Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Questions (31)

Seán Fleming


31. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether the introduction of a State-backed insurance scheme for first-time buyers in the absence of a significant increase in supply in the short to medium term will lead to an unsustainable rise in property prices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23036/14]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Government recently launched 'Construction 2020: A strategy for a renewed construction sector'. The purpose of the strategy is to underpin the future competitiveness of the country, ensuring that we continue to be well-positioned to attract the inward investment that has been so important to our economic development. The strategy includes the Government's desire for a return to sustainable levels of mortgage lending, as part of a healthy market. This involves the consideration of measures to stimulate the development of housing. In order for developers to be supported, they need confidence that customers will be capable of accessing finance to purchase new builds. This means mortgage products being available to potential purchasers with an ability to support repayments.

In Ireland's recent abnormal housing market, we have seen lending volumes decline dramatically. The banks are highlighting the lack of supply of houses in particular urban areas as a contributing factor for the lack of drawdown of approved mortgage facilities.  I would look upon the development of this initiative as being an aid to encouraging and facilitating the supply of new homes, in the short and medium term, particularly for young families. In other jurisdictions, such as the UK and Canada, "mortgage insurance" markets have been developed to support bank mortgage lending, particularly to 'First Time Buyers'. Mortgage insurance allows banks to share the risk of mortgage lending, either with the public sector or with private sector insurance companies with the aim of increasing bank lending in general or to target groups.

My Department is committed, under this strategy, to examine the concept of a mortgage insurance scheme and how it might benefit new housing completions in the Irish market. The objective of any scheme would be to ensure adequate availability of mortgage finance on affordable terms for new completions, particularly for 'First Time Buyers', as the economy recovers. In doing so we would aim to provide the certainty needed to support greater levels of investment in new housing, with the associated benefits for the construction sector and ultimately for the consumer.

As the Construction Strategy mentions, my Department is undertaking an economic impact analysis which will assess the impact such a scheme would have on the Irish housing market, taking into consideration time limits, targeting first time buyers or owner occupiers and focussing on new housing. As the Deputy has raised the issue of house price increases, I would like to assure him that I will take this into consideration and it will form part of the analysis process. The analysis will draw lessons from mortgage insurance initiatives undertaken in other countries and will include questions as to the appropriateness of a price cap as well as regional or geographic restrictions.  Once this analysis has been completed and presented to me I will consider next steps.