I am raising the issue of the Rebuilding Ireland home loans scheme. As people are aware, it is a mortgage scheme for first-time buyers backed by the Government. It is now available through all local authorities. A first-time buyer can apply for a Rebuilding Ireland home loan to purchase a new or second-hand property or to build his or her own home. Up to 90% of the market value of the property can be borrowed. That is the background to the scheme.
As the Topical Issue matter I tabled states, I wish to discuss the credit policy 2018 and the Rebuilding Ireland home loans scheme. The wording I submitted deals with the secrecy attached to the credit policy 2018, under which applications are considered. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, is aware that well over 600 or 700 applications have been made. There is, approximately, a 50% refusal rate among those that have been assessed. Citizens in a democracy have a right to know how the decision to refuse their application was made. The appeal mechanism is merely internal within the local authority. There is no external appeals mechanism. There is no method for appealing to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman or to the ordinary Ombudsman as to how the local authority conducted the appeal in respect of an application.
There is no external appeals mechanism whatsoever and that is all the more reason that citizens should have access to the criteria under which their application was considered. They could then put in an appeal, even if it is a poor mechanism in the first place because it is internal to the local authority. No doubt it will be dealt with by somebody who was not on the credit committee. I submitted a parliamentary question asking for a copy of the criteria in view of the number of refusals of which I have been made aware. In the reply of 14 April 2018, I was told that it was a commercially sensitive document, it was not in the public interest to publish it and it would conflict with the economic interests of the State. The document remains confidential on that basis.
That is not acceptable. I think the Minister of State knows that. If the Government has learned anything in this day and age, it is that citizens, and the rights of citizens, must be respected. In this case, citizens' rights are being infringed. The Department needs to come into the 21st century. It must know it cannot deal with citizens' information in a secretive manner. The members of this Government must surely have learned that. How can a person put in an appeal if he or she does not know the criteria according to which his or her application was refused in the first place? The current semi-appeals mechanism, internal to the local authority, makes no sense. There should be a mechanism everywhere in the State so that an appeal can be put in and it is known what the appeal is against.
People are appealing on the blind, however, and the idea of a commercially sensitive document by which one's application was judged is nonsense in this day and age. It would not stand up to objective scrutiny anywhere in terms of the rights of the applicants.
I am asking the Minister of State to reconsider the old 19th century approach whereby nobody is entitled to question the decision of a local authority. Local authorities make commercial decisions all the time. They put contracts out for tender and people know the criteria under which contracts are awarded. If people did not know the criteria applied the process would be deemed invalid. This ridiculous requirement for commercial sensitivity around how applications are judged should be removed.