'It wasn't ever easy to save for first mortgage' - Taoiseach under fire for 'dismissive' comments about plight of first-time buyers

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been accused of dismissing the plight of thousands of young people seeking to buy their first home after he said it has "never been easy" to get a mortgage.

In an attempt to defend the Government's record on housing, the Taoiseach said "we should never make out" that it is easy to get on the property ladder, because it has always been difficult to save for a mortgage.

"My parents will tell me about the 1980s when they had interest rates of 16pc and huge difficulty buying a house," Mr Varadkar said.

"A lot of people when they bought a first home they were only able to furnish one room a year, so we should never make out it is an easy thing but it should be a prospect," he added.

The Taoiseach came under fire from listeners to RTE Radio One's Marian Finucane show after he made the comment during an interview.

Fianna Fail's housing spokesperson Darragh O'Brien said he was "astounded" by the Taoiseach's response to an issue facing thousands of people who have little prospect of buying their first home.

"My big concern was that it shows a complete lack of empathy, but, worse than that, it appears from what he's saying he doesn't understand how hard it is for a group of people who are faced with the realisation they might never buy a house," Mr O'Brien told the Sunday Independent.

"I realised he was aloof and somewhat removed from the housing crisis but I just thought his attitude was dismissive and I think that will concern many thousands of people out there," he added.

The Taoiseach was previously criticised for suggesting first-time buyers should get loans from their parents when saving for a mortgage.

During the radio interview, yesterday, the Taoiseach said: "It used to be the norm in Ireland that people would buy their first home in their 20s - I did. Now we find that the average person buying their first home is in their 30s and that's something we need to change." He also said Ireland has the highest mortgage interest rates in Europe because there is a low level of home repossession by banks.

"One of the reasons we already pay high interest rates is because we have a low rate of repossession and a low rate of evictions and we have to keep in mind all the people who are paying their mortgages and keep interest rates down for them," he said.

The Taoiseach also said Brexit is "fraying" relations between Ireland and Britain while also damaging the Northern Ireland peace process.

"Brexit has undermined the Good Friday Agreement and it is fraying the relationship between Britain and Ireland.

"Anything that pulls the communities apart in Northern Ireland undermines the Good Friday Agreement, and anything that pulls Britain and Ireland apart undermines that relationship," he added.

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