No attempt to delay publication of ‘damning’ housing report, says Taoiseach

Asked in Dáil by Ivana Bacik if release was ‘delayed because of the elections next month’, Harris replied it would be published this week

Taoiseach Simon Harris has dismissed suggestions the Government was attempting to delay publication of the Housing Commission’s “damning” report until after the local and European elections next month.

Following the leaking of extracts of the report which calls for a radical strategic reset of housing policy, Mr Harris told Labour leader Ivana Bacik that Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien only received the report on May 8th, 13 days ago.

Ms Bacik said during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil it appeared “that the report has been with the Minister for Housing for a number of weeks now. And this begs the question was publication delayed because of the elections next month? Was the report going to gather dust in Custom House Quay until after 7th June because your Government was afraid of what it says?”

She asked if the housing report was delayed because of “its damning indictment of Government failure”.

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“The Minister for Housing I believe received this report on 8th May, 13 days ago. So let’s not say people have been sitting on reports for weeks. That’s not fair,” Mr Harris said.

He said that “to get a report with over 400 pages, 83 recommendations and 500 actions and subactions, generally you’d like consider those things, work with your team develop responses. I don’t think 13 days is a long period of time to elapse. It’s what a responsible Minister would do and we will publish the report this week.”

Ms Bacik asked if the Government was going to implement the report’s recommendations, echoing a call from Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald but Mr Harris said that “with the greatest of respect, people haven’t seen the recommendations”. It made sense to publish the report and “then see the number of recommendations and actions the Government has already implemented”.

Ms McDonald who said the report would not have seen “the light of day” if RTÉ had not broken the story. She highlighted the report’s statement that “only a radical strategic reset of housing policy will fix the problem”. She said that meant providing housing people can afford, “taking on the vulture funds, the big landlords and the vested interests that are making the housing crisis worse”.

She said the report highlighted the “failure to deliver value for money with one of the highest public expenditures for hour in Europe yet one of the poorest outcomes.

“I suppose this should be no surprise when you pay billions to lease homes that go back to wealthy property funds after 24 years”.

She said the commission was telling the Government “that your housing plan isn’t working and only a radical strategic reset in housing policy will fix the problem”. Mr Harris said they had already taken many radical steps including the largest social housing supply last year in 50 years, the first time buyers grant, the creation of the Land Development Agency, rental tax credits and reform of the planning laws.

Mr O’Brien later told the Dáil that there may be “a dip in future commencements in the short-term as the focus shifts to progressing those newly started developments towards completion”. But during a debate on the Government’s Housing for All policy, he said construction is predicted to increase in Ireland by 4.4 per cent while it is expected to fall by 2.1 per cent in other EU countries”.

Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin told Mr O’Brien that “people live in completions, not commencements” and that completed house construction was down by 25 per cent. He said that under Housing for All the price of an affordable home in Mr O’Brien’s Fingal constituency was €565,000.

Social Democrats housing spokesman Cian O’Callaghan called for the reinstatement of the Gaeltacht housing grant scheme to support Irish languages speakers, a plan that had been in place from 1929 until it was “abandoned in 2009″ by a Fianna Fáil government during the recession.

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