Varadkar denies claims Fine Gael is to blame for delay to housing plan

O’Brien says 5% of plan yet to be agreed and these details will be finalised within weeks

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said the Housing for All plan would be the ‘most comprehensive housing plan in decades’. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said the Housing for All plan would be the ‘most comprehensive housing plan in decades’. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has denied claims that Fine Gael is to blame for postponing the unveiling of the Government’s landmark plan for housing. Meanwhile, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has rejected any suggestion that there is a row between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael over funding the plan. He said funding for Housing for All, which will determine the State’s housing policy and plans until 2030, is “locked down”.

Mr O’Brien said publication of the plan had been delayed by several weeks because 5 per cent of it “still needs to be worked through”.

The plan will include targets for the delivery of social and affordable homes.

It will be the biggest Government statement of intent in the provision of housing since the former Fine Gael-led minority government’s 2016 Rebuilding Ireland plan which was much criticised by the Opposition.

Housing for All was due to be published next Tuesday but this has been pushed back to late August or early September. The last-minute decision was seized on by the Opposition as a sign of tensions between the three Coalition parties.

It also led to Fianna Fáil backbenchers expressing private suspicions Fine Gael has been obstructive. Mr Varadkar said this is “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 we want to make sure that any targets that are in it are sufficiently ambitious.”

Mr Varadkar said he wants to move towards a target of building about 40,000 new homes a year while saying this won’t be possible this year or the year after.

He said that a decision was taken that the review of the National Development Plan (NDP) would be completed before the Housing for All Plan.

He said housing is the Government’s priority and “many billions of additional resources” will be allocated to it.

‘Allocate’

Mr Varadkar added: “So I think it makes sense to allocate the additional money to the Departments and then produce the plan showing how we’re going to spend it. And that can take a couple of weeks.

“But every party in Government and everyone in Government is possessed by the importance of this issue and we want to make sure that we get Housing for All right.”

Asked if there had been a row at Cabinet about the issue he said: “I have yet to be at a fight in Cabinet – certainly in this Government but I keep reading about them in the papers.

“But what does happen when 20 people sit around a table is there are different views and there is an exchange of views. I have yet to see a full on row or a brawl at any Cabinet meeting in the past ten years.”

Similarly, Taoiseach Micheál Martin insisted the delay to the publication of the Government housing strategy was not due to differences of opinion within the Coalition.

He said: “It is not about that” adding “the bulk of the work has been completed and we are only talking about a few weeks at the end of this month when the plan will be published.

“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.

‘Template that sustains’

Mr Martin said: “This has to be a template that sustains for 10 years”.

“Obviously there can be modifications along the way but as I said earlier 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.”

Mr Martin said that they have engaged with Irish local authorities, housing bodies and charities. He emphasised that the Government really has to drive social housing.

He added of the Housing for All plan: “A lot of work is being done right now. The plan will be finalised in the next week or so”. He said it will be published at the end of August.

Elsewhere, Mr O’Brien told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, “We’re nearly there, it is very comprehensive, it is fully funded.”

The Fianna Fáil Minister said plan was not being delayed, just that some elements needed to be completed and it was important to get all the details right.

“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.”

Divisions over economic policy saw a delay in the publication of the Government’s Summer Economic Statement as Fianna Fáil pressed for a substantial increase in capital funding for housing while Fine Gael Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe wanted to enshrine a commitment to deficit reduction.

Mr O’Brien rejected claims that there was infighting between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael about funding for Housing for All plan saying: “The funding is locked down” for what he described as the “most comprehensive housing plan in decades”

Unrest

The postponement of the plan’s unveiling led to unrest within Fianna Fáil.

Dún Laoghaire TD Cormac Devlin posted on Twitter last night saying: “Frustrating to see our Housing for All plan delayed again. Those delaying the plan won’t be thanked by people waiting to buy affordable homes or [SEEKING TO]access cost rental schemes.”

When asked about Mr Devlin’s comments on social media the Minister said “Cormac is very passionate and wants to see progress.”

Mr O’Brien described criticisms made by Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin as “predictable”.

The Minister said he was more concerned about people who wanted homes.

Housing for All would give “absolute stability” to the sector and that was what mattered, that was what was needed, Mr O’Brien said. There was real momentum in the building sector.

His Coalition colleagues were fully aware of the plan and in agreement with “everything so far.”

“Everyone has been brought along and are fully supportive of this.”

The Irish Times reported on Friday that there are concerns within the Government that the plan was being rushed and vulnerable to Opposition attack, leading to the surprise decision yesterday to postpone publication for several weeks.

Sources said elements still to be concluded focused on the development of rural towns, sustainable retrofitting and planning reform.