Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said it has not been possible to find another year on record where more social homes were built than had been in 2022, but admitted the State failed to meet its targets last year.
During Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday, Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy asked: “What is the point in your modest housing targets when you keep missing them?”
Mr Varadkar admitted the Government had missed its target to build 9,000 social homes in 2022.
“In relation to the social housing target, you’re correct. We did miss the social housing target last year: 6,500 new social homes were provided,” he said.
“What you should have acknowledged in your question is that that was still the highest number of new social homes provided in Ireland for a very long time.
“We actually don’t know how long. It might have been the highest since foundation of the State.
“I know people talk nostalgically about the 1920s when the Free State built a lot of social housing, the ’40s, the ’50s, the ’70s, the ’80s.
“We actually can’t find on record a year in which more new social housing was provided by the Government in its many forms than last year.
“We’re not happy with it either, Deputy. We wanted to be much higher this year, closer to 9,000/10,000, and that’s our objective.”
Ms Murphy responded: “We’re certainly not seeing the scaling-up of the direct builds by the State that has been talked about.”
Mr Varadkar responded that he does not accept that there is an over-reliance on the private sector to supply houses.
“That implies that we should maybe have the same number of houses, but have more that are public and less that are private. I have a different view. We need more public housing and we need more private housing,” he said.
The Taoiseach also said his Government was “working really hard” to make sure that recent indications of a slowdown in building commencements does not result in a slowdown in the completion of homes.
“You might not know this, Deputy, but 16,000 people/couples/families bought their first home last year – that was the highest in 16 years. I know that’s cold comfort to people who can’t buy a home yet, but the highest in 15 or 16 years is not a small thing.”
Under Housing for All, a target of 9,000 new-build social homes was set for 2022, with a target of 4,100 affordable and cost rentals, and 11,500 private ownership/rental homes.
This is an overall target of 24,600 – which the Government said was exceeded in 2022.
For 2023, the target is 9,100 social homes, 5,500 affordable and cost-rental homes, 14,400 private ownership/rental homes, leading to an overall target of 29,000 new builds.
Mr Varadkar also told the Dáil there would be “no cliff edge” when it came to cost-of-living measures that have been introduced alongside Budget 2023.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald asked for clarity on whether the reduced VAT rate for gas and electricity; the reduction on excise duty on petrol and home-heating oil; and the moratorium on energy disconnections and evictions would be extended beyond the end of February.
“People now need to see the colour of your money, they have to see the shape of the plan,” she said.
Mr Varadkar responded: “Those are very fair, and those are very legitimate questions to ask, but I can’t answer them today because the Government hasn’t made decisions in relation to the measures that expire at the end of February.
“We will and we make sure that people have certainty, long before the end of February comes.”