Deputy Declan Breathnach: I think it was William Shakespeare who said that people usually are at their happiest when they have a home to call their own.  Unfortunately, a generation of young people who had that aspiration may not have that opportunity.

The aspiration to own one’s home or have a secure tenancy of a local authority house is part of our psyche and embedded in our genes by the history of our ancestors.  I came into this House having heard all the manifestos and plans, of all parties and none, and the aspirations to solve this ongoing crisis.  I despair at the lack of progress on the Government’s promises and the disillusionment that exists among people that we are not capable of solving the problem.  Despite whatever criticism the Minister of State wants to level at the Opposition, he should be under no illusion that while Fine Gael has been in government for more than eight years now decanting all the plans time out of number, it is failing to put a dent in the problem.  Meanwhile, homelessness has reached unprecedented levels, rents are surging to historic heights and, despite what we want to believe, house building numbers are tens of thousands behind where they need to be.  Coupled with that are the 120,000 people on social housing waiting lists.

I spent 25 years on Louth County Council before I was elected to this House.  Although the housing assistance payment, HAP, has been very successful, those who are on HAP aspire to be in a local authority house or indeed to own their own home.  I would have told people in the past that if they went on the housing list, they would be waiting eight or nine years, and that was the case.  Now, the reality is that under Louth County Council they will be waiting 16 years if they go on a housing list tomorrow.  We are pretending that we are getting the solution to the problem.

The objective of the State should be to control 30% of the residential market, providing both social and affordable housing.  A way has to be found to achieve this in an off-balance sheet model.  We cannot deliver that 30% within the restrictions of the fiscal space.  The Government has to date depended on our approved housing bodies to deliver an off-balance sheet model.  As we all know, before Christmas last year this model was ruled to be on-balance sheet.  I cannot understand for the life of me how other countries in Europe are allowed to have off-balance sheet models while we are deemed to be on-balance sheet.  We have to find the solution to achieving that 30%.  We have hundreds upon hundreds of approved housing bodies.  From memory, the top 120 of them are employing 6,500 people.

I am one of those who believe that the local authority should form some form of separate off-balance sheet unit.  I argued for this when local authorities were in crisis.  What is to stop a number of members of a local authority, through the housing section, from setting up their own unit to borrow off-balance sheet?  Nothing was done about it.  That is what is happening under the French model, where municipal bodies are capable of setting up a unit and borrowing off-balance sheet.

I have been meeting the credit unions since soon after I came into this House.  Fianna Fáil met them as a party and I am sure other parties have done so.  They have capacity to build 3,500 public housing units, yet we have done nothing about it.  We have had a complete failure.  As far back as 1991, I and a fellow councillor met the then Minister for local government and told him how to solve the vacant dwelling housing issue.  He was a Minister of my own party and I have no difficulty in saying so.  Anybody in a local authority who was looking at this could see it coming down the road.  Anybody in the old health board regimes could see that there was an incapacity to continue making payments.  At that time, from the health board, there were payments of millions upon millions of pounds in rent capacity.

Most of the schemes that have been announced have been failures.  They have lauded the Rebuilding Ireland home loan in my own county as a great model but two out of every three people who apply for it are doing so under an illusion that they may get it.  Out of every three people who apply, two are being refused.  I could go on and on but I know we want to get the legislation through in respect of builders.  I have no difficulty with the Bill.  It is more important to deliver the houses in our constituencies and stop codding the people.

I ask the Minister of State to give a response to the core question here.  If I am correct that we need 30% social and affordable housing, why are we being treated differently?  I heard others asking whether we have the money or the capacity to get the money.  Let us stop codding the people.  If they are going to be 16 years on the housing waiting list, which is the case in Louth, then we should stop telling them we are going to solve the crisis if we are not going to.  We should give the local authority back the power.  I know there are many in my own party who do not believe it but we denuded them of staff and capacity.  The key staff left during the boom.  The Minister of State may blame whom he likes for that.  We need that staff of 6,500 in the top 120 housing bodies to work in the local authorities, and if that is not possible because of the way we set them up, we need to align the key housing bodies to particular counties and have them deliver to, say, two counties in collaboration with the local authority.

I am opinionated on these matters as most of us are.  We talked about new politics in this House.  As far as I can see everybody has all the solutions – so have I, or I think I have – but we are not sharing them and are not prepared to work on them.  If the ideas are out there, we need to start delivering on them regardless of what election is coming down the road.  We need to work together and stop codding the people about their opportunities in respect of getting housing.