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Housing is ‘number one’ crisis facing young people – Taoiseach

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin has acknowledged that housing is the biggest challenge facing the country, and said that the Government is working to produce a policy to tackle the issue of cuckoo funds buying up estates.

Mr Martin said the Government fully recognised that the current generation of young people were the most disadvantaged of all such generations when it came to buying affordable homes.

“Anything we can do in terms of housing, we are going to do because it’s the No 1 crisis facing the people, young people in particular who are in search of a new home – that’s something that worries me a lot,” he said.

The past week has seen revelations that foreign investment funds are buying up entire new estates in Maynooth and parts of Dublin and the Government has been urged to act promptly to prevent similar moves elsewhere.

Mr Martin said that Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien are working on a strategy, including changes in taxation, to prevent a repeat of such practices.

“Paschal Donohoe is looking at the situation from his perspective, taxation and Darragh O’Brien is also looking at it from a planning perspective … when we have precise, specific proposals, then that is the time to announce them.”

Mr Martin played down the importance of a report in the Irish Mail on Sunday which said that Mr O’Brien had invested in one such fund when working in the financial sector prior to his election as a TD.

According to Mr O’Brien’s Oireachtas Dáil Register of Interests, he invested savings with a global Real Estate Investment Trust (Reit) run by Standard Life Assurance but relinquished his shares in 2009.

Mr Martin said he had not seen The Mail on Sunday report but investment funds entering the Irish market to invest in high-density builds for rent was not unusual at the time as the market was at a low ebb and little was happening.

He said that the situation had changed hugely from then and the State was now the major player in the housing market but the challenges remained huge to provide the necessary housing to cater for demographic changes.

‘New initiatives’

Mr Martin also played down suggestions of a rift between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael over housing amid suggestions Mr O’Brien came in for some criticism from Fine Gael TDs at last week’s parliamentary party meeting.

Mr O’Brien is to take the unusual step of addressing Fine Gael’s private meeting of TDs and Senators in the coming weeks.

“I think that is a positive development and as far as we are concerned, Daragh has hit the ground running in terms of housing – quite a number of new initiatives have come forward, even from last July with the Voids programme.

“That was where we put money aside to get houses that had fallen into disuse, local authority houses, and we brought back about 3,000 plus in a short space of time into use within six months which is very, very good work.”

Mr Martin said that this year the State will provide some 12,750 social houses for people of which 9,000 will be new builds and while Covid-19 had affected the targets so far, he hoped that they would still be met by year’s end.

He pointed out that last year there were 20,000 built but 8,000 of those were social housing, suggesting that the private sector was no longer as strong in Ireland as it was in the past when banks lending money drove construction.

“The big player in the housing market at the moment is the State. We will provide 12,750 social houses – 9.500 of those we want to build – ow some of those targets have been hit by Covid but we hope we can pick it up

“So when you take last year there was only 20,000 houses built – 8,000 of those were social houses so the private sector is not strong actually in Ireland as it once was – banks drove housing in earlier eras through financing, they are no longer doing that.

“The State actually through one scheme or another is the big actor now in housing provision and what was announced last week by the Minister [Darragh O’Brien] relates to affordable housing,” he said.

Mr Martin said that there were now a number of schemes such as the Serviced Sites Fund, the Shared Equity Scheme, the Help to Buy Scheme which were designed to deal with the affordability issue for first-time buyers.

Mr Martin said that notwithstanding the impact Covid-19 restrictions had on the construction industry in the first months of the year, he was still hopeful that the sector would be able to deliver the 25,000 new homes target.

“Housing is a huge challenge and we need to get to about 33,000 per annum to provide for the demand that’s out there – when this Government came into office, we were doing about 20,000 odd – this year we had targeted 25,000.”

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Bank of Ireland linked to fund involved in massive European tax fraud

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Bank of Ireland’s services were used by a company involved in a network of hedge funds at the centre of financial transactions, dubbed fraud by a German court, that have cost European tax authorities billions of euro.

The Irish bank’s fund administration unit, Bank of Ireland Securities Services (BOISS), was the custodian bank of an investment fund involved in the scheme.

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Reader question: When must I change to winter tyres in Switzerland?

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While winters have been a little milder in recent years, the snow, ice and sleet can still play havoc with your car.

Landslides and other road damage caused by inclement winter weather can also mean you lose control a little easier. 

Even in city areas, the colder weather can increase the risk of losing control. 

READ MORE: Ten strange Swiss road signs you need to know about

In Switzerland, the law is relatively complex. While there is no hard and fast rule for winter tyres at certain times, you have a responsibility to ensure your vehicle is roadworthy – which means being ready for the conditions. 

When do I need to put winter tyres on – and what happens if I don’t? 

Unlike many of its neighbours – and many cold countries from across the world – winter tyres are not mandatory in Switzerland. 

