Ahern denies FF panic led to stamp duty U-turn

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern last night insisted he had not been panicked into offering first time buyers a backdated “bribe” on stamp duty.

Launching his party’s election manifesto, Mr Ahern denied the move represented a U-turn as he attempted to seize the political initiative from opponents on the issue.

The move will see stamp duty abolished for all first-time buyers and will cover purchases since last Monday.

Mr Ahern said the scrapping of the duty would not force an increase in house prices. “We are determined to help first-time buyers directly and substantially without disturbing market conditions, driving increases in house prices and putting more than 260,000 construction jobs at risk,” he said.

He claimed Fianna Fáil had always intended to announce reform of the property tax as part of the election campaign, despite comments from Finance Minister Brian Cowen indicating no action would be taken on the issue at the time of the last Budget.

“In the current market situation, any stamp duty cuts would more likely than not be incorporated into the sale price and so end up in the pockets of the seller. This will not help first time buyers purchasing new homes,” he said in December.

Mr Cowen yesterday insisted his key objective was to avoid measures which threatened to rock the housing market in the way he claimed the Rainbow parties alternatives would.

He accused Fine Gael and Labour of having a negative impact on property prices with their proposals for wholesale reform of stamp duty if elected.

The Finance Minister insisted his plans were better costed and would be more beneficial to the housing market.

Fianna Fáil also promised greater investment in transport and health at the manifesto launch at Dublin’s Mansion House which was picketed by nurses demanding better working conditions.

The party also promised to cut the standard rate of tax from 20% to 18%, put 4,000 extra teachers in classrooms, hire 2000 more guards, open a network of local injury clinics and increase the state pension to €300 a week.

Mr Ahern pledged to increase the mortgage interest relief for people who bought their homes in the past seven years.

Fine Gael dismissed the move stamp duty move as a “backdated bribe”.

“This is a joke. This is a party that has done a massive U-turn. These people have been in office for 10 years — 10 years, budget after budget after budget, tent after tent,” leader Enda Kenny said.

Labour leader Pat Rabbitte branded it ann unconvincing catch-up attempt with his party’s plans.

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