Darragh O’Brien faces grilling amid growing concerns over housing strategy
Beleaguered Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien is facing a grilling from an Oireachtas Committee and fellow ministers amid growing concerns about his housing strategy.
The minister, who is already under pressure over the failure to get builders back to work and his controversial shared equity scheme, is also on the spot over the failure of Nama, the State’s costly property disposal agency, to meet its pledge to significantly reduce the social housing waiting list.
The most recent figures from the State agency reveal that an astonishing 80% of homes it has offered in Limerick, Meath and south Dublin have been rejected by the councils.
The unimpressive figures have sparked growing concern within the coalition over the apparent stand-off between Nama and county councils over social housing provision. One senior Fine Gael minister warned: ‘Darragh has been doing a lot of talking and a lot of posing. Now it’s time for him to engage in some doing.
‘[Finance Minister] Paschal [Donohoe] and [Public Expenditure and Reform Minister] Michael [McGrath] should tweak his ear, call him in and get him to start paying attention to what’s going on in his department. The minister is flying so many kites with shared ownership and all the rest, he can’t see what is going on.’
The latest figures from Nama reveal that while it identified 7,094 homes as being potentially suitable for social housing, councils only sought 2,770 units by the end of 2020. In Limerick city and county, only 32 of 166 homes identified were taken up by the local authority, while in Meath only 39 of 236 homes were accepted.
The minister is also facing a grilling from the Oireachtas Housing Committee over what one source called ‘the dysfunctional relationship between Nama and the councils’.
Commenting on the figures Housing Committee member Victor Boyhan noted: ‘The scenario, where almost two-thirds of homes made available for social housing by Nama were not taken up by councils, despite lengthy waiting lists for social housing, is not justifiable.’
The Independent senator added: ‘Given the current housing crisis, both in terms of affordable rent and affordable purchase, action must be taken on the stand-off between Nama and councils.
‘The Government needs to call in Nama, local authorities and the Housing Alliance with a view to formulating a plan to bring surplus houses on Nama’s books up to a standard that they can be released under an approved affordable housing scheme.’
Mr Boyhan also said he had written to the ‘Ministers of Finance, Public Expenditure and Housing requesting that they take appropriate action on this matter and that they broker a deal to end the ridiculous stand-off ‘.