Friday 17 August 2018

Cowen to fight for first-time buyers' SSIA scheme in budget talks

DEMAND: Barry Cowen wants a saving scheme to help buyers
DEMAND: Barry Cowen wants a saving scheme to help buyers
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Fianna Fail's newly appointed budget negotiator Barry Cowen will demand an SSIA-style savings scheme for first-time buyers when negotiations with Fine Gael begin later this year.

The savings scheme will be a key demand when Mr Cowen and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe meet to discuss what is expected to be the last budget under the confidence and supply agreement.

The initiative would see house-hunting couples receive grants of up €10,000, while single homebuyers would receive State payments of around €5,000. The savings scheme mirrors the ''special savings incentive accounts'' - SSIAs - introduced by former Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy during the Celtic Tiger years.

More than one million people invested in the scheme which gave savers a 25pc top-up on savings they held for more than five years.

Mr Cowen will also look for property tax and commercial rates deductions for landlords and a major clampdown on Airbnbs.

He will also look to strengthen the Rent Pressure Zone system by giving the Residential Tenancy Board enhanced investigation powers.

The Offaly TD was appointed Fianna Fail's public expenditure and reform spokesperson in Micheal Martin's surprise frontbench reshuffle last Thursday.

He replaced Dara Calleary who was appointed as deputy leader.

It has been suggested by Fianna Fail sources that Mr Cowen will be tasked with collapsing budget talks with Fine Gael.

However, Mr Martin has insisted he wants to see the forthcoming budget pass.

For the past six years, Mr Cowen has been the party's housing spokesperson.

He recently embarked on a countrywide tour of public meetings to pitch Fianna Fail's housing policy.

A presentation by Mr Cowen at a meeting in Limerick last week outlined the key areas of the housing crisis which Fianna Fail expects to be addressed. A number of housing policies mentioned by Mr Cowen during the meeting are expected to be central to Fianna Fail's budget demands.

Along with an SSIA-style savings scheme, the party wants rent payments recognised in mortgage approvals and a new tenant purchase scheme. The party also wants the Government to establish an affordable home purchase scheme and affordable rental scheme on state-owned land.

The party has been severely critical of Fine Gael's attempts to resolve the homelessness and housing crisis since taking office.

Last week saw record numbers of families and children present themselves as homeless. Fianna Fail will demand a major funding increase for social housing construction

The party wants more site taxes introduced for developers hoarding land, and development levy breaks for affordable housing schemes.

Dublin Fingal TD Darragh O'Brien will replace Mr Cowen as Fianna Fail's housing spokesman.

The Fianna Fail leader's reshuffle also saw emphasis focused on the health services by appointing Stephen Donnelly as his health spokesperson.

Billy Kelleher was dropped from health and appointed spokesperson on jobs, enterprise and innovation.

Elsewhere, Niall Collins was appointed spokesperson on foreign affairs and trade.

Lisa Chambers was made Brexit spokesperson and Jack Chambers was promoted to the front bench as spokesperson on defence.

On making the appointments to his frontbench, Mr Martin said: "Fianna Fail's core aim in this Dail is to make full use of the democratic mandate we have, to hold the Government to account and ensure that fairness is at the centre of the decision-making process."

Sunday Independent

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