Minister may be forced to vote against his own law on housing as anger builds over vulture funds buying up swathes of new homes
:: Labour threatens to table legislation that Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien proposed when he was in opposition
May 06 2021 02:30 AM
The Housing Minister may be forced to vote against his own legislation to prevent vulture funds buying entire housing estates ahead of first-time buyers.
The Government is scrambling to find a resolution to the controversy as criticism builds over its handling of the housing crisis.
Yesterday, the Labour Party threatened to bring legislation before the Dáil which Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien had tabled as an opposition TD that aimed to prevent vulture funds buying up swathes of new homes.
In 2019, Mr O’Brien, then Fianna Fáil’s housing spokesperson, proposed legislation which would allow local authorities to earmark up to 30pc of zoned land for first-time buyers.
Last week, it emerged an entire housing estate was bought by Round Hill Capital in Maynooth, Co Kildare, with a view to renting out.
Labour Senator Rebecca Moynihan said if Mr O’Brien does not act on his own bill, her party will reintroduce it “word for word”.
“In opposition, the now minister seemed to acknowledge the horrific experience of many first-time buyers.
“However, now that the ‘old boys’ club’ is back in power, he has been captured by investors and corporate interests. Prioritising profit ahead of ordinary people during a housing crisis unlike any experienced before is disgraceful,” she said.
If the legislation is brought before the Dáil, Mr O’Brien may be faced with a bizarre situation where he has to vote against it.
His spokesperson said the minister has already asked his officials to examine vulture funds buying up entire estates.
It is understood that two options are being considered – a bill similar to that of Mr O’Brien’s, or the banning of vulture funds outright from densely populated city centres. Mr O’Brien will consider which way he will vote for the bill if the Labour Party does bring it forward.
Meanwhile Mr O’Brien was the subject of sustained criticism at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last night. Sources at the meeting said nearly every TD and senator who spoke raised concerns about the availability and affordability of housing, with some criticising Mr O’Brien’s affordable housing plan.
One TD said it was “obvious” that criticism over the housing issue was being aimed at Mr O’Brien with another TD claiming: “They are gunning for him now.”
In an unusual move, the Fianna Fáil minister will address the Fine Gael parliamentary party on housing on May 19. At the meeting, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar defended the role of investment funds saying a lot of apartment buildings in Dublin would not have been built without them and that they tend to run them better than individual landlords.
However, he said it was never envisaged they would buy entire housing estates “over the heads” of first-time buyers or an approved housing body.
In the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called on the Taoiseach to end “tax sweetheart deals” which allow investment funds to “gobble up” housing and lock first-time buyers out of the market.
Micheál Martin insisted institutional investment was brought in “to add supply, not to displace supply, and that is the critical differential point”.
Separately, Mr O’Brien came under fire again after he put forward a counter-motion to Sinn Féin’s proposal on rent freezes. He said a “blanket ban” on rent increases would “face a significant legal challenge” and landlords would “continue to leave the market”.