Investment funds are “spreading their wings” across the State at the expense of first-time buyers, the Dáil has heard.
In a tense debate about housing policy at all levels, Taoiseach Micheál Martin also accused Sinn Féin of regularly blocking housing developments at county council level for their own interest.
Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, the issue of housing dominated, with the opposition seeking clarity on what the Government will do to limit the ability of investment funds from gazumping first-time buyers.
“The fundamental issue at stake in housing is supply, supply, supply, supply, that's it,” he said.
Addressing Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald, the Taoiseach said: “That is why there is an onus and responsibility on all politicians, of all parties, to do everything we possibly can to support the supply of housing."
Mr Martin said Sinn Féin members rejected housing projects in Tallaght and Clondalkin, and said such moves "cannot go on".
“You seem to be objecting to housing project after housing project for a variety of reasons, maybe just to mess up the whole thing and prevent success,” he said to Ms McDonald.
“Let me assure the Taoiseach, he is messing it up without any assistance from me,” Ms McDonald responded.
Ms McDonald raised weekend stories that investment funds are not alone robbing people of the chance to buy their own homes, but they also push up house prices.
She added that a new report published by the ESRI has highlighted again the crushing cost of housing, including extortionate rents – rents which far exceed their pre-crash heights – and a collapse in homeownership amongst this generation of young adults.
At a time when Government should be moving heaven and earth to do everything possible to make housing affordable again, what is the Government doing, Ms McDonald said.
“It is in fact still enabling and encouraging wealthy investment funds to buy up family homes with cushy tax deals. The Government claims that this is a new phenomenon or an unintended consequence, but that is not true.
"In 2019, six out of 10 new homes in Dublin were taken off the market and the vast majority were sold to the investment funds. Indeed, in the last four weeks, 400 houses have been snapped up by these funds,” she said.
“They are not stopping with Dublin; their plan is now to spread their wings across the State. These investment funds are now moving to Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Galway, with leading developers saying that they will be selling more than 40% of their new homes to these funds in the years ahead."
Labour leader Alan Kelly also raised housing, citing issues with An Bord Pleanála is leading to significant delays to the development of houses.
Mr Kelly said the High Court on Monday quashed a decision of An Bord Pleanála yet again.
The board had granted permission for 123 apartments at a site on the Old Fort Road in Ballincollig.
“This is not an isolated judgment. Month after month, the courts are striking down decisions of An Bord Pleanála, particularly planning decisions taken under strategic housing provisions of the 2016 act,” Mr Kelly said.
“The High Court quashed a permission that the board had granted for more than 660 homes in Rathmullan in Donegal last November. In other cases, the board is simply holding up its hands,” he added.
In July 2019, 221 housing units at Cross Avenue in Blackrock, Co Dublin, were dismissed because the board had not gone through enough of the public participation that is required, a basic requirement of planning law, the Dáil heard.
Mr Kelly also said the Labour Party had legal advice that the Housing Minister can direct local authorities to ensure that, with any granted permission, a large percentage of it must be given to owner-occupiers. He called on the Taoiseach to direct Darragh O’Brien to do so.
In response, the Taoiseach said: “I do not have to direct my minister in that regard as he is actively considering it. It is one of the range of ideas he is considering when dealing with the investment funds issue, particularly in how it impacts on first-time buyers and suburban estates.
“I do not disagree with the deputy's analysis in respect of the deficiencies within the strategic development zone, legislative framework or An Bord Pleanála's set of processes, along with the issue of resources. Suffice to say, we intend to tackle those issues,” he said.