at 13.02pm.
At 14.47pm, Topical Issues will be taken before Private Members’ business at 15.35pm that will be a Sinn Féin Bill on consumer insurance contracts.
Government Business begins at 17.35pm with the Social Welfare Bill followed by statements on direct provision.
At 22.15pm, the Dáil adjourns.
There are commencement matters at 10.30am followed by the order of business an hour later.
At, 12.45pm Private Members’ business will be taken followed by a consideration of the Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019 at 15.00pm.
Fianna Fáil senators will also bring a motion on drugs before the Seanad adjourns at 18.30pm.
The Joint Committee on Justice and Equality meets at 9am for a detailed scrutiny of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime)(Amendment) Bill 2018 with Jim O’Callaghan TD, the Rape Crisis Network Ireland and the Law Society of Ireland.
The Joint Committee on Health also meets at 9am for pre-legislative scrutiny of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme (Amendment) Bill 2019. Officials from the Department of Health will be present.
At 9.30am Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government meets to examine the issue of Traveller accommodation.
At 10.30am, the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation will launch a report on the Case for Irish Membership of CERN.
The Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development meets at 10.30am; the Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht meets in the afternoon too, as will the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, which will look at the EU enlargement strategy from the perspective of candidate countries and potential candidate countries.