Simon Harris vows to lift government ambitions on house building targets

Simon Harris has vowed to lift government ambitions on house building targets as he insisted a goal of delivering 250,000 new homes in a five-year period was achievable.

The Fine Gael leader said his pledge to build 250,000 homes between 2025 and 2030 would not mean the “smooth delivery” of 50,000 across each of those years, as he conceded it could take time to ramp up capacity.

Ahead of his expected election as taoiseach on Tuesday, Mr Harris also said he intended to “take stock” on two contentious pieces of proposed legislation – on hate speech and on extending late-night opening of pubs and nightclubs – to ensure the views of all key stakeholders were fully considered.

Ireland is on course to build around 35,000 new homes this year and outgoing taoiseach Leo Varadkar has acknowledged it will not be possible to achieve a construction rate of 50,000 per year by 2025.

Fine Gael Ard Fheis
Fine Gael leader Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)

The incoming taoiseach identified house building as a key priority in his leader’s speech to the Fine Gael ard fheis in Galway on Saturday evening.

He said the continuation of policies such as the wavier on development levies and the Help to Buy support scheme would help achieve his 250,000 target.

He was further pressed on the issue on Sunday.

“I didn’t make a promise of 50,000 homes a year, I made a promise that between 2025 and 2030 we’d deliver 250,000 homes a year,” Mr Harris told RTE’s The Week in Politics show.

“That doesn’t mean that would be a smooth delivery of 50, 50 and 50 (50,000 each year) because the Taoiseach is entirely correct.

“We will deliver 250,000 homes by 2030. That’s the commitment I made last night. That’s where I believe we need to be, but I also didn’t just give a commitment of a number, I also gave an indication of how we were going to do that.”

He added: “It’s not just about setting a target, it’s about increasing the scale of ambition. It’s about saying to the people of Ireland and particularly the young people and the parents who have the son or daughter in the box room that we must do more and we need to lift our ambition. The figures are encouraging in terms of how many homes we’re now building and I believe we can do more. I outlined last night some of the ways I think we can do this.”

The proposed laws on hate speech and the plans to extend closing times for pubs to 2.30am and nightclubs to 6am have been the source of considerable controversy for the Government.

Fine Gael has been under pressure, including from some senior figures within the party, to ditch the planned hate speech legislation amid concerns about its potential impact on freedom of expression, while the Road Safety Authority (RSA) has warned that extending opening hours for pubs and nightclubs will lead to more deaths on the country’s roads.

Mr Harris said he wanted to engage with stakeholders and experts on both pieces of legislation.

“So, these are the two pieces of legislation that I want to take stock on and then decide how best to proceed,” he told RTE’s This Week programme.

“I’m very clear, there’s some good stuff in that legislation. I just want to make sure that we get it right.”

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