Editorial: 'Environment and housing concerns'
In the third and final part of our Kantar consumer sentiment opinion poll published this weekend, the public mood is tested on housing and the environment, or what could be said to be the respective two big issues which have dominated the Government's agenda from the outset and as it nears its end. The findings show that the public remains as deeply concerned now as it was three years ago in relation to housing issues while conflicting sentiment is found in relation to environmental issues. In short, much work remains to be done to both satisfy public demand on housing and also to bring the public along in relation to the environment.
The public's most persistent concern relates to the Central Bank of Ireland's criteria on mortgages for first-time buyers, with over 60pc of the view that the rules are unfair. There is also strong demand for legislation to be introduced to prevent banks from selling off impaired loans to so-called vulture funds. There would seem to be a contradiction here: for example, mortgage interest rates remain relatively high in Ireland, in part because of opposition to the repossession of property in arrears which therefore are, alternatively, being disposed of by banks to vulture funds. In any event, the Central Bank's mortgage rules restrict the loan-to-income limit for a prospective buyer to 3.5 times their annual income, regardless of how much they earn. This measure was introduced in the aftermath of the economic, banking and property price collapse which was in large part caused by massive overborrowing.
There is now significant political pressure to loosen the Central Bank rules, which will test the incoming new governor of that institution. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of today's opinion poll is that the proportion of people saving for a home mortgage deposit has fallen dramatically from 22pc to 10pc. This indicates that many young people, in particular, have given up on the dream of home ownership - it now regarded as being out of reach - in what is in many ways a troubling finding which should be of concern to the Government now and well into the foreseeable future.
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There is better news in the poll in relation to environmental concerns with a strong level of public awareness of some of the issues involved. It is heartening to note that three-quarters of people have actively changed their behaviour in relation to their usage of plastics, for example, and a similar level of support for the banning of single-use plastics. However, there is a notable softening of support for increases to carbon taxes to encourage environmental responsibility, and at best uncertainty as to whether enough is being done in Ireland to reduce carbon emissions in the agriculture sector. More encouragingly, half agree that fossil-fuel powered cars should be phased out by 2030, even if there is scepticism that one million electric cars will be on the road by then.
The poll shows that while there is some good being done by policy formulators in this area, at least in relation to highlighting the issues, there is much that could still be done to convince the public of their personal responsibility in relation to environmental protection.