A table in Monday’s Irish Times; Minister for Housing Simon Coveney
You may recall how, last Sunday morning, Dublin Institute of Technology lecturer Lorcan Sirr tweeted that only 2,076 new houses were built in 2016 compared to the official figure of 14,932.
He also tweeted a table detailing the number of new house completions, excluding one-off houses, built in each county last year based on figures confirmed by the Building Control Management System. These state just 848 such properties were built as opposed to the Department of Housing’s figure of 8,729.
An article with the same figure, and more, obtained under Freedom of Information, appeared in The Irish Times on Monday. This article also had a table with the same information as Mr Sirr’s table.
The claims followed similar concerns about the department’s housing figures previously raised by architect Maoilíosa Reynolds in an article in The Sunday Business Post two Sundays ago.
Further to this…
Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has written the following letter to The Irish Times
The article on homes built in 2016 demonstrates the dangers of obtaining and interpreting data without proper context or testing its validity.
The table accompanying the article is inaccurate; the published figure of 848 units presented as the total output of estate houses and apartments built in 2016 is in fact the number of Certificates of Compliance on Completion submitted to the Building Control Management System (BCMS) for all works, not just residential construction, in the first quarter of 2017.
I have said repeatedly that the Building Control Management System was designed for compliance for building control purposes. It was not designed for gathering statistics and the published article is a perfect example of how statistics can be misrepresented and inaccurately presented.
There are several reasons why the BCMS data does not currently record and reflect housing completions, although the Department Housing, Planning, Community & Local Government is actively exploring its potential in this regard. Some of these reasons include the fact that Certificates of Compliance on Completion are required for certain works that submitted a commencement notice on or after March 1st, 2014. Developments commenced before that date, including many developments started but not finished during the downturn may still be under construction.
Certificates of Compliance on Completion are not required for one-off houses that have chosen to opt out of the statutory certification process since September 1st, 2015.
A single Certificates of Compliance on Completion may cover multiple buildings or works, this is in order to reduce the administrative burden and cost for industry, so simply counting certificates can underestimate total units constructed.
The requirement for these Certificates of Compliance on Completion is relatively new, at a time when construction activity has been relatively low, with the result that the process and issuing of Certificates of Compliance on Completion is only becoming established.
The recording and reporting of statistics on housing completions is a complex area. We have several different statistics from various reputable sources that measures different issues as well as many different views in relation to which statistics we should use.
We have, however, used ESB connections as an overall proxy for housing completions and have done so since the 1970s, so it is, and will continue to be, an important long-term comparator, and an important indicator of trends in the number of new homes being made available. It is important to note that the ESB figures are by no means the only dataset we use.
We have, for example, detailed information on residential construction activity from local authorities – at the end of 2016, the four Dublin local authorities reported 144 active construction sites, encompassing the construction of some 5,200 new dwellings.
…Suggestions that I am trying to mask the completion figures are nonsense.Everything my department does is open and transparent and the one thing that is apparent from all key statistical sources (eg planning permissions, commencements, completions) is that housing supply activity is increasing, underpinning that Rebuilding Ireland, and its core objective of increasing housing supply, is beginning to have a positive impact.
It has been a slow and complex process to realise the upswing in housing supply and the Government will continue to focus on actions and initiatives to increase supply across all tenures during 2017 and beyond.
Simon Coveney, TD
Minister for Housing,
Planning, Community & Local Government,
Further to architect Maoilíosa Reynolds writing an article in the Sunday Business Post two Sundays ago.
In which he raised serious concerns about the Department of Housing’s seemingly disingenuous methodology when it comes to calculating house building figures – namely basing the number of house completionson ESB connections…
And him calculating that the actual figure was about half the official figure of 14,932…
And, when asked about basing the official figures on ESB connections, Housing Minister Simon Coveney telling Keelin Shanley on RTÉ’s News At One last week, “All I can do is use the same methodology that we’ve always used”…
Housing lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology Lorcan Sirr wrote an article in yesterday’s Sunday Times, saying:
“That the department responsible for housing will not publish the number of houses built in a year is an extraordinary state of affairs in a housing crisis. When gardai manipulate inaccurate statistics, there are inquiries; the department evidently needs interdepartmental assistance with the concept of transparency.”
Mr Sirr also spoke on News At One earlier today about new housing figures he has obtained, under Freedom of Information.
They show that just 2,076 houses of all types were built last year, or 14% of the official number.
