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‘Utterly engaged’ Macron talks up support for Ireland on Dublin ramble

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin gave Emmanuel Macron a special, limited edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses as a gift when the French president visited him at Government Buildings on Thursday.

After bilateral talks and an outdoor press conference, they took a leisurely walk to Trinity College, pausing to listen to a piper and fiddler in front of the National Gallery. They stopped at Sweny’s chemist, where Leopold Bloom bought lemon soap for his wife, Molly, talked to tourists at Lincoln’s Inn pub and posed for selfies with them.

The French president’s day-long Dublin adventure started at Áras an Uachtaráin in mid-morning, under a bright blue sky, with birdsong and the Defence Forces band playing national anthems.

“Ireland occupies a precious place in the heart of the European dream,” Macron wrote in President Michael D Higgins’s guestbook. The two presidents talked about social Europe and post-Brexit Europe, climate change, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti and the global Covid-19 vaccination programme.

The pair walked down the gravel path to the peace bell, which President Mary McAleese moved from the house to the garden to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement. Macron pulled three times on the blue satin cord.

Misneach and Bród, the presidential Bernese mountain dogs, bounded up. “This is an experienced diplomat,” the President said, patting nine-year-old Bród. “The new fella is not as sophisticated and well-trained.”

In the State Drawing Room, the two leaders sat on Marie-Antoinette’s pink brocade sofa, which Charles de Gaulle gave to Éamon de Valera.

Some of Ireland’s best minds sat around them, in a circle of chairs and sofas. Paul Gillespie, a UCD academic and specialist in British-Irish relations, talked about the new triangulation between the UK, Ireland and the EU since Brexit, and the way that what happens in the UK affects Ireland more than any of its European partners.

Macron “was really there, in that room. He was utterly engaged,” said the broadcast journalist Doireann Ní Bhrian, who moderated the “writers and thinkers” session organised by President Higgins.

No obstacle

Catherine Day, the former EU secretary general and chairwoman of the citizens’ assembly, told how the results of referendums on abortion and gender equality mirrored the results of the citizens’ assemblies they followed.

The President said that since the financial crisis, Brexit and the pandemic, the State has ceased to be seen as an obstacle to innovation. Yes, his French counterpart agreed, Brexit and the pandemic were game-changers.

The philosopher Richard Kearney produced a photograph marking the launch of Memory, History and Forgetting by the late French philosopher Paul Ricoeur. Among the smiling faces was a 22-year-old student with thick, long hair who had worked with Ricoeur.

“That’s Emmanuel Macron,” Ricoeur told Kearney when he gave him the photograph in 2000. “Watch him. He will be a leader of France.”

At Government Buildings, there was disquiet over the explosions at Kabul airport. The Taoiseach thanked Macron for the logistical support France provided to the team of Irish diplomats and Army Rangers who travelled to Afghanistan to extract 36 Irish citizens. “Ireland will be generous to refugees from Afghanistan,” Martin said. “We also want to ensure there is the capacity in Ireland to create a good life for them”.

Macron addressed Irish anxiety that pressure might mount in the EU for customs checks between the North and South if the UK continues to violate the Northern Ireland protocol. European solidarity with Ireland will not falter, he promised. “This is an existential question for the unity of the EU. We will make sure that the accords which were signed after long negotiations are duly respected … including the protocol. To say it in more familiar terms, we will never let you down.”

Ian Bailey case

Asked why Ireland has refused to extradite Ian Bailey, who was convicted in absentia in Paris in 2019 of murdering the French woman Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork in December 1996, the Taoieach expressed empathy for the dead woman’s family and said the killing was still an open wound. “We want justice done,” he said. “It is a terrible stain … What happened continues to grip the Irish public.” Macron said the case showed the necessity of building “a Europe of justice”.

Linda Doyle, the provost of Trinity College Dublin, greeted Macron at the gate of the university. A carefully selected group of students had waited in the Students’ Public Theatre, a gem of 18th-century architecture, for two hours. They asked intelligent questions about vaccine inequality, migration and global supply chains.

Macron had been going non-stop for eight hours, but he was still fresh and smiling. “I would like to defend Europe,” he said. European scientists had made the “tremendous accomplishment” of developing a vaccine against Covid in less than one year. China used its vaccines for “vaccine diplomacy”. Russia encountered production difficulties. The US kept 100 per cent of its doses for the domestic market. “In Europe, half the vaccines were exported. We were by far the most efficient and generous region of the world.”

Macron was an intellectual with the intellectuals, a politician with the politicians, a professor with the students, and late in the day an entrepreneur at the Guinness Enterprise Centre. His day ended where it had started, at Áras an Uachtaráin, for dinner. President Higgins summarised centuries of Franco-Irish friendship in a dinner speech, and Macron flew back to Paris, having by his own admission learned a great deal about Ireland.

