From top: Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
During Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil.
Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin raised a report by Louise Byrne on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on Rebuilding Ireland’s Home Loan Scheme this morning.
Ms Byrne reported that, according to documents she obtained under Freedom Of Information, the Department of Housing – in a briefing note dated January 31, 2019, to its press office – said further approvals are not currently being issued for these particular loans.
Specifically, the note said the department “has been advised that no further approvals should issue for now”.
These loans allow first-time buyers to borrow up to 90 per cent of a property’s value from their local authority.
Those wishing to secure one of these loans have to show they’ve been turned down for mortgage approval by two banks.
Gross earnings cannot exceed €50,000 for a single person or €75,000 for a couple.
In light of Ms Byrne’s report, Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea was told in December 2018 by the Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy that “he was progressing reforms to ensure the loan can work for more people and more quickly”.
Mr Martin said:
“I don’t know what planet the minister is on? But the question I would ask Taoiseach is: Why wasn’t the scheme extended? Why hasn’t it been extended? Why was there no public announcement to the effect, in other words, if you tell your press office, surely deserve the public deserve to know?
“And why wasn’t the Dáil told: upfront and in an honest way?
“Why this kind of continuing lack of respect for the House? In terms of being open, upfront and honest in terms of what is going on? In terms of schemes of this kind?
“People are still applying but nobody has been approved, nobody has been told that no further approvals will issue except your press office according to a Freedom of Information on RTÉ this morning?”
“Why can’t the Minister and the Government just be honest with the people in terms of these issues? And could the Taoiseach bring clarity to this? When will this scheme be extended and to what degree will the scheme be extended?”
“The original limit was €200million; 1,000 houses were to be, allegedly by the minister, accommodated. We’ve had about 1,550, if not more, applications accepted. So will those people, who’ve been approved, will they be in a position to draw down their loans?”
Mr Varadkar told the Dáil 575 people have secured loans under the scheme to date while a further 1,000 applications have been approved but the money has yet to be withdrawn in respect of those.
He said the scheme was initially limited at €200m and that figure has been allocated.
“But as loans are not drawn down and loans do expire after six months, if they’re not drawn down, more finance does become available.
“What we have to consider now is two things: is to whether we should increase the cap above €200m, and that’s currently under consideration of Government, and we also have to consult with the Central Bank as well because this is a mortgage, it is a loan, it’s a loan being offered to people being turned down by banks, building societies and it is a loan at a reduced interest rate.”
In response, Mr Martin asked Mr Varadkar when he discovered that the Department of Housing had to do these two things.
“Cause the minister said back, last year, that we’re not going to wait for the fund to run out, before we build up a second fund to allow a continuation of the scheme with whatever changes we might deem necessary. The minister said there was going to be no issue here.”
Mr Martin added:
“It’s low-income people again being let down. Hopes raised and then dashed with fanfare by the Government in terms of raising the hope. The dashing of the hope is done silently, quietly. Why wasn’t this, what you just said to the House, said by the minister in parliamentary replies?”
“…Why all the secrecy? And the silence around it. Why can’t you guys just be up front with people?“
Mr Varadkar told Mr Martin – after Mr Martin accused him of prancing about the place – “while you’re prancing about the place and wagging the finger and telling us off, we’re actually doing things, doing things in the real world that help people”.
He said the Government has helped 10,000 people buy their first home.
Watch Dáil proceedings live here