Housing measures ``too little, too late''
Dáil divides on Sinn Féin amendment
Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has described as ``beyond understanding'' the refusal of the government last week to adopt his amendment to the Planning and Development Bill which would make the provision of social housing a key priority in local authority development plans.
Ó Caoláin tabled the amendment to include in the objectives of development plans ``the provision by the planning authority of social housing to accommodate, as far as possible, all in need, including, in particular, those on low income and the elderly''.
Minister for Environment and Local Government Noel Dempsey refused to accept the amendment. Deputy Ó Caoláin called for a vote and the Dáil divided on the Sinn Féin amendment. This was the first occasion on which a full vote of the Dáil took place on a motion by the sole Sinn Féin TD. The amendment was supported by Fine Gael, Labour, the Green Party, and the Socialist Party and was opposed by Fianna Fáil and the PDs. It was lost by 73 votes to 62.
The government voted down key amendments of Deputy Ó Caoláin and other TDs which would have removed a controversial fee from the Bill. All groups and individuals who make a submission to a local authority on a planning application will have to pay a fee, initially £20 but with the power in the hands of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to increase it. Ó Caoláin also sought by amendment to remove the provision in the Bill whereby people will be unable to seek judicial review of a planning decision unless they have a ``substantial interest'' in the matter. This clause, and the one whereby people are barred from appealing to An Bord Pleanála unless they have earlier made submissions to the local authority, were described as ``restricting the rights of citizens to participate in the planning process'' by Ó Caoláin.
The Cavan/Monaghan TD described as ``too little, too late'' the measures on housing announced by the government last week. He said:
``I welcome the measure on stamp duty as far as it goes. I also welcome the tax, limited though it is, on investors buying residential properties for non-owner occupation. But to present these measures as the solution to the housing crisis is a travesty. It has taken three years for the government to come up with these proposals. It is too little, too late.
``Last night, Minister of State Molloy told us there have been `moderating house price trends since house price inflation peaked in 1998'. Yet we know the reality is that house prices have risen by over 70% since this government took office.
``The gross inequality in this society is seen as multi-millionaires compete at the top end of the market for so-called prestige properties, while people on average incomes are either crippled with huge mortgages, cannot afford a mortgage at all or, they qualify, join the ever-growing local authority waiting lists. Those on low incomes are in dire housing need and there is little or nothing for them in these measures. The local authorities should be leading the attack on the housing crisis. An extra 1000 local authority housing units for the next six years is simply not enough.''