The Minister for Housing has admitted there are “no guarantees” that the construction sector will reopen on April 5.
Ireland’s Level Five lockdown is set to continue until at least that date, with the construction sector being prioritised for reopening.
Darragh O’Brien had pushed for building sites to return this week, but those hopes were dashed when Nphet advised the Government to focus instead on the phased reopening of schools.
While Taoiseach Micheál Martin has targeted April 5 for the return of the building sector, Mr O’Brien conceded on Friday that he cannot guarantee that.
Speaking at the launch of a new 430 million euro Urban Regeneration and Development Fund for Dublin, he told reporters: “There are no guarantees, I can’t give that.
“We understand the importance of getting the sector back open, but when it’s safe to do so.
“If you look at the trends right now, thankfully hospitalisation is reducing, the numbers in ICU are reducing, the positivity rate is reduced.
“But we can only make that decision when we come closer to the date, to be honest with you.
“I’m not going to speculate one way or the other, only to say that it is a priority for me and for Government.”
However, a Department of Housing source said they are hopeful of a phased return next month, with home-building to resume first.
Mr O’Brien said that for every week the construction sector is shut, it means 800 homes will not be delivered this year.
With construction sites closed from late December to at least early April, that amounts to around 10,000 houses.
But the minister said the sector will be able to make up some of the shortfall.
“If you take last year, for example, when the sector was closed for a significant amount of time, we made up some of that lost ground. We actually have retained about 73% of our public housing targets for 2020,” he said.
“That was at 9% at the half-year. So we made up lost ground and the sector in general delivered just short of 21,000 homes.
“We need to be building 33,000 homes a year, that’s the challenge. We’re a way off that. There’s no easy way of painting a positive picture on that.”
Mr O’Brien also defended the shared equity scheme, which, as part of the Affordable Housing Bill, will see the State take up to a 30% stake in newly-built homes in a bid to bridge the affordability gap.
It has come in for criticism from the Economic and Social Research Institute and Central Bank among others, with warnings that it will drive house prices higher.
Mr O’Brien said: “The reality is right now we’re seeing slight house price increases as well.
“The measures that I will bring forward is my own scheme around regional price caps and a very targeted measure for about 2,000 homes per annum, that’s what we’re looking at here.
“Those who really are caught in a rental trap right now – we have people paying upwards of €2,000 a month to rent a home and they can’t get a mortgage that would cost €1,000 a month. I want to help them do that.”
Asked if he could guarantee that prices will not increase as a result, he replied: “Can anyone give a guarantee on anything? Wait until you see the scheme itself.”
The minister’s comments came as he unveiled a new 430 million euro regeneration scheme for the Dublin region.
It includes €121.3m for the North Inner City, €53m for the South Inner City, €40.4m for Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, €25.4m for Balbriggan and 176.6 million euro for Clonburris.
Mr O’Brien said: “It is a very significant day for Dublin. This will underpin thousands of jobs, it’s investment in our city and county.
“Balbriggan here is our youngest and most diverse town. It’s a vote of confidence here.
“This is about our future and our future generations, making sure we have the facilities to match the housing growth that will be expected in this area.”
He added that further announcements will follow for similar schemes across the country.
“In the coming week I’m in Cavan, I’m in Longford, and then we’ll be around other parts of the country, with very similar schemes, excellent schemes brought forward for regeneration of our regional cities and our larger towns under this fund,” he said.
“That is something that is to the forefront of my mind.
“Government are committed to regeneration, to balance the regional development, and this fund is going to underpin that.
“I will have further announcements now over the next two weeks.”