You may recall how yesterday new figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed the national average house price rising by almost 11% in the year to February.
Some economists have blamed the Government’s Help To Buy scheme for fuelling the sharp rise in prices.
Further to this…
Architect Maoilíosa Reynolds wrote an article for the Sunday Business Post in which he raised serious concerns about the Department of Housing’s seemingly disingenuous methodology when it comes to calculating house building figures.
He explained that official house completion figures are based on connections to the ESB network. To this end, the department says 14,932 new homes were “delivered” in 2016.
But, he said:
“There are significant problems with this. When a dwelling has been vacant for two years or more, the ESB network requires the owner to apply for a new connection (MPRN). This is a safety measure designed to make sure vacant units are safe and wired correctly. Using this method, existing completed Nama vacant units, part-completed ‘ghost estate’ units and local authority refurbished voids, when re-connected to the grid, are all classified as new completions. In the five-year census period, almost 20,000 existing houses have been re-connected and therefore officially reclassified as new builds.”
Mr Reynolds also raised concerns about how commencement figures are calculated – and crucially inflated – for large housing estates.
“In larger, estate-type projects, the established practice is to lodge one commencement notice for an entire scheme which may not be completed for several years. A 400-unit estate which begins building today may only deliver 50 units in 2017 – but all 400 will be counted as commenced this year. As a result, estate commencement numbers are inflated.”
As for residential planning permissions, he wrote:
“Up to 40 per cent of residential permissions do not get built for various reasons – lack of finance, ‘value-add’ exercises or extensions to existing permissions.”
Bizarrely, Mr Reynolds explains that one metric can be trusted and that’s the Department of Housing’s own detailed database called the Building Control Management System (BCMS).
“A presentation by Department of Housing representatives to Engineers Ireland last month disclosed BCMS completion figures – not published on the Department’s website – for 2016. According to the presentation, there were just 3,505 certificates of compliance issued for all building types (not just residential).
In some instances, a single certificate of compliance covers more than one unit, so it is thought that the true number of homes represented by completion certificates could be as much as 30 per cent higher. But the reality is we don’t know.
Assuming the 30 per cent figure is correct, this means that certificates of compliance may represent 4,556 units delivered, a figure that includes 243 local authority and 400 units for conversions of existing non-residential to residential (Department’s own estimate). Add in average figures for one-off housing commencements at 2,972, a maximum delivery number of 7,528 is reached, or just 50.4 per cent of the official figure of 14,932.
This is best-case scenario. The number is likely lower, as BCMS tracks all building types, but does not disaggregate residential from other activity.
This means that in 2016, new-build output was half the official figures and a minimum of 7,404 existing vacant, refurbished voids and ‘ghost estate’ units reconnected to the grid were double-counted as new completions.”
Keelin Shanley was speaking to the Minister for Housing Simon Coveney on RTÉ’s News At One this afternoon when she raised the matter of Ireland’s official housing figures.
Keelin Shanley: “If you want to solve a problem, the very first thing you have to do is quantify that problem and know exactly what you’re dealing with. There has been discrepancy over figures that are coming out. We see 4,400 new home transactions over the last 12 months, comparing to a figure of 15,000 coming from the department. Can you explain the difference here? Because a number of experts have tried.”
Simon Coveney: “No, look, we measure new house completions that same way now as we have done every year since the 1970s. It’s based on ESB connections so , in other words, when somebody comes into a house, they put in place an ESB connection to actually insure that that house has been lived in, that is what determines new completions. Last year, it was over 15,000. The year before just over 12,000. This year the anticipated figure will be about 19,000. And so…”
Shanley: “So, ESB connections, rather than new homes put in place. These can be homes being brought back in or…”
Coveney: “I can only, like, you know, I mean, if we, you know, if figures were showing a different result, you’d ask me a different question. All I can do is use the same methodology that we’ve always used. To measure new completions, so that we can see improving trends. And we are seeing a dramatic increase in house building activity in Ireland, mainly around the cities. It’s only starting in other…if you look at Co Galway, one of the biggest counties in the country, only one housing estate built in the last six years. If you look at a county like Tipperary, not a single housing estate built in the last five or six years. And we’re about to have 200 houses built outside Clonmel. So we are seeing increases. It is ramping up quickly but it will take time for that to turn into new homes, good quality communities and housing estates and significant [inaudible] needed in city centres.”
