I propose to take Questions Nos. 142 and 148 together.
The unprecedented demand for housing, fuelled mainly by rapid economic growth and demographic changes, has been the major driver of house price increases in recent years. The Government's strategy is to increase housing supply to meet demand and to improve affordability, particularly for first time buyers, and in this way to seek to bring moderation to house price increases.
The measures introduced by this Government to boost supply, including significant investment in infrastructure, improving planning capacity and promoting increased residential densities, are having effect. The year 2003 was the ninth record year for completions of houses, with 68,819 units completed, an increase in output of 19.3% on 2002 and an increase of 10.5% in output in the greater Dublin area during the same period. Ireland is building at the fastest rate in Europe — close to 15 units per 1,000 population — which is an outstanding achievement. Indicative data available to the Department show that first-time buyers continue to have a significant presence in the housing market.
The Government will continue to focus on measures to maintain a high level of housing supply. The investment in the servicing of land has led to a strong stock of land available for residential development.
At the same time, the Government is concerned to ensure that the broad spectrum of housing needs is met. Almost €3.8 billion was spent in the first three years of the national development plan on social and affordable housing measures, reflecting the strong commitment of the Government to meeting needs of low income groups and those with social and special housing needs. The housing needs of over 12,000 households will be met in 2004 compared to almost 8,500 in 1998. The Government is committed to continuing with measures to boost the supply of housing and ensuring that the demand for housing is met in a sustainable manner.