Plan to stop bulk-buying of houses going to Cabinet, says Leo Varadkar

Tánaiste accuses Sinn Féin of being ‘anti-private property’ in Dáil exchange

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Leo Varadkar said he could not disclose details of proposals under consideration. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Proposals to deal with the bulk-buying of newly built housing developments by private investment funds will be brought to Cabinet on Tuesday and enacted swiftly, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

He said he could not disclose the details of the proposals being considered by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien because of “Cabinet confidentiality” requirements.

But he accused Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty of “speaking with forked tongue” in the intensifying row over the issue, which has seen funds buying up suburban housing estates ahead of first-time buyers.

During sharp exchanges, Mr Varadkar said Sinn Féin claimed to champion first-time buyers but their constant mantra called for public housing on public land.

“That’s no good for people who want to own a home,” he said. Mr Varadkar said Sinn Féin opposed housing developments at local council level because they involve private ownership elements.

“You are anti-enterprise, anti-private property and anti-private home ownership,” he claimed. He was responding to trenchant criticism from Mr Doherty, who said all the problems in housing had occurred while Mr Varadkar and Fine Gael were in power.

House prices

Mr Doherty said Dublin house prices had increased by 98 per cent since 2012 and house ownership was now at a historic low. He said the housing crisis was caused by lack of supply, high rents and the purchase of whole estates by investment funds enjoying tax advantages.

The Donegal TD said he had for years been calling on government to change tax laws to combat the funds and that his party’s moves to introduced higher stamp duty and taxes on those funds in the Finance Bill had been opposed.

Mr Doherty said recent controversy about a fund buying an entire estate in Maynooth, Co Kildare, had “acted as a lightning rod” and prompted sudden Government promises of urgent action.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged the Government needs to do far more to improve housing supply and that there had been a fall in home ownership. He said some 65 -70 per cent of people owned their own homes and this was higher than rates in the US, UK, France, Germany and other countries.

Mr Varadkar said many of the housing issues outlined by the Sinn Féin TD were accurate but that Sinn Féin “speaks with forked tongue” when it comes to home ownership.

Earlier, Mr Donohoe acknowledged that the Government must do more to support first-time buyers and the challenges they face.

The Government was “absolutely aware” of what needs to be done with regard to housing and to address the issues raised “by so many”, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

“We need to deliver 33,000 homes per year in Ireland, over the next decade. Out of that 18,000 homes need to be delivered by the private sector and funds have a role to play in supplying the capital to build those private homes.”

Mr Donohoe said he did not agree with the incidents of bulk-buying by funds such as the one recently highlighted with regard to an estate in Maynooth. “We need to get the balance between dealing with that kind of behaviour and try to change the incentives, but also recognising that we do need investment to build more homes,” he said.