I thank the Ceann Comhairle and his office for the opportunity to raise this important issue, namely, the urgent need for the Minister for Finance to introduce supports for first-time buyers who have entered into contracts to buy property based on prices during the property peak. These home owners bought properties based on plans and are now being forced, through contractual obligations, to honour these exorbitant prices. The reality, however, is that they are in great financial difficulty. Some are insolvent and are not in a position to honour these contracts. The Minister must look urgently at this issue.
Measures have been taken to date by the Government to help protect home owners in mortgage arrears. That is a separate piece of work currently being conducted. The Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cuffe, has been involved in this on a first-hand basis and he is to be congratulated for that. The sooner that group comes up with solutions to the difficult situation in which people themselves regarding mortgage arrears, the better.
The issue of these contracts was brought to my attention by several buyers in my constituency who have been made redundant. They were informed subsequently by developers that they must complete their contracts even though they are unable to pay for them. In many such cases, mortgage approval had expired already due to construction delays but developers continue to send letters demanding payment and imposing enormous interest penalties, despite having been told these buyers have no incomes or assets.
I am aware that these people entered willingly into these contracts but through unforeseen circumstances, such as job losses, they cannot honour them. Many of those affected have been forced into rental accommodation and are unable to apply for other forms of housing such as affordable housing. That is an important point. They cannot put themselves on the housing list while these debts hang over them. They must be released from their contracts.
I ask the Minister of State to look seriously at this issue. It is possible that up to a few hundred individuals may have been caught in this trap and it is important that the Government protect that group of buyers. Is any legislation pending in the area? NAMA has been introduced and will help certain developers but this group has been ignored and not even discussed in any communication to date. One of the possible solutions is for the Government to buy out some of these contracts at a discount to help these people.
With regard to the general housing policy, the Government has not delivered on promises in the programme for Government, particularly on the national development plan elements relating to affordable housing units. It is terrible that 1,100 properties are currently vacant and unoccupied, mainly because local authorities have not been in a position to sell them; if they sell the properties they do so at a loss because they were purchased at the peak of the property boom.
Over 100,000 people find themselves on lists for social housing in this country and cannot get into a property, which is bad. There is a glut of property, with over 345,000 empty units in the country, so there must be some kind of reconciliation between housing lists and the number of empty housing units. If the Government is serious about the issue it has a golden opportunity to name the price at which developers will sell the houses. It should avail of that opportunity.
I hope the Minister of State will take on board the points raised this evening, specifically those concerning the home owners who find themselves trapped having to honour contracts when they are not in a financial position to do so.