09 May 2017

My Party Leader Brendan Howlin has outlined the compelling reasons why we should postpone the sale of AIB shares until the fiscal rules are changed to allow us to use the capital that will accrue for infrastructural projects that will bring social and economic benefit.

Our Party has secured the support of sister parties in the Party of European Socialists for the changes to the fiscal rules and we urge other parties to do the same in their groups and the Government to raise the issue at Council level.  The support of ICTU, IBEC and the IMF for increased capital investment is a coalition of voices that should carry weight across the political spectrum.

The time is absolutely right for such spending following a necessary period of severe retrenchment after the economic collapse fed by a false and destructive boom. The best advice would suggest that now is the time to invest capital, rather than the pro-cyclical policies that had such disastrous results.

We must inject funding to address basic needs: homes for a growing population where building is virtually stagnant; classrooms and health facilities, transport infrastructure and more.

The need to build new, and refurbish unused, homes, is the most pressing.  A roof over your head is a basic need. Yet there are thousands of individuals and families in Ireland who don’t have a secure home. Considering that much of the banking crisis that collapsed the economy was caused by reckless lending and much of the homelessness was caused by banks giving unaffordable  mortgages, I believe it is entirely appropriate that the sale of AIB shares should be used to house the victims of those reckless decisions.

Shortage of supply is at the root of growing Local Authority waiting lists, unaffordable rents and intense competition for the small number of houses that are for sale in our cities.  We are proposing additional investment in public housing, including the direct building by local authorities of social and affordable housing, particularly in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and other major urban areas.

Clearly there are many urgent issues to be addressed in relation to housing but using state money for agents of the state to build on Council land has to be the most direct.

I am also strongly of the view that a lot more can be done to bring empty homes (nearly 200,000 of them, according to the last census) back into use.  If the funding (€40 million) that has been announced for Local Authorities and Voluntary Housing Associations to acquire and refurbish such properties were to be augmented through capital from AIB shares, we could have far more ambitious targets than the Minister is aiming for in this “quick win”.  Both Focus Ireland and Simon have called for this and the Peter McVerry Trust has proposed that Local Authorities should employ empty homes officers to drive vacant units back into the housing system.

The housing crisis is at its most acute in Dublin and a fraction of the 20 to 30,000 vacant homes that Ronan Lyons to-day estimated are lying idle in the capital could make an enormous difference.

I want to stress two other proposals we are making which I believe to be urgent; firstly to replace, not just the Hume St. National Maternity Hospital but the Coombe, the Rotunda and the Limerick Maternity with new fit for purpose hospitals for the children of tomorrow.  This will be €900 million well spent and a beacon to the future.

The other is the M20 Cork to Limerick motorway which is absolutely essential to balancing the economic development of our country.

The Labour Party is using our precious Private Members time because this is an opportunity that must not be missed.  Targeted capital investment will provide homes, classrooms, health facilities and infrastructure but also jobs in construction and the basis for future economic and social development.

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