Property lobbyists to dominate government housing conference – at expense of housing groups

Leo Varadkar and Darragh O’Brien’s housing conference is to be dominated by property lobbyists – including the group that has claimed credit for selling the idea of strategic housing developments to government.

Though the conference was called in response to yet more record homelessness figures, property groups like Irish Institutional Property, the Construction Industry Federation and Property Industry Ireland will enjoy an outsize influence at the event.

Keen build-to-rent proponent Ronan Lyons from, chief economist at the embattled stockbroker Davy Conall Mac Coille and Irish Mortgage Brokers’ Karl Deeter are among the seven academics set to attend. Tenants’ group Community Action Tenants Union and Maynooth University academic Rory Hearne are two of the high-profile snubs.

One representative apiece for homelessness groups, multiple for property lobbyists

With 11,542 people in emergency accommodation in November, taoiseach Leo Varadkar and housing minister Darragh O’Brien have today convened a housing summit. An email sent to invitees last week said the conference aims to work on “how delivery of the Housing for All strategy can be accelerated or enhanced".

An invitation list, seen by The Ditch, shows that property lobbyists will be the most represented group at the meeting.

Though homelessness and housing groups such as the Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland, the Simon Community and Threshold will only have one representative apiece at the meeting, a number of property groups will each have several.

This morning during the meeting, attendees will break “into four groups with a cross-section of stakeholders in each”, according to an invitation seen by The Ditch. “Each group,” the invitation continues, will then be “asked to come back with max five ideas for how delivery of Housing for All can be accelerated or enhanced.”

Property Industry Ireland (PII), the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) and Irish Institutional Property (IIP)– each with multiple representatives at the conference – will be spread out across these groups.

‘Took it lock, stock and barrel’

Property Industry Ireland is a Ibec's property lobbying group and will have three members attend the conference.

A PII member in a 2019 academic study took credit for Simon Coveney’s introduction of strategic housing development legislation. The member said that then housing minister Coveney heard PII speak about fasttrack housing applications for big developers and got in touch with the group.

“We met him four times over about six or seven weeks for, amazing actually, from eight o’clock at night until midnight. And he went through what his vision was for the Irish planning property system. And we gave him our recommendations and they took it lock, stock and barrel and stuck it into the new housing bill,” said the PII member.

The Business Post in 2021 reported that the group had previously lobbied government on the Housing for All policy, the subject of today’s conference.

PII said in its representation that councils buying social housing rather than leasing units is “unhelpful”. The group’s director David Duffy last year asked us to “stop demonising” cuckoo and vulture funds – also unhelpful, according to Duffy.

'It will only line the pockets of the big developers'

CIF is the country’s most prolific lobbyist when it comes to housing, development and zoning, according to Noteworthy. Over the past two years the group has filed 88 lobbying returns and has repeatedly asked government to extend its help-to-buy scheme for first-time buyers.

The scheme has however been criticised by Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin for only benefitting large developers. “All in all, the housing delivery section of CIF’s pre-budget submission will do little to help those wishing to rent or buy an affordable home – it will only line the pockets of the big developers,” he has said.

There will be four CIF representatives at the meeting.

Alongside them, Varadkar and O'Brien have proposed three representatives from Irish Institutional Property, which is led by former Fianna Fáil general secretary Pat Farrell.

Former Fine Gael minister Brian Hayes’s Banking and Payments Federation Ireland will also attend the meeting, as well as Home Building Finance Ireland – a government body established to support small builders but that ultimately financed hundreds of apartments for a cuckoo fund.

They’ll be joined by the Irish Property Owners Association, which last October claimed it would challenge the constitutionality of government’s winter eviction ban.

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors