Since my election to Seanad Eireann in 2016, I have constantly written and spoken out about the growing crisis in homelessness, home ownership and urban planning.
My consistent argument has been that the thrust of government policy was misjudged and inadequate.
I have consistently pointed out that the market could not by itself address or remedy the growing crisis in homeownership, homelessness and urban planning. I have argued that the State must intervene at local and national level to meet the need for sustainable provision of homes for our citizens, whether social, affordable or private https://youtu.be/TbuBTG7up3A
I have consistently argued that the provision of building land in urban areas has always required the use of statutory powers of compulsory purchase, site assembly and planned urban neighbourhoods of apartments and houses.
As Attorney General in 2001, I had represented the State in defending the radical proposal to ensure social and affordable housing provision when Part V of the Planning Bill was referred to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. The idea behind the Bill was to end the idea of social ghettoisation and to ensure that social and affordable housing was built into private sector home-building.
As far back as 2006, Senator Tom Morrissey and I, when Tanaiste, made the case for major urban renewal instead of ever-increasing urban sprawl into the commuter belt.
We published a policy document “A New Heart For Dublin” which examined the project of relocating Dublin’s industrial port to Bremore near Balbriggan to allow the city centre to move east into 260 acres of land currently used for port purposes. We organised a highly successful conference in Dublin Castle to advance the idea for public debate. The then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, endorsed the idea in principle.
When the financial crash put that project on hold, I became increasingly concerned that the State’s housing and planning policies were totally inadequate in the face of a growing population seeking ever more expensive access to a stagnant home-building market.
In 2009, for instance, the then Green Party Housing Minister had legislated to ban bedsits with effect from 2013. Every flat now had to be fully self-contained. Thousands and thousands of vulnerable citizens lost their homes as a result at a time when the housing shortage was intensifying.
The irony is that the same Department reversed course and legislated to make shared living accommodation an official part of its policy in 2018.
I have consistently argued that the Constitution does not prevent the State and local authorities from fulfilling the need for adequate home provision. Statutory powers to acquire land, redevelop run-down urban areas, assemble sites, and grant building leases to developers on lands thus acquired with conditions as to the kind of development permitted are already there. The problem is that they simply are not used.
I have also argued that our cities need to be renewed and planned by positive planning. When we remember what the Wide Street Commissioners and the great urban estates did for Dublin in the 18th and 19th centuries, there is absolutely no constitutional reason for 21st century Ireland to leave the planning of our cities to the vagaries of the market.
Home-ownership is a major political issue. Ireland has not deliberately changed course to enable future generations to become the tenants of foreign investment funds paying exorbitant rents that exceed the cost of mortgage acquisition. Yet the policies of the outgoing government have moved us in that direction.
We need radical change in the area of housing and home-building policy. Shortly after I was elected to the Seanad, I warned the new Taoiseach and his housing minister that failure in this important area would have serious electoral consequences for them https://www.michaelmcdowell.ie/our-housing-and-home-ownership-problems-require-more-than-government-talking-and-hand-wringing.html
Now is the time for a new government to grasp the nettle and to act decisively.