This week in the Dáil, Minister of State for Planning and Local Government Peter Burke hit back at Sinn Féin deputies during a heated debate on Housing for All in Leinster House. While many Sinn Féin members made contributions, the Mullingar Minister of State said there was little discussion on the content of the new €20 billion housing strategy, instead general criticism of the government with no specific policies or funding streams being discussed or questioned.
“As a public representative and a member of government, I generally do not dissect other party’s policies or criticise colleagues in the Dáil. I prefer to talk about my own work, the actions I have taken on issues and focus on constructive debate and policy”.
Peter Burke said that he felt compelled to call out the inaccuracies and hypocrisy being shown by the Sinn Féin members present in the chamber. Unfortunately, each member left the chamber after they had spoken and did not stay around for the remainder of the debate, so by the end of the slot, there was not one Sinn Féin member left in the Dáil.
“I have listened to many Deputies saying “if only we had been in government”. That is what I heard from Sinn Féin. Their members say “If only Deputy Ó Broin had been the housing Minister”. The Chartered Account then proceeded to take out the Sinn Féin 2016 general election manifesto.
“ I read on page 45, “We will commit €2.2 billion in capital spending between 2016 and 2021 to deliver 36,500 units.” That is what the Sinn Féin party wanted to deliver if it got into power. However, the previous Government – a year early, up to 2020 – delivered 39,000 units. It was a Government in which I, as a backbencher, played my role in voting on policy. It delivered a lot more than Sinn Féin aimed to deliver in its manifesto, but this is not acknowledged in this House and based on social media and the stories printed in the media, is a fact that is not widely known or acknowledged by the public.
“There is a second point I want to make about what is contained in that document. The first paragraph on page 45 states, “We will ensure that all housing construction delivered by the State is designed in mixed tenure developments…”. If we look, however, at the Oscar Traynor Road development, a mixed-tenure project comprising 854 houses, we see that Sinn Féin did not support it. The party also refused to back proposals for 1,200 houses in Ballymastone in Donabate, citing the mantra of “only public housing on public land”. However, a proposal for 18 public houses on public land at Kilbride Lodge in Wicklow was likewise voted down by Sinn Féin.
“All the research shows that we must have mixed tenure developments, where similar social, private and affordable houses are located side by side. We have a lot of social housing to build, and significant progress has been documented on this, but similarly we need to get the private sector building too as families and young couples and individuals need affordable housing to buy in their communities.
“Deputies from that party have spoken here today about reading emails from vulnerable constituents, almost as though they have a monopoly on compassion, and we do not understand what it is. Yet, when we scrutinise the decisions of party members in local authorities up and down the country, we see one common thread in Sinn Féin’s policy; oppose, oppose, oppose.
“We on this side of the House are trying to make a difference. We are moving might and main right across every strand of government. We are working constructively with many of the opposition and independents and trying our level best to deliver for those who elected us.
“Housing for All will be driven by the Department of the Taoiseach to ensure we can meet the demand for the housing provision that is so badly needed by our society. Many measures have been talked about in this House, including, as referred to by Deputy Griffin, the help-to-buy scheme, which has helped over 22,000 young couples and families receive €30,000 in tax back on a new build or self-build house, another constructive measure which Sinn Féin voted against.
“Housing for All has huge ambition: 300,000 houses – 300,000 homes – right up to 2030. The Government of which I have been a part since 2016 increased the number of social homes tenfold right up to 2019. This plan aims to double that output again, 48% of which will be social and affordable homes. Sinn Féin has voted against every single measure, and I have no doubt that they will vote down all future policy, without considering it or trying to amend it or engaging in any way.
“I was elected by my community to work with my colleagues in Dáil Éireann. It is very easy to shout from the sidelines, to criticise the government regardless of policy. That is not what I set out to achieve in politics, and I will continue to try and progress policies and issues on behalf of the citizens of this constituency”.