The Government is currently reviewing what more it can do to alleviate the rising cost of living, with an announcement expected over the next fortnight, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
Mr Varadkar has also said mortgage interest relief is not currently being considered by the Government but is “not something we would rule out for the future”.
The Taoiseach was responding to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald in the Dáil on Wednesday, who said the European Central Bank (ECB) had increased interest rates for the fifth time since July of last year.
[ Mortgage rates still low by European standards but set to climb fast ]
Ms McDonald said her party was bringing forward a motion later calling for the Government to re-introduce mortgage interest relief for 12 months to absorb a portion of borrowers’ increased interest costs.
“As with all measures to combat the cost of living crisis, the State, we understand, cannot cover the entire cost but it can lend a helping hand and it should,” she said. “It should do this now; this is what is needed.”
The Dublin Central TD said she had spoken to a person this morning who told her their annual mortgage has now increased by over €3,000 and this was before another increase due next month.
Mr Varadkar said there would be an announcement in relation to Government supports on the cost of living crisis “hopefully some time next week, if not the week after”.
The Taoiseach said mortgage interest relief was phased out between 2009 and 2020 and at its peak the relief cost more than €700 million per year.
“It is not something we are currently considering but it is not something we would rule out for the future,” he said.
The Fine Gael leader said the average Irish interest rate on new mortgages was now below the euro zone average.
Ms McDonald said following the ECB’s hikes had resulted in an “immediate and significant impact” for almost 200,000 households with a tracker mortgage.
She said Bank of Ireland and AIB were starting to increase their rates while vulture funds are “increasing rates aggressively, which is leaving some paying interest rates of 7.5 per cent”.
“The net result of this is tens of thousands of workers and families are paying hundreds of euro extra per month compared with this time last year,” she said.
“The cost of heating is up, the cost of filling the car is up and the cost of everyday shopping is up. The list goes on. For those whose mortgage bills are skyrocketing this is causing massive stress and anxiety.”
Meanwhile, the opposition has called on the government to extend its eviction ban and enact an “emergency budget” to help with the cost of living.
Speaking on the Leinster House plinth on Wednesday morning, both Labour and People Before Profit also suggested there could be price controls put in on basic goods and services in the face of the ongoing cost of living crisis.
Referring to a survey published on Wednesday by Barnardos on the use of food banks and the impact of high food prices, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the revelation that 10 per cent of respondents had accessed food banks or sought food vouchers were “shocking”.
[ More parents going without to feed their children, say Barnardos ]
“There needs to be now an emergency budget by the government to address the absolutely shocking level of poverty people are suffering,” he said.
“Huge sections of our population are now very considerably poorer and many being driven into actual poverty as a result of the failure of government to address the cost of living crisis.”
Calling for an emergency budget, Cork North Central TD Mick Barry said the party was also “issuing a warning to this government - hands off the cost of living supports: there must be no cuts because the cost of living crisis is still very real”.
Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik said a private members motion from her party this week would call for the extension of the ban on evictions currently in place until the end of the year. It is due to expire at the end of March. The party will tomorrow call for a range of interventions, including better data on ‘tenant-in-situ’ purchases by local authorities, and swifter moves to use compulsory purchase orders on vacant and derelict properties.
“We’ve called on government to institute a series of emergency measures… to ensure there are really immediate steps taken to alleviate the crisis that is cutting across so many sectors of Irish society and affecting so many people,” the Dublin Bay South TD said.
Labour education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the failure of the government was creating alienation among people and making them more open to “bad actors” encouraging protests against immigration.
“People I speak to who are suffering from these type of difficulties in their families are having their heads turned by these kind of bad actors in society, and when there is a protest they are more inclined to go that way if they feel government isn’t listening to them,” he said.
“We want the eviction ban to be extended through the rest of the year, we can’t have Irish families who can’t feed their children also worried about the threat of eviction hanging over their head at this time.”