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Joan Burton criticised over high mortgage rates and soaring rents

Published 19/11/2015

Tanaiste Joan Burton has been criticised over the Government's housing policy
Tanaiste Joan Burton has been criticised over the Government's housing policy

Tanaiste Joan Burton has been accused of refusing to take responsibility for high mortgage rates, the housing crisis and soaring rents.

In bad-tempered exchanges in the Dail, Ms Burton first told Fianna Fail's Barry Cowen to listen, shut up and lay off the histrionics before asking his front bench if they were babies and needed music and an afternoon nap.

The Tanaiste had been asked to explain the Government attempts to pressure banks to reduce mortgage rates, some of which are 2% higher than the European average.

And she was later challenged by Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald over the 9.3% increase in rents last year pushing the average monthly bill in Dublin to 1,400 euro.

"Your policy in respect of housing is nothing more than waffle," the Sinn Fein deputy leader said.

"It is recycled statements. It's rhetoric, it's the politics of blaming everybody else, councillors, homeless agencies, campaigners, whoever is at hand to take the blame but you refuse to take responsibility for these matters.

"That's the reality and you have set that position out with glorious clarity here today."

Ms McDonald said the Government's response to the above variable mortgage rates was to tell people to shop around and on the issue of huge hikes in rent it was to "turn a blind eye and cross your fingers".

During 30 minutes of political mud-slinging Ms Burton also reminded Leinster House that yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the day Fianna Fail "brought the troika into Ireland".

Mr Cowen claimed home owners in Ireland are paying on average 4,000 euro a year more than people in Germany because of higher variable rates offered by Ireland's taxpayer bailed out banks.

He said only 712 mortgage customers from a pool of about 100,000 have switched banks to secure better interest rates.

"The bank's response to be quite honest has been as inadequate as the Government," he said.

"(Finance) Minister (Michael) Noonan's mantra is competition will fix it and he has encouraged people to switch banks. Competition alone will not solve this ongoing crisis."

Mr Cowen said: "It also illustrates that the Government is suggesting a solution they know is not working."

Variable mortgage rates for new loans in Ireland averaged 3.38% in the summer compared to 2.02% in the rest of the euro area highlighting the punitive rates being charged as banks move into profit following years of crisis and multi billion taxpayer bailouts.

On the wider crisis of a lack of housing and the delay in getting new projects off the ground, the Tanaiste accused councillors of making spurious planning challenges which stall social housing building.

"I want to see the councillors on all the councils really cooperate with the managers of county councils around the country to actually get the houses built," she said.

"In some cases councillors in fact have delayed housing being built through in some cases spurious objections to planning issues and other issues.

"Proper planning concerns everyone agrees with, but I have to say some councillors and some parties have to cut to the chase and agree to that."

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