Simon Coveney insists help-to-buy scheme ‘right thing to do’

Simon Coveney has defended the first-time buyer’s grant but conceded that all housing policy will have to be examined ahead of the budget.

The former housing minister has claimed that the scheme to help first-time buyers purchase new homes has led to an increase in construction.

It comes after Leo Varadkar strongly indicted after becoming Taoiseach that the grant could be scrapped and said it would be looked at in the context of Budget 2018.

Speaking about the help-to-buy scheme at the MacGill Summer School in Donegal, Mr Coveney, now Minister for Foreign Affairs, said: “I think it was the right thing to do. I think it has changed the way in which developers and builders view building for first-time buyers. They were effectively only building for non first-time buyers previously and that’s changed.

“I think it’s worked because we are now seeing builders now building a lot more starting homes than they were 12 months ago.

“The core problem here is supply. And we will continue to look at new ways to drive supply. A lot of the work that I did is going to deliver a significant increase in housing output over the next six to 12 months.

“The housing strategy isn’t even 12 months old yet and people are judging it almost on the back of an expectation.”

He added that second-hand homes are driving up the price of houses because “we are not building enough homes, the price of second hand homes is going up in an unsustainable way”.

“People keep talking about the help-to-buy scheme as if it’s the only thing driving house prices to go up. It only applies to new homes and new builds which is only a fraction of the number of houses first-time buyers are actually buying,” said Mr Coveney.

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Coveney said he is now hopeful that Northern Ireland institutions will be back up and running by September.

He said: “Despite the fact that we weren’t able to get the institutions back up and running before the summer break, there was a lot of progress made but I just don’t think there was enough trust between the parties to form a government where everyone was going to be happy and was going to be sustainable.

“I suspect there will be ongoing, but less intense discussions over the summer, and we will then try to increase the intensity of those discussions in early September with the view to getting the Assembly up and running in September, that would certainly be my objective and hopefully all the parties will work towards that,” he said.

Mr Coveney, who is in Brussels today for Brexit talks, said there is now a “need to see progress in the next four weeks” if the heads of state are to begin making decisions and meeting deadlines for Britain’s exit of the EU.

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