Talk over each other
Coveney: “Planning applications, for example in Dublin, for apartment complexes is up more than 200%. So the willingness is there. But look, we can’t…”
Shanley: “There is a lag..”
Coveney: “…ignore the fact that, but over the last six or seven years, we had a broken economy and at the heart of that was a broken construction sector we had a banking sector that didn’t function, many, many developers and builders went out of business. 200,000 people lost jobs on building sites. In the last 12 months there’s an extra 13,000 people working on building sites so we are rebuilding literally from a very, very low base. It is going to take some time to deliver a response on that, but it’s happening.”
Shanley: “Minister, nobody disputes that, we’ve seen it. And that’s fair enough. I think everybody accepts that there is a lag. But even so, over the last 12 months, that figure of 4,400 new home transactions or 15,000 completions from the department, it’s still a very long way off from what’s actually needed and that’s with time. You know, they’re the most recent figures….”
Fine Gael Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government Simon Coveney, with Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, announcing details of allocations to local authorities of the €200m Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF).
A total of 34 public infrastructure projects across 15 Local Authority areas have been approved.
The Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) is “a key element of Pillar 3 of Rebuilding Ireland: An Action Plan for Housing & Homelessness” to provide “public off-site infrastructure to relieve critical infrastructure blockages”.
From top: Last Monday and Tuesday’s Irish Independent
Of the Independent’s subtle Fine Gael leadership campaign coverage…
Noel Whelan, writing in today’s Irish Times
Independent newspapers in particular seem determined to make relationship status an issue in this race. I have followed media coverage of Simon Coveney as closely as many political commentators over the past 16 years but I don’t think I have ever seen a picture of him with his wife or members of his family before the Independent decided to run one on its front or second page each day last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
These photos of Coveney were always juxtaposed beside one of Leo Varadkar on his own.
Independent newspapers have also run tittle-tattle stories about Varadkar’s own relationship and a series of columns devoted, at least in part, to suggesting that it matters who our taoiseach’s spouse would be.
It echoes the suggestion touted by Bertie Ahern’s opponents in the early 1990s that the “people needed to know where their taoiseach sleeps at night”. It was insidious then. One would have thought that 25 years later we would have moved on from such nonsense.
It is particularly strange that a newspaper would be doing this, whether for reasons of adding clickbait or colour to coverage of the leadership contest or due to other motives. We should judge our next taoiseach on his or her own ability to do the job and to exercise real authority and deliver stability to our politics. The sooner the changeover happens the better.
From top: RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke and Fine Gael Minister for Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney
RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke interviewed Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney on his show Today with Seán O’Rourke.
They discussed the resignation of Joe O’Toole, from his position as chair of the Water Commission following his comments that people should pay their water charges; Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace’s bill on Fatal Foetal Abnormality; and housing.
During the interview, Mr O’Rourke appeared to be particularly riled by the promises made by Independent Alliance TDs Shane Ross, Finian McGrath and John Halligan that they will not vote with the Government and, instead, support Mr Wallace’s bill this week.
He described the three TDs’ actions as driving “a coach and four through the traditionally understood interpretation of the Constitution that’s there in black and white.”
From the discussion…
Seán O’Rourke: “Why didn’t you, as minister, say, ‘Joe, you overstepped the bounds of sensitive commentary here, you have to go’ instead of just hiding behind Fianna Fáil or looking over your shoulder at them?”
Simon Coveney: “I’m not hiding behind anything. I’m just telling you the truth. So, like, I’m not putting any political spin on this, Seán.”
O’Rourke: “Yeah but you seem to be suggesting that it would have been OK by you if he stayed.”
Coveney: “Yeah. Well I mean I asked Joe to do this job. I think he would have done a very good job. He’s very experienced politically. I think he did make a mistake in terms of being overly forthright in terms of his own views but he was asking, or he was answering questions that he was asked. What he wanted to do was get his own personal views out of the way early and then get on with being an independent and open-minded chair. Which I think he could have done.”
O’Rourke: “Do you know at this stage..”
