Housing ‘biggest issue by far’ in local elections as affordability ‘torn to shreds’ by Fine Gael, says SF leader

Taoiseach accuses Mary Lou McDonald of ‘offering no solutions’ and failing to introduce an alternative housing policy

Mary Lou McDonald noted the MyHome.ie report showing that nearly half of people are postponing buying a new home because of the cost of living. Photograph: Getty Images

Housing affordability has been “torn to shreds” on the watch of successive Fine Gael governments, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has claimed.

But Taoiseach Simon Harris replied by accusing her party of “offering no real solutions beyond rhetoric” and failing to publish its alternative housing policy.

Ms McDonald said that “rip-off rents continue to rise, homelessness has hit record levels and an entire generation is locked out of home ownership due to the sky-high house prices”.

Raising the issue in the Dáil in advance of her party’s Private Members’ debate on affordable housing Ms McDonald said it was the “biggest issue by far” on the doorsteps before the local and European elections next month. After 13 years of Fine Gael governments “housing affordability has been torn to shreds”.

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The Dublin Central TD noted the MyHome.ie report showing that nearly half of people are postponing buying a new home because of the cost of living. She put it to the Taoiseach that the Government’s “failure to deliver the affordable homes needed to rent and buy is at the heart of the problem and 40 per cent of people under 35 still live at home. The Government has missed its affordable housing targets in each of the years since its so-called “housing plan” started. She added that in the last two years, “not one affordable home to rent or buy was delivered by the Government in Dublin city” or several counties across the State.

The party’s motion states that the best way to address the affordable housing crisis is with the delivery of “an ambitious programme of affordable leasehold purchase homes”, which must be delivered “as part of the most ambitious public housing programme in the history of the State”. The programme would include increased delivery of social, affordable, cost-rental and affordable leasehold purchase homes.

The motion also says that a general election with a change of government is the only way to “deliver such an ambitious programme”.

Ms McDonald said a house in a scheme in Clonburris, Clondalkin in Dublin is €425,000. “This is close to half a million euros. It seems that this is what the Government considers to be affordable. I think this is off the wall.” She added that in Citywest rents are close to €1,800 a month. “I do not know in what world that is deemed affordable rent.” Renters are getting “ripped off by landlords and they are getting ripped off by the Government; the whole thing beggars belief.”

The Taoiseach said, however, that every week 500 people buy their first home, “homes that did not exist months or years ago”. Work on more than 12,000 homes has started in the first quarter of this year alone and that is up 60 per cent on last year, he said.

Eoin Ó Broin on why Sinn Féin's support declined: 'We have to get better at spelling out alternatives'

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Mr Harris noted several schemes in place including the help-to-buy arrangement, the first home scheme and the vacancy property refurbishment grant. But he said Sinn Féin were against all of them and if Ms McDonald was taoiseach none of these schemes would be in place.

Mr Harris insisted that affordable houses at €225,000 in Waterford, €255,000 in Kilkenny and €300,000 in Dublin were available, adding that the Government was on track to deliver 6,000 affordable homes this year.

He said that 139 days ago the Sinn Féin leader said she would provide homes for €300,000 in Dublin but she had not said how she would do that [as] it was not in the Sinn Féin motion. Mr Harris asked, “when will Sinn Féin publish its all-encompassing housing plan to rival Housing for All?”

During the debate, Sinn Féin’s housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin accused Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien of taking an “eminently sensible idea and mangling it beyond belief” on affordable housing. The Minister had “broken your promises too many times” and it was time for a Sinn Féin government that would provide affordable homes of between €200,000 and €300,000.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said there have been 1,000 new home commencements a week this year. Government investment and initiatives are prompting this progress, he said. He accused Mr Ó Broin of “deliberately misleading people about the supports available to them”.

He said the Government is “still waiting over a year for your alternative to Housing for All”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times