In the Dáil, TDs heard that, in a written response to the Housing Department, the Department of Finance said the rationale for the measure was unclear, involved significant risk of exposure to the State, and would do nothing to increase housing supply, when supply, not demand, was the problem.
“Despite this, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, ignored these concerns,” said Sinn Fein housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin.
“Even though its concerns were not met, the Department of Finance withdrew its objections, leading to speculation that the final decision was a political one, made in full knowledge of the shortcomings and problems with the scheme.”
In response, Mr Coveney said the scheme is “a success story so far”.
“It has been only launched several months and we get weekly reports about the level of interest in it,” said Mr Coveney. “Last week, there were 323 calls, of which 319 were answered. There is a significant interest, as one would expect, in Dublin. Up to 26% of the calls received were from Dublin and 16% from Cork.”
Speaking about warnings from finance officials, Mr Coveney said it was a €200m fund and, of course, there would back-and-forth, and questioning of its merits.
“Is anybody who has been in government surprised by the fact that, initially, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform would raise robust questions to test the merits of this approach?” he said. “There is always a robust exchange, when the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government goes to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with a new idea, and asks it what it thinks.”
Mr Ó Broin accused the Tánaiste, who was housing minister before taking up his current role, of being “sensitive” because he was in charge of the plan originally, without success.
“I understand why the Tánaiste is so sensitive on this issue, because Rebuilding Ireland was his plan,” said Mr Ó Broin. “He signed off on a document which contained not a single target, over its six years, for a single purchase for a rental affordable unit. As everybody knows, phone calls will not solve the affordable housing crisis. Affordable homes will.”
Labour leader Brendan Howlin highlighted the case of former RTE broadcaster Valarie Cox, who won a landmark case, taken after she was forced to retire at 65. Mr Howlin asked when the Government would publish the legislation to abolish the mandatory retirement age for public-sector workers.
Mr Coveney said that the Government was moving to change the law as soon as possible.