Interdepartmental group to be created to consider right to housing referendum

Leaked commission report recommends executive body to direct housing delivery, but Minister does not want ‘additional layers’

An interdepartmental group will be set up to consider plans to hold a referendum on the right to housing, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has confirmed.

The existing Housing Commission was tasked with making a recommendation to Government on a proposed referendum on housing.

The process was derailed by internal division, however, with a minority report now enjoying the support of three members. The Irish Times revealed on Tuesday that the report is mute on what happens next.

Now, an intergovernmental group will be established to move the process on. The group will develop policy recommendations, and the advice of the attorney general will also be sought.


“There is much more work to be done and the work published today will contribute to a robust and informed policy debate and will certainly inform the direction of housing strategy into the future,” Mr O’Brien said.

Mr O’Brien said on Wednesday that he does not want to install an executive body that would sit across all Government and agencies to direct housing delivery, as recommended by the Housing Commission report that was leaked on Tuesday.

“I think that in itself would be problematic. I don’t want to add additional layers on housing delivery,” he said.

According to Mr O’Brien, the commission spent three years working on this report and he has only had it for 14 days to review it. He had wanted to give it “due consideration” before it was released and would have published the report when it had been “examined in full” if it had not been leaked, he said.

Mr O’Brien noted the report was independent of him. He received approval from Cabinet to release the report before it was leaked on Tuesday and will release the document later on Wednesday.

The report itself has over 83 recommendations. “Many of those are done or being done,” said Mr O’Brien.

“One example such as the 20 per cent provision for social and affordable housing we’ve actually done already. Forty per cent of the homes we delivered last year were State backed, and I’ve changed the legislation to revert to 20 per cent social and affordable, that’s just one example of many.

“Another one I picked up was using equity schemes to help first-time buyers. Again, we’ve kind of done that and that’s been really significant. Just short of 10,000 are now registered for the scheme.”

Regarding the Housing Commission report’s recommendation to introduce laws to protect social housing from privatisation he said: “I’ve always been very clear that social housing stock, I want to keep in stock.

“We don’t sell many social homes. There’s still a tenant-purchase scheme that’s there. I’ve always been focused on increasing our social housing stock which we’ve done successfully over three years, like last year 12,000 new social homes – that is the highest amount since 1975.”

The Housing Commission report recommends the Government should replace Rent Pressure Zones with a new regulatory system and make all rent charges publicly available.

The Minister said the Government would “consider this” as part of the Rental Market Review.

“We need time to assess the recommendation in more detail. I respect the work that the commission has done, they’ve put a lot of work into it, they’ve given a lot of time and effort into it themselves so it requires due consideration and then I’ll come back in due course to Cabinet on the recommendations to see what we can incorporate,” he said.

“Rent Pressure Zones have been an important protection for renters,” said Mr O’Brien. “The previous Government brought them in at 4 per cent rent cap – I reduced that to 2 per cent. Only last week I agreed to extend them into 2025.

“We’re concluding our Rental Market Review at the moment that we’ve done in consultation with all stakeholders: NGOs private sectors, investors and renters themselves.”

He said all other inputs into the Rental Market Review are being considered and any reasonable recommendations will go into it.

“The targeted leasing initiative is actually focused directly on those in emergency accommodation. We also have to look at other avenues. We’re not advancing leasing like we’ve done before, but the targeted long-term leasing initiative is absolutely focused at those in emergency accommodation and that’s about an additional stream of delivery.”

“I would much rather that people were in those homes than in emergency accommodation, but leasing is a small part of our overall target, and Housing for All is phasing that out.”

Mr O’Brien officially opened 72 new social homes at Dominick Hall on Lower Dominick Street alongside Lord Mayor of Dublin Daithí de Róiste.

The Minister described this as a “really good example of some of the excellent regeneration work that is being done in Dublin City Council”, adding: “momentum is there, it’s going in the right direction, progress is there.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was also at the opening ceremony. She described the report as “damning of the Government’s policy”.

“It talks about the dysfunctional decision making, the wrong policy approaches, an approach that is too conservative and too slow. We’ve been saying for a long time that we need a radical reset in housing policy and the Government’s own Housing Commission has now confirmed that.

“We need a fundamental root-and-branch change. I don’t think this Minister, I don’t think this Government is capable of delivering that change,” she said.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times