A CLAIM that some Fine Gael councillors in Limerick worked with developers to negotiate buy-outs of their social housing obligations has enraged a number of sitting council members who have now called on Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins “to name and shame” them.
The claim was made in the Dail by Deputy Collins during a debate on housing provision and a section of what he said was included in the Oireachtas Report column in last week’s Limerick Leader.
In his contribution, Deputy Collins welcomed the Central Bank’s scrapping of the 20% deposit requirement, called for a more proactive approach by local authorities and also called for a tenant purchase scheme. But he also accused Government back-benchers of a “completely shallow and ill-informed analysis” of the property bubble.
“One point which is always conveniently forgotten by the Government parties, but which was put right by the people last May in the local elections, is that for the previous ten or 15 years, until last May, Fine Gael and the Labour Party dominated and controlled most of the local authorities throughout Ireland,” Deputy Collins said. “They zoned land and created the supply of over-zoned land on floodplains throughout the country.”
However, it was his comments about Fine Gael councillors in Limerick County Council in particular which have drawn the ire of Cllrs Liam Galvin and Jerome Scanlan.
In the Dail, Deputy Collins said: “When it came to the provision of social and affordable housing, it was Fine Gael and the Labour Party which controlled the local authorities that accepted cash buy-outs from the developers. I remember going into Limerick County Council meetings and watching Fine Gael local authority members with the developers negotiating buy-outs from the Part V obligations. The Government parties should accept the part they played in the creation of the property bubble. They should take a small bit of time to step back and consider this.”
“I haven’t an idea what that man is talking about,” said Fine Gael’s Cllr Liam Galvin said, who contacted the Limerick Leader to in response to Deputy Collins’ reported remarks. “I would question his claim and call on him to name and shame the people he says were helping developers to negotiate buy-outs.”
“If any Fine Gael councillors were involved in such negotiations, I knew absolutely nothing about and I wouldn’t agree with it. I certainly wasn’t party to it. Social housing should be provided for. But he is making the claim and either he withdraws the claim or he names the people,”Cllr Galvin continued.
He intends raising the matter with council CEO Conn Murray.
Cllr Galvin also took issue with Deputy Collins on his remarks about zoning and pointed out that it was Fianna Fail which was in power in Limerick County Council from 1999 to 2009 and that Deputy Collins was, in fact, a member of that council for some of those years. This was a time, Cllr Galvin said, in which thousands of acres, including flood plains were zoned for development but subsequently, had to be dezoned.
“Niall Collins is trying to paper over what happened in the Fianna Fail party and the Fianna Fail government, and trying to put it back on Fine Gael councillor is uncalled for and unfair,” Cllr Galvin said.
Cllr Jerome Scanlan also wants Deputy Collins to name the councillors he claimed to see. “He could clear the air if he just names the people,” he said. “I think there may have been instances where people bought out the social housing aspect. They just paid a fee.That needs to be researched.”
Deputy Collins, however, reacted angrily when asked by this reporter if he could substantiate his claim. “There was a Dail debate in which Fine Gael, Labour, Independent and Fianna Fail TDs took part. People can read the transcript and make up their own mind,” he said.
Fine Gael TD Dan Neville did contribute to the debate but neither he, nor fellow TDs Patrick O’Donovan and Kieran O’Donnell responded to a request to comment. In the course of the debate, several Fine Gael TDs blamed the Fianna Fail led government of the time for the housing bubble. But various Fianna Fail TDs accused them of playing the “blame game” while Deputy Collins said they were “hyprocrites”. Independent Kerry TD Tom Fleming pointed out that only 4% of houses built during the boom were social housing. However, new legislation will make it impossible for developers to buy out their social housing quotient.