Therefore, you will not face any penalty if you continue to drive on summer tyres all year ‘round, either on a federal or cantonal basis.  

This is somewhat surprising for people from Austria, Sweden, Finland and some parts of the United States where winter tyres are mandatory during colder months. 

In Austria, for instance, winter tyres are required from November to April, regardless of the conditions. 

In Germany, Italy and Norway, winter tyres are not mandatory on the basis of the year’s calendar, but they are required in certain road conditions. 

However, certain roads can require you to have chains or winter tyres in order to drive on them at certain times.

This will be designated by a sign on a particular road or pass that winter tyres are required. 

Generally speaking, this will be on mountain roads or other passes, rather than in city streets. 

OK, so I don’t have to, but when should I change? 

The Swiss Road Traffic Act (Art. 29) says that all drivers on Swiss roads have a responsibility to ensure their vehicles are in a roadworthy condition. 

In slippery, winter conditions, the best way to ensure that your car does not lose control is to have it fitted with winter tyres. 

There are also insurance obligations to consider. 

The Swiss government notes that drivers without winter tyres may be deemed to be negligent. 

Driving in Europe: What are the Covid rules and checks at road borders?

“In the case of an accident, the driver may be found liable if the car is not properly equipped for the winter. The insurance company may not cover the full cost of the damage or may even take action against the insured person for negligence.”

Touring Club Switzerland (TCS) says that you should consider putting winter tyres on your car if the temperature drops below 7 degrees. 

Auto Suisse says that a default rule to follow is consider replacing summer tyres with winter ones from October until Easter, although this is of course dependent on the conditions. 



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Social media: Why vaccines, paella and ‘tortilla’ trend on Spanish Twitter | Opinion

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The content that gets shared the most on social media is not always an indignant message or an ingenious insult. Sometimes, it can even be pleasant to be on Twitter. This past weekend, the German television network Deutsche Welle published an English-language video special about Spain’s successful Covid-19 vaccination campaign. This video has been shared by Twitter users more than a thousand times in messages that expressed pride and included the hashtag #marcaEspaña (or, Brand Spain).

The Deutsche Welle video compared the 78% rate of fully vaccinated people in Spain at the time the report was made (the figure is now closer to 80%) to the 69% in Italy, 68% in France and 65% in Germany. Some of the reasons put forward to explain this success, despite a slow start, include widespread faith in the country’s public health system, the media’s scant coverage of vaccine conspiracy theories, and also “the devastating first wave of the pandemic.”

Positive messages about Spain from a foreign source are usually popular on social media. But at the same time it seems that if a Spaniard mentions that the country is doing something reasonably well, such as the vaccination campaign for instance, their fellow countrymen have trouble believing it. The impression (not always off base) is that the speaker has an axe to grind or may be trying to sell us a story (or even worse, a flag). But if a foreign media outlet says the same thing – well, we may not be fully convinced, but at least we enjoy hearing it.

And it’s not just with crucial subject matter such as vaccines. It also happens with other less critically important issues, such as Spain’s famous potato omelet, or tortilla de patatas. When a reporter from The New York Times extolled celebrity chef Ferrán Adriá’s version, made with potato chips from a bag rather than freshly sliced potatoes, it prompted nothing but satisfied tweets. But messages about the same recipe shared before the article came out showed a marked difference of opinions, to put it mildly.

It also works the other way around: when our dear old Spain comes under attack, we view it as an affront requiring revenge. There are still Twitter users out there who have not forgiven British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for making a paella with chorizo in 2016 (at the time, some people compared his creation with the notorious botched restoration of a Christ figure in 2012).

And let’s not forget what happened to an Italian citizen who tweeted this summer that Spain was like Italy, but a bit worse. I will refrain from mentioning his name because he has already put up with enough grief. “Hey guys,” he amusingly tweeted afterwards. “Just checking, does ‘me cago en tu puta madre’ mean ‘I respectfully disagree’?”

I don’t think that Twitter turns us into patriots, fortunately enough for everyone. There’s no doubt that a lot of different elements are at play here: it’s easier to praise the Deutsche Welle video if you are a supporter of public healthcare (or even of the government). As for the food disputes, there is a lot of joking and pretending going on there. There is also an element of surprise: while we find it normal for there to be talk in Spain about the US, the UK or Germany, we are surprised every time Spain is mentioned abroad, and that’s because we tend to view ourselves as rather insignificant (which is understandable). And I’m also not ruling out the view held by some that focusing so much on what the foreign media says is, in itself, quite provincial.

But it’s also true that we should all find some joy in the fact that, once in a while, we can work together to do something well. And perhaps even celebrate with a good tortilla de patatas. I won’t go into whether it should have onion in it or not, because I don’t want to ruin the moment with another argument.



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