By Dominic McGrath, PA
The Government has insisted that its flagship plan to solve the country’s housing crisis is “beginning to work”.
It comes amid a war of words between the Taoiseach and Sinn Féin, after Micheál Martin hit out at accusations that he and his Government were “out of touch”.
In a press conference on Wednesday evening, senior ministers said that new figures – outlined in a just-published Government report – showed that progress was being made in tackling the Irish housing crisis.
The Government said that the latest data indicated that it will likely meet or exceed targets for new homes in 2022.
According to the progress report on the Housing for All strategy published last year, nearly 31,000 new homes were commenced in 2021.
The Government also pointed to progress in other areas, confirming that a feasibility study is to be carried out into the use of Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin for social and affordable housing.
That same report also warned: “The housing challenge remains immense, and continues to be affected by ongoing challenges including Covid-19 related delays, supply chain difficulties and inflationary pressure.
“The cost of housing – for those buying or renting – will continue to be a challenge in the short term.”
Government figures also admitted that some targets had been missed.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that “genuine progress” has been made on housing since the coalition government he oversees came to power in 2020.
“We recognise that affordability remains challenging for many people. Through Housing for All, we will deliver measures to make homes more affordable, whether to buy or rent,” he said.
“The housing crisis will not be solved in one year, never mind the four months since Housing for All was published.”
“The scorecard in quarter one is not unblemished, but I really think we have made a very good start,” Tánaiste Leo Varadkar added.
Senior ministers insisted on Wednesday that the Housing for All plan, which was published last year, offers a “foundation” to create a more sustainable housing market.
Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien said that he believed that an increase in supply would help improve affordability and praised the Government’s planned shared equity scheme.
While he said that it was not going to be a “silver bullet”, he said: “It’s happening now. I can’t give you an exact date when we’re going to see a turnaround, but I have said before publicly that people will see these changes happen this year.”
He said that the Government was also working to support renters.
“We want a better situation for renters. Most renters out there as well want to be able to buy. And that’s where we’re providing now – pathways and investment to help a cohort of people to be able to realise the dreams of homeownership at an affordable rate.”
But responding to questions from reporters, Mr Martin also took the opportunity to reignite an increasingly personal row with the Sinn Féin front bench.
The government today published the second quarterly update on progress of the implementation of #HousingforAll 🏠📝 Learn more and read the report here: https://t.co/a6Xs7QCpkr pic.twitter.com/r80wkKdj2P
— MerrionStreet.ie (@merrionstreet) January 26, 2022
Mr Martin lashed out in particular at the privately educated Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin, as well as accusing the party of serially blocking housing developments on ideological grounds.
“There’s been very deliberative attempt by Sinn Féin to create a political narrative, in my view a fraudulent narrative, that members of the Government parties are some elite upper-class cabal who don’t understand the need for housing on the ground for ordinary people,” he said.
“It seems to be Sinn Féin is ruthlessly exploiting the housing crisis for electoral advantage.”
Ireland is in the middle of a housing crisis and critics have complained that Government policy does not do enough to solve the problem.
Talking to reporters following the press conference, Mr Ó Broin responded to the criticism levelled at Sinn Féin by Mr Martin.
He also hit back at Mr Martin’s comments, calling him “more out of touch than probably any other taoiseach in recent times”.
Mr Ó Broin said: “And the reason I say that is not a personalised comment. Rents are higher now than they were at the height of the Celtic Tiger. House prices are very soon according to market commentators going to surpass the heights of the Celtic Tiger. That’s not an aggressive narrative by Eoin Ó Broin. They’re the facts.
“They didn’t meet their social housing targets last year. They didn’t meet their affordable housing targets last year. Again, that’s not my narrative.
"Those are the facts. And yet Micheál Martin stands in front of the Dáil two days in a row and said his Government is making progress. They are not making progress."