John Downing: 'We'll hear about cuckoos all year round - but not with much joy'
Once upon a time - though not long ago at all - Irish people vied for bragging rights on who was first to hear the cheery sound of the cuckoo.
But every child beyond the use of reason knew the downside of the beauty of that cuckoo's call, a harbinger of summer. The bodies of little chicks on the ground close to trees bore testimony that our parents' tales were no mere folklore.
By now the ultra-distressed Irish property market resembles a broken-down family saloon car, stuck at a crazily busy junction, and being repeatedly buffeted by bigger cars, vans and trucks. It appears to have a problem for every solution.
There is the slow return to building new homes coming from a standing start. Add the councils' efforts to compensate for their own lack of building via buying already scarce homes. Then factor in tough lending restrictions and the limited success of official schemes designed to help first-time buyers.
And after all of that you can watch the increasing prevalence of the "cuckoo funds". These are large institutional investors, incentivised by Irish tax breaks, as they buy up entire new housing developments.
More usually they do it before the vulnerable young homebuyer can get to the market. But there have been instances recently where these cuckoos have arrived after the event and caused the developers/builders to return deposits to home-seekers who had believed they were sorted.
Politically, this is an easy one for the Opposition. It only has to show up to make political hay.
In the Dáil yesterday, Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary cited a report in Thursday's Irish Independent which showed that another full housing development, totalling 295 houses at Leopardstown in Dublin, was bought up by an institutional investor. Mr Calleary said last year such funds - which also get Government tax concessions - bought up 3,000 homes which they will rent at a handsome profit. That meant 3,000 hard-working families were "elbowed out" of a housing market where new homes are already very scarce.
"It's clear Fine Gael is on the side of the cuckoos in this one. Is it not time to shout stop and review these tax incentives being given to these funds?" the Fianna Fáil deputy leader asked.
Trying to sound a voice of reason, while replying for the Government, Tánaiste Simon Coveney rejected the accusations and said Mr Calleary was mixing up a number of issues. "We believe in house ownership and we want everybody to own their own home," the Tánaiste insisted.
Mr Coveney repeated a defence from Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. It is that these institutional investors accounted for a very small segment of the home rental market and actually stimulate building, especially flats. But we will hear talk of the cuckoos all year round - without much joy.