Coveney: “I’m not going to start putting a spin on this, that I demanded he go or anything. I explained the position…”
O’Rourke: “But maybe you should have…”
Coveney: “Well, I mean, you can decide whatever you want but…”
O’Rourke: “But I’m asking you…”
Coveney: “I asked Joe to do a job. I think he would have done a good job. I was willing to support him through the comments that he’s made in the last number of days because I can understand the context around that. But others weren’t. And the important, this isn’t like a lot of other political decisions that I have to make as a minister. The Water Commission has to have the confidence, in particular of the two big parties that actually put it together in the Confidence and Supply agreement. And, also, I think, I hope it needs to have the support of other parties as well. Some of them would have been campaigning against water charges, who would at least have an open mind to the outcome of that commission report. And you know there was a lot of criticism of Joe because of the comments that he made. But I mean ultimately, you know, if I didn’t have the support of the other major party, that put this proposal together, with Fine Gael, well there was going to be a problem and I’m just being upfront about that, that’s what happened.”
O’Rourke: “So here we are, we have a situation where it’s Fianna Fail rather than you, as the minister responsible for his departure, you also have a situation where, we don’t need to go through it all, where you have partners in Government who refuse to abide by the principle of Cabinet collective responsibility,as outlined in the Constitution or they have refused as well, to accept the advice of the Attorney General. I just have a question for you about the viability and the strength of this Government. I mean, and I’ll put it in maritime terms because I know they’re ones you’re very familiar with, as somebody who is a seaman, but how would you feel about going around the Mizen in a Ford Seat with Shane Ross and company in your crew?”
Coveney: “Look, first of all, can I say that anybody who thinks that politics in Ireland should be politics as normal, as if the Government had a majority which a Government would normally have, doesn’t understand the new realities of politics. We are in a minority government, we’re trying to give leadership in that environment. Sometimes we have to negotiate with Fianna Fail as a main opposition party in areas where we have a Confidence and Supply agreement like on water for example. There are many other areas where we have no agreement with Fianna Fáil. And Fine Gael and our partners in Government will put policy together and we will debate it and implement it and…”
O’Rourke: “And that’s all perfectly understandable but what sure as hell is not politics as normal is where Cabinet ministers can drive a coach and four…
Talk over each other
O’Rourke: “Where Cabinet ministers can drive a coach and four through the traditionally understood interpretation of the Constitutionthat’s there in black and white.”
Coveney: “Yeah and this is not something that should happen often in Government. I mean what we have is…”
O’Rourke: “Often? It should never happen, surely.”
Coveney: “Seán, could you let me answer the question. What’s happened here is arguably the most sensitive political issue, which is around abortion, termination of pregnancy in areas or in circumstances where we have a tragic diagnosis of Fatal Foetal Abnormality. And where we have two independent opposition TDs bringing forward a bill that in our view, in Government, is unconstitutional, on the advice of the Attorney General and that is why Fine Gael’s position on this is absolutely clear. We have an agreed Government approach to trying to resolve this issue through a Citizens’ Assembly that will make recommendations that Fine Gael has agreed to have a free vote on at the end of that process, to try and bring a more permanent and real solution to this problem. In my view, what Mick Wallace is doing here is proposing a piece of legislation that will have no effect whatsoever in terms of outcome should it be introduced because it is unconstitutional and therefore won’t work. We have a Chief Medical Officer, to the Government and to the Department of Health, saying that this bill will not work and so, what Fine Gael wants to do is actually address this issue in all of its complexity and have an outcome that can help women who are in crisis. Unfortunately, what’s happened here is there’s a difference of opinion in Government…”
O’Rourke: “Yes but…”
Coveney: “The Independent Alliance, most of their members have already voted for this legislation when it was previously brought before the Dáil a number of months ago…”
O’Rourke: “And that’s all been well rehearsed, that’s well understood minister but essentially what the position here now seems to be, because it is such a sensitive issue, those ministers and members of your partners in Government, be they Cabinet or just beneath Cabinet level, are being told, ‘ok, because it’s so sensitive, you can do that on this occasion’ but they’ve been given a stern warning as to future behaviour but sure nobody will take that seriously.”
Coveney: “Well I think they will take it seriously because if we’re going to have a coherent government, you do need to take collective Cabinet responsibility seriously. And it’s important that the Government sticks together. And I think, you know, with what the Taoiseach said this week and I support him very strongly, you know, in a minority situation, in particular in a minority situation, a Government needs to stick together, you need to have collegiality and a Government needs to take a collective approach but there are circumstances and we have them this week, on an issue like Fatal Foetal Abnormality, and a piece of legislation relating to it where the independents feel that they want the freedom to be able to vote according to their conscience, is what they would say…”
O’Rourke: “Have you got assurances from them…”
Talk over each other
Coveney: “When the work of the Citziens’ Assembly is done and when those recommendations are made to the Oireachtas and when we are voting on those recommendations, at some later point, which won’t be the far distant future, Fine Gael will also have no whip in that situation because people will be allowed to vote according to their conscience…”
O’Rourke: “Right, but just before we move on…”
Coveney: “The difference here is that there is an expectation being built up that, actually, this bill can solve problems for women and, in our view, it can’t which is why we’re voting against it and we’re going to have a process underway that can deal with this in a more comprehensive and more sensible way.”
