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'Extended and not capped': Fianna Fáil insists help-to-buy scheme must be continued in Budget negotiation talks

Budget talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are set to intensify in the coming weeks.

Image: Shutterstock/Albert Pego

FIANNA FÁIL HAS insisted that the help-to-buy scheme must be extended and remain in its current form in this year’s Budget.

Budget talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are set to intensify in the coming weeks, and it’s understood that senior figures in Fianna Fáil are “insisting” that the help-to-buy scheme, which is due to end this year, be continued.  

When asked about the matter, the party’s spokesperson Darragh O’Brien said Fianna Fáil is calling for the scheme to be retained at its current level.

The scheme was introduced in 2016 in a bid to help first-time-buyers get their foot on the property ladder by assisting with the deposit required for purchase up to €20,000.

To date, around 30,000 buyers have availed of the grant, at a cost to the Exchequer of about €200 million.

“There should be no ambiguity about that because it is causing deep uncertainty within the market. It is, by the way, the only affordability measure,” he said, adding that it is helping people get a deposit together to buy a home.

There has been speculation that the scheme would be reformed and capped for houses costing up to €250,000. Currently the cap is much higher at €500,000.

O’Brien says he doesn’t see the point of lowering the help-to-buy threshold to €250,000 as it would squeeze out any buyers in Dublin and see the scheme “shut down in all but name”.

He added that people need some hope that they will be able to buy their own home, which is why Fianna Fáil is pushing for the government to deliver on an affordable housing scheme.

“At the moment, we’re the only party who’s putting forward alternatives,” he said, adding that tens of thousands of people are being condemned to “rip off mortgages” and have “no chance of buying their own home”.  

The Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke very supportively of the scheme in the Dáil before the summer recess. 

When asked during the summer if the scheme will be extended into 2020, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy did not comment, stating that it is a matter for the Budget negotiations with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. 

However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has hinted in Dáil exchanges that the scheme will continue, stating that it is something that “will help many more people in the future”.

While it was introduced to aid young buyers enter the housing market, the original estimate of the scheme of €50 million was underestimated. Similar concerns around the scrapping of the scheme circulated prior to last year’s Budget, resulting in a frenzied demand for the grant over fears the scheme was to be wound down.

The decision was taken to continue with the scheme last October. 

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On other budgetary matters, Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath was also asked about the whether pensioners can expect to see another rise in their pensions. 

Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea has been pushing for a pension increase in this year’s Budget.

McGrath would not give much detail on the issue, other than saying that it is a matter being discussed as part of the negotiations.

He pointed out that Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has stated that he is working off a no-deal Brexit scenario when dealing with this year’s Budget.

“That does have implications,” he said, adding:

“The headroom is limited.”

Earlier in the summer, Social Protection Regina Doherty said that she could not guarantee any social welfare payment increases in next year’s Budget due to the uncertainty around Brexit.

At the Fine Gael think-in last week, the minister acknowledged that her department’s budget this year would be scaled back.

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