Taoiseach Micheál Martin has told the Sinn Féin leader that her party has "questions to answer" regarding their "serial objections" to "substantial housing programmes and projects".

During Leaders' Questions, Mr Martin mentioned cases in Tallaght and Clondalkin in Dublin where he said "hundreds" of houses were opposed.

"Maybe it's in your interest to frustrate the attempts to get housing built", he said.

Mary Lou McDonald said that the day of developer and investment funds being "king" is over and reiterated her party's policy for public housing to be built on public land.

Deputy McDonald said that favourable tax structures need to end for investment funds, and she asked when such measures would be "reined in".

She said that the investment funds buying large portions of developments is not a new thing.

Mary Lou McDonald said that in 2019, six out of ten new homes in Dublin were taken off the market and the vast majority were sold to investments funds.

In the last four weeks, 400 houses have been "snapped up by these funds" and their plan, she said, is to spread their wings across the country.

The Taoiseach said that Government is ten months in office and that during that time it has had to contend with the pandemic.

However, Mr Martin said that Government has also committed to the "largest multi-annual social housing programme in the history of the State", which he said is the core of the Government's housing policy.

Housing is our number one collective responsibility, he said.

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Labour leader Alan Kelly said that too many housing developments are being refused permission to proceed by the courts.

He told the Dáíl that yesterday the High Court "quashed a decision of An Bord Pleanála" that had granted permission for 123 apartments at a site on the Old Fort Road at Ballincollig, in Cork.

Deputy Kelly said that this is happening too often.

The Taoiseach agreed that it "is a cause for concern".

He said that An Bord Pleanála needed to reflect on "decisions that are being taken that subsequently don't stand up in the courts process".

However, he said that situation also pointed to a wider issue with the planning process more generally and whether it needed to be reformed.

He said that the idea of a "planning court" has been mooted.

Micheál Martin said that "our system now is not optimal in terms of the future of our economy and in terms of facilitating good investment".

He told Alan Kelly that the Government would not be "hanging around" with regards to solving the issue.

Mr Martin said that legislative amendments and additional resources would be used to tackle problems.

Separately, Mr Martin said that Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien is considering a measure that would see him direct local authorities to ensure that any granted permission for a housing development would see a large percentage of them given to owner occupiers.

Speaking on his way into Cabinet earlier, the Taoiseach said the Government regards the issue of housing as its "number one priority" and that it will be doing everything it possibly can to provide housing for people.

Mr Martin said the country needs to get supply up, and that the Government has committed to the largest social housing programme in the history of the State.

He said that over the next five years over 50,000 social housing units will be built.

The Taoiseach added that the Government needs to do more in providing affordable housing and to give first-time buyers priority in the marketplace.

He said the immediate issue is to deal with the issue of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and their impact on first-time buyers, and that this will be discussed at Cabinet.

Also speaking on his way into Cabinet, Green Party Leader and Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said there is a "real crisis in housing" and that "a whole lot more" is needed to address the situation.

"We've done a lot in the last year and a half to look after our older people changing everything," he said, adding younger people need to be given a secure future.

He said there is a "new plan coming" but that it will take time to get it right.


'The last straw'

The Dáil has heard that recent purchases by an investment firm of homes in counties Dublin and Kildare "was simply the last straw" for many people.

In recent weeks, Round Hill Capital bought 135 homes in Maynooth, and 112 homes in Dublin.

Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty this evening told the Dáil that "the Government is now scrambling to fix a problem that they created".

"Now they have been caught out, they are scrambling to give some appearance of action", he said.

"This is nothing new," Deputy Doherty added, presenting a Sinn Féin motion to limit such funds intervening in the property market during private members business.

In 2019, 57% of all "newly built homes were taken off the market and sold in the vast majority of cases to these investment funds", he said.

The same year, he added, "over 3,000 second hand homes were bought by these funds".

Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien assured renters and those saving for a home that the Government is taking action on their behalf, to help them achieve home ownership.

"I fully recognise that the Government needs to tackle this issue - and we are committed to doing so," he said.

The minister said what happened in Maynooth last week "offends our shared sense of fairness".

He said that he and the Minister for Finance are reviewing options which they will soon present.

"Silver bullet solutions like this motion won't cut it", Minister O'Brien added.

Over the past ten months, the minister added, the Government has brought forward "the largest housing budget on record".

"I won't abandon first-time buyers", he added, and accused Sinn Féin of "political grandstanding" and of using first-time buyers as political pawns.

As a country, we need "around 350,000 homes by 2030", the minister said, asking what role Sinn Féin sees for the private sector in that undertaking.

"This Government will use every tool in our armory" to build homes, Minister O'Brien said.

The Dáil heard that "for young people, the prospect for home ownership has collapsed in recent decades".

Speaking for Labour, Ged Nash said that "precarious housing ...produces precarious lives" and "destroys communities."

"Young people have been the casualties," he said.

A one-bed apartment in Dublin is more expensive "than anywhere else in the EU", the Dáil has heard.

Social Democrat TD Cian O'Callaghan said rents in Dublin have risen 85% since 2010.

Mr O'Callaghan said that RTÉ had reported that there has been vacancy rates of up to 50% in certain developments, and he called on the Government to urgently bring forward a vacancy tax.

Solidarity-PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett said that "while (investment funds) control the housing market, they have no interest in fixing the housing crisis".

"The worse the housing crisis is, the more valuable their assets are", he added.

"I cannot sound the warning bells loud enough", Mr Boyd Barrett said.

"Now the Government wants to let them have access to public lands."

Investment funds must be excluded from the housing market, he concluded.

Additional reporting Aengus Cox