Deputy Lord Mayor, Minister Murphy, Members of Cork City Council, Ladies and Gentleman, good morning.
As we know next year will be a significant year in the decade of centenaries and Cork will be at the centre of our commemorations. Among the other events, we will remember the two Lord Mayors who lost their lives and the terrible destruction caused by the burning of this city in December 1920.
Many events are being planned. I agree with the call made by Senator Colm Burke that it would be appropriate to have a State ceremony to recognise the centrality of events in Cork in 2020 to our national story a century ago.
The winning of Irish freedom, as Terence MacSwiney so beautifully put it, was ‘a deathless dream’. Almost one hundred years on from these events, we need to ask ourselves what does this dream mean in the 21st century now that we have political freedom?
I think it means many things, but for me the most important is ensuring that our citizens have the economic freedom to live their lives and have opportunities to reach their potential.
In some areas we have been successful, with record levels of employment, rising income levels, and falling poverty and deprivation rates and educational attainment.
In other areas, such as housing, we have much more to do. Today’s sod-turning is a significant moment because it makes a statement that goes beyond Cork. It is a statement that affordable homes are being built all across Ireland.
When it comes to housing, some commentators and parties are obsessed with the mechanism of delivery, rather than simply with delivery. Their focus is ideological.
Our focus is different, it’s not on ideology, it’s on delivery. It is to ensure that there is a greater supply of housing: social housing for people on the housing lists; private housing for people who want to buy because most people want to buy their own home; and places available for people to rent. Housing of all forms because that’s what’s needed.
We are beginning to see the results. Every year housing construction is increasing and there is growing evidence of house prices levelling off. More than 20,000 new homes were built in the past year.
Yesterdays numbers from the CSO show a 22% increase in new housing and 80% increase in apartments.
Led by Minister Murphy, the Serviced Sites Fund – the first nationally – has facilitated this major development of affordable homes. It’s a €310 million investment in the future of housing and it will provide crucial infrastructure on public lands, to assist the provision of affordable homes to purchase or rent.
The homes that will be built here will have one distinguishing feature and it is not cost. It is that they will all be high quality.
Here we will have 116 new homes, where individuals and families will build their own community, become part of existing ones, and grow and prosper.
Just down the road, new affordable houses will be built in Glanmire and Churchfield.
A further 240 homes have also been approved for development in Kinsale, Midleton, Carrigaline and Clonakility.
And the same story will be replicated in towns and villages across Ireland.
Next year, we will invest a further €126 million in the Serviced Sites Fund for affordable housing projects.
We are also bridging the affordability gap by extending the ‘Help to Buy’ Scheme – so we can provide thousands of young people with the opportunity to purchase their first homes. 14,000 people have already benefited from it, that’s 14,000 individuals and families who have been empowered to live their lives and reach their potential.
Over €563 million in funding has been invested in the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan scheme, something for first-time buyers that has helped over 2,500 people so far – including more than 300 people in Cork with a low interest mortgage.
Renting is a challenge – both here and in other parts of the country.
So we have introduced a series of rental market reforms and Rent Pressure Zones now cover two thirds of tenancies nationwide. We have also introduced planning regulations on short-term lettings.
We further strengthened tenant protections earlier this year - introducing longer notice periods, extending the Rent Pressure Zones out to the end of 2021, and giving powers of sanction to the Residential Tenancies Board.
This is a good time to be living in Cork.
Through Project Ireland 2040 we are investing in new road infrastructure including the M20 Cork Limerick Road, the N22 Ballyvourney Macroom Project, the N8/N25 Dunkettle Interchange and the N28 Cork to Ringaskiddy Road.
And healthcare projects – CUH Paediatric Dept.
With the Urban and Rural Regeneration and Development Funds we are investing in projects like:
- The Cork City Docklands;
- Mallow Town Regeneration;
- Midleton Main Street;
- The Digital Innovation Hub Strategy;
- The Kinsale Library Project; and
Cork Events Centre
Our mission is to renew and strengthen rural communities and help regenerate towns and villages.
People are at the heart of that vision, and it starts with providing affordable homes.
A decade ago, at the height of the crisis it looked like our dream for developing Cork had suffered long-term damage, perhaps even was dead. It has taken some time, but today we have proof that it is still alive and it is thriving.