Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien: ‘Fair-minded’ people will see housing progress by election

Fianna Fáil Minister confident of significant headway on accommodation crisis even if targets revised upwards

“Fair-minded” people will see the progress made in housing delivery by the time of the next general election even if the targets in the Government’s Housing for All plan need to be revised upwards, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has said.

It is now more than two years since the Fianna Fáil politician’s strategy to tackle the housing crisis was unveiled and it is set to face intense scrutiny ahead of a general election that must take place within the next 15 months and is expected to happen sooner.

While overall housing delivery targets in 2022 were exceeded, and that was expected to be the case again last year, individual goals for the number of new-build social and affordable homes have been missed in the past and were on course to be again in 2023.

The Irish Times reported early last year on research by the Housing Commission suggesting that 42,000 to 62,000 homes per year may be needed up to 2050

In an interview with The Irish Times, O’Brien insists last year’s progress was “really strong” with housing delivery “gaining momentum” across all tenures — private, social and affordable. He said there was a target of 29,000 homes and the final total would be more than 30,000.


The Irish Times reported early last year on research by the Housing Commission suggesting that 42,000 to 62,000 homes per year may be needed up to 2050. However, O’Brien rejects any suggestion that the targets in his housing plan were low-balled.

“Anyone who tells you that you can turn from delivering 20,000 new homes in one year to 60,000 the next is lying to you,” says the Minister, adding that there must be capacity in the sector to do this and the Government is building it up.

The Housing Commission and Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) have been asked to review the targets based on the population data from the last census, a task due to be completed in the first half of the year. O’Brien says it will then be a matter for Government to decide whether or not to revise the targetsbased on their findings.

Ask us anything, 2023 edition - part one

Listen | 42:32

Asked if he is concerned, with a general election due by March of next year, that voters will decide Housing for All was not ambitious enough and the Government does not deserve another term, O’Brien says he is not looking at this issue “in the prism of an election or electioneering. I think what we’ll stand on is our record on delivery, where we’ve come from and the progress that’s been made … Most fair-minded people will actually see that, will look at the measures that we brought forward that are actually helping people now.”

Sinn Féin and its housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin have regularly criticised the Coalition’s housing policy, arguing that the Help-to-Buy and First Home Schemes are driving up private housing costs

He says that there were “record commencement figures” in 2023 which would help in “building a pipeline” for this year. He also noted “real measures” introduced to help renters, such as the renters’ tax credit being increased in the budget by €250.

Sinn Féin and its housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin have regularly criticised the Coalition’s housing policy, arguing that the Help-to-Buy and First Home Schemes are driving up private housing costs. The Minister, however, says the former has supported more than 40,000 buyers, and the latter is making it possible for couples on combined incomes of €70,000 to €80,000 to get a home.

Asked about Ó Broin’s charge that the Government’s affordable housing schemes are “in crisis”, O’Brien claims Sinn Féin “don’t want to see progress” and “they’ll try to talk it down. But what’s happening out there now is that real individuals, real families are using the assistance and the help that government is giving to actually buy their forever home.”

He says Ó Broin “still hasn’t produced a housing plan” and that he is happy to stand over what has been delivered during his time in office.

O’Brien says the timing of the election is ‘above my pay grade’ but he thinks the Government is ‘working well’ and has a way to go

The war of words over housing will only ramp up as the general election approaches, with speculation among political commentators that it could be called in October or November next year after the Coalition’s final budget.

O’Brien says the timing of the election is “above my pay grade” but he thinks the Government is “working well” and has a way to go.

“My own view is that the Government should certainly do another budget and conclude the work that we’ve done,” he says. “And it will be a matter for the three leaders, I would expect, to decide and really I’d be looking at early 2025.”

With a new team of European commissioners due to be appointed next year it is widely expected in political circles that it will be a Fianna Fáil politician — possibly Minister for Finance Michael McGrath — who succeeds Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness, notwithstanding her willingness to serve a second term.

Ask us anything, 2023 edition - part two

Listen | 42:40

Asked if he had any ambition to be the next commissioner, O’Brien replies “that’s something that is not even on the radar at this stage”.

Would he refuse the commissioner job if it was offered to him?

“I think anyone, if you’re asked to do a job on behalf of government, you are genuinely there to serve … I’ve never refused a job that I’ve been asked to do,” he adds.

How is the Government faring on key housing targets?

Overall target for delivery last year: The Government exceeded the overall housing target of 24,600 residential units in 2022 with 29,851 delivered across all kinds of housing — private, social and affordable purchase and rent. The target for new builds last year was 29,000. Final figures will not be available until the new year but O’Brien says delivery for 2023 will be “well over 30,000″. It is likely, however, that targets in the Housing for All plan will be revised upwards at some point in the second half of this year following a review by the ESRI that is examining population trends and other metrics.

Affordable homes: The affordable housing target for last year under the Housing for All plan was 5,500 and appeared at risk of being missed. The latest Department of Housing figures show that more than 2,000 “affordable housing supports” were delivered by the end of September, including through approved housing bodies, local authorities and the First Home Scheme. This included 1,844 First Home Scheme approvals with 562 drawdowns where homes had been purchased in the first nine months of the year. It is understood that drawdowns last year increased to more than 1,000 and O’Brien says it would be higher than that in the year-end figures. He defends the inclusion of First Home Scheme approvals in the affordable housing figures in response to an accusation from Sinn Féin that this deliberately inflates the figures. O’Brien says when someone is approved, they can buy a house. He predicts the number of affordable homes will be “more than double” the 1,757 delivered in 2022. The target that year, of 4,100, was missed.

Social housing: In 2022, the first full year of Housing for All, the target for social housing new builds was 9,000 with around 7,500 delivered. O’Brien says social housing is being delivered on a scale “we haven’t seen in 50 years”. He says there was a “core” overall social housing target of around 11,500 social homes being delivered last year and he expects “to attain it” when final figures are published. Department of Housing figures show that 4,815 new social homes were delivered in the nine months to the end of September, including 2,642 new-build homes, 1,033 acquisitions and 1,140 homes delivered through leasing programmes. The number of new builds was some distance from the target of 9,100. Asked about the possibility of this being missed, O’Brien says the last quarter of 2022 was “very strong on delivery” and he suggested Q4 [fourth quarter] of last year would be similar. “We’ll deliver more new-build social homes than we did last year, I can tell you that for certain,” he says.

Homelessness: There were 13,179 homeless people, including 3,991 children in emergency accommodation in October, with new records regularly being set. O’Brien says it is a serious challenge and it is “very much at the forefront” of his mind. “What gives me hope there is we’re exiting more people out of homelessness than we’ve done before into safe and secure housing,” he adds. More than €300 million was expected to be spent last year on emergency accommodation, but O’Brien says there is an issue where “a sizeable portion of people” living in that system have no entitlement to social housing as they have not been habitually resident in the State. He does not offer a prediction on when the numbers will start to fall consistently but says housing supply “is key” and “we’re really making strides on that now”. He says he does not regret the lifting of a temporary ban on no-fault evictions, which was in place during a time of heavy pressure on emergency accommodation capacity.

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