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Speech by Alan Kelly TD at Forum on Housing and Homelessness

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Speech by Alan Kelly TD

You are all very welcome.

Thank you to everyone for coming. I felt it was important that while we are waiting the conclusion of Government negotiations not to merely wait for these talks to go on, but to see on what matters some form of political understanding may emerge when it comes to housing and homelessness.

alan kelly

Quite simply, the issues facing the Country in terms of housing and homelessness cannot wait. Tackling the houses crisis is not an overnight process, it is a long, slow March, but there is not a day to be wasted.

Inside this room, we have representatives from Housing NGOs, including approved housing bodies and homeless charities, local authorities, NAMA, the PRTB, the Housing Agency, the Irish Banking Federation, the Construction Industry Federation, the Central Bank, TDs from every political party, and several independents, and representatives from the Department of Finance, and other Departments, including from the Housing Division in this Department, and many other interested groups.

I did not have any obligation to hold this event, but I felt it was very import that it takes place, given the situation we find ourselves in. I want today to be about the factual information in our housing market and the wider housing sector.

I want the forum to be about solutions and I want all the key players in the sector to be in the same room together to listen to the facts about what the main problems are.

As well as to give representatives from various organisations the opportunity to set out their own views and problems they are encountering, and their proposed solutions.

Collectively, you are the last people in the country I need to explain the seriousness of the situation to. I think that you will all agree that the challenges in our housing sector are immense. I am hoping that today will provide an opportunity for some constructive dialogue and idea sharing among all of the groups represented here, and that by having this conversation, we will be better informed to take a step forward to solving the problem. Today is not about political or organisational grandstanding by anyone.

If we are to get anywhere today though, we need, all of us, to engage constructively and positively. In particular, I want to appeal to all my fellow Dáil deputies here today to engage constructively and I want to invite you to put forward your own ideas and proposed solutions to solving the challenges our country faces. The election is over. We have all had our many battles in Leinster House over the past few years.

We’re not in Leinster House now, we are in the Custom House, and so I hope that you will take this opportunity to engage positively to propose solutions. The next housing Minister may very well be in this room, so I would ask you to consider that when making your contributions.

For my own part, I have to say the following. I took over as Minister for the Environment in July 2014, only 20 months ago. Since that time, housing has dominated my agenda, and I have done my utmost to tackle the problem. To speak plainly, the problem was never going to be fixed in 20 months.

I won’t go into great detail about all the measures that we have taken on housing in that time, from the Social Housing Strategy, to strengthening protections for tenants, measures to stimulate construction and so on, but I do want to get three very important points across to everybody in this room that I have learned during my time here. I want this to be helpful and productive to whomever the next Minister may be.

The first point is that the entire housing sector is a spectrum, and that the problems in relation to homelessness are deeply and intimately connected with the problems in the wider housing market. In this regard, everybody in this room, and I do mean everybody, from every organisation represented here, has a responsibility to play their part in solving this problem.

The increase in homelessness is a visible and terrible symptom of the problem, but the causes of the problems in housing are far deeper, and far more widespread. It is not just about Government resources, there is a history to how we got to this point and while blame may be justified, blame alone will not house a single person. Constructive ideas might.

The second point I want to get across, and it is connected to the first, is that there is no silver bullet and there is no magic wand that will solve this problem instantly. I truly wish there were. In fact, I want to go further than that, by saying that the solutions to this problem are not all to be found within my Department. I have said repeatedly that there are many levers that need to move for this problem to be solved, but they are not all within the power of my Department. In fact most of them aren’t.

The third point that I want to get across is that in many instances when trying to tackle this problem.

I was not hampered by political or financial obstacles. I was blocked by the Constitution. From the time it is taking to introduce the Vacant Site Levy in order to tackle land hoarding, to protecting tenants from eviction in circumstances where their landlord wishes to sell the property, and many other issues, I was repeatedly blocked from making provision for what I believed was the common good by the strength by which property rights are protected under Article 43 of the Constitution.

I believe that we need to honestly re-examine the balance between the protected and legitimate property rights of individuals, as property owners, and the wider needs and common good of society, including housing needs. As a society we need to reflect on the desired impact of the constitution here.

I believe that addressing these issues raises politically and socially important issues which will have to be debated over the coming years.

But back to today. I want today to be informed by the key presentations from the group of speakers that we have assembled, who will cover the key strands in the housing sector, from the construction of new units in the private market, to homelessness, social housing construction, and private rental law. I want to discuss the facts of the situation and have asked independent organisations here to present them, so we can have an informed debate not based on myth, conjecture or political bias. Once we have seen and heard the presentations the forum will be an open discussion. I would ask you to work in solution mode. If you have ideas, if you have solutions, this is the place to put them out, and to remember that many of the key groups are represented here today.

Following on from that, I’d like invite everyone here to join us at the visit to the rapid delivery units later, which is being facilitated by Dublin City Council.

I would ask those that may be sceptical about this to come on the site visit and see that we as a society need to unite behind them as the best immediate solution to getting families out of hotels.

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