I stand here today in difficult circumstances. I believe I have entered the Dáil in a time of great change and where unity is required.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge how truly honoured and proud I am to be the first green party TD to represent the community of Dublin South West. I sincerely thank them for my mandate and the opportunity to effect change.
I must also applaud and commend all party leaders and their health spokespersons for their decisive actions, and the leadership they have shown. In this crisis we are witnessing, albeit quietly, a unity of purpose.
We are in a period of extreme change, one which is bringing huge challenges for this country’s people and services. Today we will pass legislation that will protect renters who live in more than one quarter of our national housing stock, and protect anyone who, during this crisis, might be at risk of being evicted. The Green Party fully endorses and welcomes the moratorium on evictions and welcomes the interim stimulus package for those in the workforce who have recently lost their jobs.
However, we contend that rent supplement reviews must be suspended in line with the other moratoriums being considered here today. We also call for tenants to be afforded supplementary funding to meet their payments where they have been made redundant.
It has taken this health crisis to implement a rent freeze. The Green Party is encouraged by this decision, supported by all parties, illustrating that no Government policy positions are immutable.
It should not be forgotten that the rental market is out of control. The National Economic and Social Council (NESC) reported in 2014 of this type of housing crises. It points to the open market not being able to provide a stable environment for the provision of homes that Irish people so desperately need.
Strategic Housing Developments or (SHDs) are not innocent. As they have failed to fulfil their remit to fast track housing for our communities. Instead they line the pockets of institutional invstors, using the system to construct build- to-rent units, which prohibit people from buying in their own neighbourhoods.
The State should not be complicit in these housing models, which only serve to create a transient workforce, instead of sustainable communities.
The State is currently making vital HAP or Housing Assistance Payments; however, these payments are now meeting the cost of a mortgage. The State is fuelling the market, by competing with the private sector, paying out some €700m last year in rent subsidy.
This has to stop. This money should be invested in public housing that the state would own long term. Some 35,000 houses could be built with this money over 10 years.
Change is the solution:
1. The State has to weigh in here and provide cost-rental, affordable purchase and social housing units en masse. The market is only interested in profit. The State, however, has a duty to provide and protect its citizens with an affordable stable housing environment.
2. The institutional investment housing schemes are purposely keeping units vacant to ensure high rents. I believe a vacant unit levy is required in order to open these units to the rental market.
3. The green party is also acutely aware of the crisis in our rural towns, where the hearts of urban centres are lifeless due to bad zoning and commercial planning decisions.
We need a ‘Town Centre First’ policy, where we bring people back into our towns and villages and revive these cultural habitats with sustainable communities. Furthermore, public transport must be a prerequisite to how we connect our towns, cities and villages.
My father used to say, you leave your pride at the gate when entering his house. This I believe is what we should all be doing in this house. Party pride has no place in the Oireachtas, when a health crisis of this magnitude is meeting us face on. That pride should be left at the gate of this house.
On the first sitting of the 33rd Dáil I was humbled by the discourse of the deputies who spoke of their individual mandates that went beyond party affiliation. We all have a personal moral responsibility and, as many said that day, we must seek to balance that responsibility between duties to our constituents and our party policy platforms.
The past is the past. Today, the present is a harsh reality, Parties should today, now, consider the fundamental needs of people they represent the need for security in their homes, for bread on their tables, and for safety of their loved ones
Parties need to work together, to shape a future that will be welcoming not fearful, a future which includes, a future that does not sacrifice local needs for the financial gain of hidden or unknown others. Partisan politics can wait until we get to the other side. Only then we can begin to consider a return to politics ‘as normal’.