Martin: Housing crisis must be solved by 'whole of Government' approach

At what was described as a 'bizarrely underwhelming' Cabinet meeting, it was a surprise to some that no solutions were tabled by Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien or Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe
Martin: Housing crisis must be solved by 'whole of Government' approach

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien is to bring forward changes to the planning laws but it was pointed out that such changes will only apply to future developments and will have limited impact in the short term.

The housing problem must be resolved by a “whole of government” approach as was the case in Brexit and Covid-19, the Taoiseach has told Cabinet.

At what was described as a “bizarrely underwhelming” meeting, it was a surprise to some that no solutions were tabled by Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien or Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

While it is expected that some tax solutions could be presented later this week, some ministers expected to hear a roadmap of what is intended, but it was not forthcoming.

Mr O'Brien is still confident that measures on the planning side can be brought forward in "the coming days".

However, a Government spokesperson could not say when proposals to stop cuckoo funds from bulk buying residential housing developments will be finalised, and refused to give a timeline of when measures might be ready to come to Cabinet.

The spokesperson added that addressing the issues around international investment funds is now a "top priority" but added that "it's hard to put a timeframe on it".

Mr O'Brien, Mr Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath held a separate two-hour meeting directly after Cabinet in a bid to hammer out a resolution.

A spokesperson for Mr O'Brien said all options are still being considered following the meeting, which was described as "constructive".

A plan which would ringfence a certain percentage of housing in new estates for first-time buyers is being considered.

However, Mr O'Brien is also looking at a workaround which would only require the sending of a circular to local authorities and not legislation. This would stipulate that bulk buying of properties would not be allowed in areas with housing densities below a certain amount. The density would be calculated to ensure the ban would extend to housing estates.

But changes to the planning laws would only apply to future developments and will have limited impact in the short term.

The Department of Finance is said to be concerned that any change to the tax rules governing such investment funds could negatively impact on supply or have the effect of increasing already inflated rents, ministers were told.

Rallying call

At Cabinet, Mr Martin gave what was described as a “rallying call”, saying the Government must approach the housing crisis on a whole of Government basis, as it did with Brexit and Covid.

“He was clearly seeking to use the authority of his office to make clear to us that we can’t solve this by leaving it all to Darragh O’Brien,” one source said.

During his contribution, Mr Martin cited the fact that thousands of homes are lying empty because of the terms of the Fair Deal scheme, which allows people to fund their nursing home care.

It is believed that allowing those homes to be used without undermining the scheme is being considered.

The Government is to oppose a Sinn Féin private members motion this week on the housing issue.

After a few days of internal disquiet within the government over the housing issue, the three party leaders – Mr Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan – have sought to dampen down criticisms.

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