Local Fine Gael Senator John Cummins has been appointed by Tánaiste Leo Vardakar as the Fine Gael Seanad Frontbench Spokesperson on Housing, Heritage & Local Government.
Speaking following his appointment, Senator Cummins said “I am really pleased to have been chosen for this important role by An Tanaiste Leo Varadkar. It is a big brief that will require a lot of legislation to be guided through the Seanad; particularly in the areas of housing and Local Government but I am absolutely up for the challenge. I have vast experience of the Local Government sector having served as a councillor for 11 years, including two terms as mayor and a year as chairman of the South East Regional Authority. Equally, I have devoted significant time in recent years to working with all local stakeholders to remove blockages where they exist in the provision of housing and I’m looking forward to continuing this work on a national basis. I also believe it is appropriate that our frontbench spokesman on heritage hails from a part of the country which has a rich history and heritage and I look forward to placing a renewed focus on this area in the years ahead.
Addressing the most challenging element of his brief - housing, Senator Cummins said: “The government is committed to resolving the many outstanding issues in housing such as supply, affordability, homelessness and the protection for those in the rental market. It must be acknowledged that a great deal of work has been done in recent years to restart and incentivise the construction of new homes, with the help to buy scheme being a critical pillar in driving new house sales. In 2014 there were only 5,518 house completions in comparison to 21,242 last year so we are certainly moving in the right direction and anyone who says otherwise need only look at the data”.
“The focus in recent years has justifiably been on providing more social homes and the introduction of innovative schemes such as the repair and lease scheme is bringing older, derelict properties, back into habitable use for social housing purposes; however more focus needs to be applied to the provision of affordable homes. Fine Gael believes in home ownership and it should always be an attainable goal for any working person or family to own their own home”.
Senator Cummins said one of his first priorities in the Seanad will be to progress the issue of affordable housing. “Notwithstanding the excellent rebuilding Ireland home loan which offers affordable 25 and 30 year fixed term mortgages via Local Authorities; more needs to be done to provide affordable homes to those whose incomes are too high to qualify for social housing but not high enough to be able to get mortgages via the pillar banks”.
Senator Cummins added “We also need to progress a targeted downsizing scheme for older persons who wish to move into a smaller more appropriate home suitable for their future needs. This has the added benefit of freeing up larger homes for families. The model of housing and care provided by the likes of the Holy Ghost in Waterford City needs to be replicated on a national basis. Supported, community housing for older persons is the way forward and I look forward to working across departments on this very important issue”.
He concluded by saying “I look forward to commencing work immediately and engaging with stakeholders across my brief to develop innovative and workable solutions to the challenges that exist.