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Options to deal with cuckoo funds won't be ready for Cabinet tomorrow, but 'suite of measures' ready this week

In an interview with The Journal this morning, the minister said he “isn’t ruling anything out”.

There has been
There has been "no push back" from Finance, with O'Brien stating that it is "whole of government response" to get this "rectified as best we can".
Image: Leah Farrell

OPTIONS ON HOW to clip the wings of so-called ‘cuckoo funds’ snapping up residential homes will not be ready to go to Cabinet tomorrow, according Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien. 

In an interview with The Journal this morning, the minister said he “isn’t ruling anything out”. 

“I don’t expect to have the actual measures tomorrow at Cabinet. There is a lot of work going on with it between [the Department of] Finance and ourselves in housing, but I expect we will have options to work through at some stage this week,” he said.

“I just want to let people know that we are treating it with the urgency and the priority that it absolutely requires, but no I don’t see that we are going to have settled on our options by tomorrow,” said O’Brien.

“I think we will be meeting this week on our options,” he added.

With the fallout from Round Hill Capital buying 135 homes at a new development in Maynooth, Co Kildare firmly placing housing back on the political agenda, pressure is on the minister to make progress with the housing crisis.

The minister said work had been ongoing over the weekend between the Departments of Housing and Finance to find solutions, with consultations also happening with the Attorney General.

The minister has asked officials to look at the options available in a previous Bill put forward by him when in Opposition, which would see legislating for a specific ring-fencing of homes for first-time buyers and possibly banning cuckoo funds entirely outside of city centre areas.

While his original Bill had 30% set aside for first-time buyers, it is believed this could go to 50% or possibly higher under proposed new measures.

A further 10% would be for social housing, and 10% for affordable housing.

The minister would not commit to a specific percentage today, stating: 

“I’m not writing anything off, it is just a little bit early to say exactly what we can do.”

“Whatever we bring forward we need to make sure it is doable and is going to have a positive impact as well and is going to help people. Fundamentally what it is about is about helping people that want to buy their own home,” he told The Journal.

The minister said he wanted to “wait to see” what options come back to him, stating that government must “make sure it is implementable” and can have a positive impact “nearly immediately”.

The minister acknowledged that the it was nothing new that investment funds had been buying up properties, with O’Brien stating that it had been “going on for a number of years”, with estates in his own constituency being targeted.

Before the news in Maynooth hit the headlines in the Bussiness Post newspaper, the minister said his department had been working on dealing with the issues. 

O’Brien said the government wants a “level playing pitch for first-time buyers”, adding:

“We can’t have a situation where large investment funds are buying up properties, that is not something we want to see… it is not something I support… we want to see that changed.”

He said he understood that people are “very angry” and “annoyed”, but said it was important that the debate had context.

“We have an opportunity to deal with it, and that is what we intend to do,” he said.

He confirmed that this week “we will have a suite of options – some of it will be around the percentage of homes that can be ring-fenced”, adding that he has already flagged  an increase in the Part V provision which sees the allocation of 10% affordable and 10% social. 

“I want to see it go further than that,” he said.

The suite of options will be ready in a “matter of days” and will include legislative changes and tax measures. 

When asked if there had been issues with getting the Department of Finance on board with the changes, O’Brien said he and the Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe have been “working well together”. 

There has been “no push back” from Finance, with O’Brien stating that it is “whole of government response” to get this “rectified as best we can”. 

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On a separate matter, the minister denied having any stake in an investment fund, as had been reported in the Irish Mail on Sunday. 

“I didn’t have any stake in any investment fund, I had a single premium product that I actually took out with a broker, an insurance broker of mine, going back years. For what it’s worth, by the way, it was a very small investment. I declared it as you’re supposed to do on the register of interest. It was about €30,000 and for what it’s worth, I lost more than half of it. And I have no stake and no investments in other things.

“That was presented in in a certain way, that’s to say that I have some grá for investment funds – not at all. I was fortunate enough at the time to be able to make an investment. Unfortunate enough that I lost more than half of what I had. But that’s what happened. That’s it. So, there’s really nothing to it whatsoever. And I have no investments in anything, actually at the moment. Just so people are very clear on that,” he added.

The full interview with the minister will be published later today. Thank you for all your questions, we got well over 200 emails, and we tried to put as many to him as possible in the limited time available.

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