O’Rourke: “Have you, and has the Taoiseach more importantly, got an assurance from Shane Ross that the principle of Cabinet collective responsibility, or collective Cabinet responsibility, will be adhered to into the future after this one-off exception?”
Coveney: “Well I think there’s an understanding that this a one-off exception. I don’t think we’re going to have a repeat of this very often. And I think there’s an understanding across the Cabinet…”
O’Rourke: “A one-off that won’t be repeated very often doesn’t sound like a very reassuring kind of understanding.”
Coveney: “Well I’m just, I’m just telling you that any, there’s nothing in writing here but I think the Taoiseach made it very clear, the responsibilities that members of Government have…”
O’Rourke: “Yeah, it shouldn’t actually need to be in writing.”
Coveney: “…that is protected by the Constitution and it’s our job as a Government to actually act in a way that’s consistent with the Constitution so, you know, what’s happening this week is not going to be a regular occurrence, I can assure you.”
This morning, newly appointed Housing Minister Simon Coveney spoke to Seán O’Rourke about housing on RTE Radio One this morning.
Towards the end of the interview, they discussed water charges – which will suspended for nine months, from the end of June, as a commission decides what to do.
The Fine Gael minister assured Mr O’Rourke, “I certainly agree that people who have paid already shouldn’t be disadvantaged financially in any way… People will not be allowed to get away without paying.”
Then Mr O’Rourke reminded Mr Coveney how Independent Alliance TD, who has been appointed a Super Junior Minister for Disability, Finian McGrath has not paid his water charges.
Being a ‘Super Junior’ minister means Mr McGrath can attend Cabinet meetings but cannot vote.
Grab a small tay…
Seán O’Rourke: “Meanwhile, sitting in the Cabinet room along with you and your colleagues, you have Finian McGrath who is proudly boasting that he has no intention of paying his water charges.”
Simon Coveney: “Well I haven’t seen him proudly boasting that and Finian will…”
O’Rourke: “Well stating as a matter of fact then, to put it maybe slightly less..”
Coveney: “Well now let’s not build this issue up into something it isn’t. I mean people should pay their water.”
O’Rourke: “It’s a minister flouting the law and he’s sitting in the same Cabinet room as you. Is that right?”
Coveney: “Well I think, you know,my view would be very similar to, to, you know, people like Regina Doherty and others who’ve been asked to comment on this.”
O’Rourke: “How can you expect people to pay water charges up until their suspended when you’re sitting beside somebody who just makes a virtue of not paying?”
Coveney: “Government minister should lead by example, it is the law to pay your taxes and Government ministers should pay taxes, including water charges and that’s a decision for Finian.”
O’Rourke: “It’s also a decision for the Taoiseach actually. Is he prepared to keep him in the room?”
Coveney: “Look, I mean, I’m not going to get into the Taoiseach’s view of that. I suspect the Taoiseach’s view is the same as mine. If you’re in Cabinet, you need to lead by example. If you’re a law maker, you need to be a law keeper.”
Acting agriculture minister Simon Coveney at the Ploughing Championships in Stradbally, Co Laois in 2014
Seán McCárthaigh in The Times Ireland edition reports:
Taxpayers have had to pick up an EU bill of almost €70 million in overpayments to Irish farmers mainly because the Department of Agriculture failed to accurately validate claims.
The farmers have been allowed to keep the money they were wrongly paid and the state has reimbursed the European Union through central funds.
The department claimed that high-resolution aerial photography was not available before 2012 to accurately measure whether farmers were submitting true assessments of their land holdings.
Only €4 million has been recouped from individual farmers as Simon Coveney, the agriculture minister, expressed his “clear preference” that the repayments should be funded through the exchequer.
Documents obtained by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act provide the full details of how the European Commission sought the return of €181 million in May 2014 for payments made between 2008 and 2014.
The department claimed that the figure should only be €31.1 million, but reached an agreement last November to pay back €68.9 million.