Housing scheme must be approached with caution
WE NEED more houses to be built and we need more building workers back on sites earning decent wages. Few people will argue with those two propositions as the housing market is beginning to turn nationally and already there is a scarcity of supply of certain types of houses in parts of Dublin. But our recent experience of a false housing boom and the devastation it brought upon the Irish economy makes us all rather scared.
Too many people are in negative equity and there are too many ghost estates blighting the country for anyone to be complacent about the housing market. Any official initiatives to improve housing supply and get skilled building workers back to work must be approached with great caution.
These basic facts will dominate reaction to our story today of a proposed government scheme to help first-time buyers get mortgages to buy new homes. Caution must be the watchword in everything that happens from here on.
In simple terms, the Government is proposing a limited mortgage guarantee scheme for first-time buyers. The idea is the taxpayer will underwrite everything over 80pc of the mortgage given by the lending institution. The hope is this will encourage more mortgage approvals. The obvious hope is that more people can once again buy their own home and the many skilled people who are marooned in long-term dole queues can get work and recover incomes and dignity once again.
Perhaps the greatest dividend could be the employment boost, which has the potential to help unlock spending in local economies. All going well, it could be the beginning of tangible evidence of recovery for ordinary citizens.
Well, all of that is the theory. The experts tell us that the scheme will be based on best practice where similar initiatives have worked in Canada, Australia and elsewhere. It is believed that strict limits and terms and conditions will apply to guard against calamity.
We must go forward with great care.
Nuclear option must not be ruled out of discussion
Could the future of the Moneypoint power station in Co Clare be nuclear? Very unlikely, it seems. This country has a legal prohibition on the development of nuclear power, but the fact that the 'nuclear option' has been included in the Green Paper on Energy is, in itself, evidence of an evolving attitude to our energy needs.
There is little doubt that Ireland's reliance on fossil fuels has to end. Apart from the fact that it is a finite resource, this country spends €6bn on imported oil and gas each year, which contributes to making our electricity among the most expensive in Europe. While the idea of alternative energy, wind, wave and solar power is attractive, the technology just isn't there to meet the country's needs. Added to this, opponents of wind turbines are almost as vociferous as those who are against nuclear power.
When Moneypoint becomes obsolete in 2025 it is "technically possible" to use the site for a small state-of-the-art nuclear power plant which could provide most of the country's energy needs. It is right that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte has included it in the green paper.
The challenge on energy for coming generations is a formidable one, but it is not one that government can shirk. All options should be on the table. The question is, do we want an 'Irish solution to an Irish problem' by continuing to ban nuclear energy on our own soil but ignore the fact that electricity we take from the grid may come from nuclear plants in England or France? There is no easy answer, but it is something we need to discuss.