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What to expect in Budget 2022? Small tax cuts and modest welfare increases

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Public spending may have rocketed over the past 20 months due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic but it appears that tax cuts and welfare increases will be on the table nonetheless when the Government sets out its budget on October 12th.

As Tánaiste Leo Varadkar recently said, there will be tax measures aimed at “middle-income people in particular”, as well as a welfare package to offset the impact of the rising cost of living.

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Asking price on average British home hits a record high of £338,462

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The average price tag on British homes has hit a record high of £338,462 as the competition heats up among ‘power buyers’, according to new figures.    

Average asking prices for homes increased by 0.3 per cent, or £1,091, month-on-month in September, according to figures from Rightmove. 

Wales, South West England, the East Midlands, the East of England and the South East – are experiencing annual asking price growth of more than 8 per cent.

Fierce competition continues among buyers for the low number of properties for sale.

Average asking prices for homes increased by 0.3 per cent, or £1,091, month-on-month in September, according to figures from Rightmove. Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 in Brighton

Average asking prices for homes increased by 0.3 per cent, or £1,091, month-on-month in September, according to figures from Rightmove. Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 in Brighton 

Rightmove added that buyers who are ready to move – including those who have already sold their own home, have cash in the bank, or are first-time buyers with a mortgage agreed – are ‘out-muscling’ those who still need to sell their home in order to buy. 

The frenzied market activity has helped to push up the average asking price of a newly-listed property to a new record for the fourth consecutive month, according to Rightmove.

The average asking price has climbed £21,389 higher in just six months to £338,447, according to the property listing website’s index.

Rightmove’s Tim Bannister said: ‘We predict that the number of completed sales will be the highest ever seen in a single month when June’s data is released by HMRC.

‘This means it’s likely that the first half of 2021 has seen a record number of moves when compared with the first six months of any other year, induced by the pandemic’s side-effect of a new focus on what a home needs to provide.’

Frenzied activity has helped to push up average property asking prices, says Rightmove

Frenzied activity has helped to push up average property asking prices, says Rightmove

It comes as it was revealed earlier this month that the prices houses are actually selling for are now 13 per cent higher than before the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The figures come in contrast to predictions from agents, who thought the end to the Covid-19 stamp duty holiday would see demand for properties dramatically fall and take heat out of the housing market.  

The Government’s stamp duty holiday, introduced when the pandemic hit last year, fuelled a rapid rise in house prices, but the stamp duty band was halved from £500,000 to £250,000 from July, and will revert to £125,000 from September 30.

Rightmove said that in the month to mid-July, asking prices rose 0.7 per cent – the equivalent of £2,374 and the largest monthly rise at this time of year since July 2007, at the peak of the boom just before the financial crisis.

The price data is based on Rightmove’s asking prices, while the data on the number of sales is a prediction of what the next HMRC transactions will show, based on Rightmove data that looks at properties being marked ‘under offer’ or ‘sold subject to contract’.

Rightmove attributed the increase to a lack of supply of homes for sale and identified a shortfall of 225,000 homes for sale which, if available, would have helped to maintain a more normal level of property stock for sale and stabilise prices.

This stark shortfall, along with frenzied buyer activity, is fuelling record high prices and leading to record lows in available stock for sale.  

The high levels of activity have continued, according to Rightmove, despite the end of the stamp duty holiday.

The stamp duty holiday, which ended on 30 June, saw no tax on the first £500,000 of a property purchase price replaced by none on the first £250,000 until the end of September. Stamp duty is due to return in full after that.

Rightmove said there is an ‘urgent need’ for low stocks of property for sale to be rebuilt so that stability in prices can return.

Rightmove said that the average value of a home in Britain currently stands at £338,462

Rightmove said that the average value of a home in Britain currently stands at £338,462

Mr Bannister said: ‘First-time buyers are currently benefitting from their sector having the most buyer-friendly conditions. Choice is still more limited when compared to the same period in 2019, but price rises are the most subdued of any sector.

‘Saving a deposit is still very hard, but 5 per cent is now an option, and with many paying rising rents, buying your own home on a lower deposit is becoming an opportunity again. The opportunity is also there for property owners to come to market, as it’s still a great sellers’ market despite the recent end of the tax holiday in Wales and its scaling back in England.

‘We’ve also seen a much more efficient housing market over the past year, with the strong buyer demand and faster churn of homes leading to a much higher percentage of sellers finding a buyer for their home, and fewer unsold homes being withdrawn from the market.

‘Buyer sentiment remains strong, and the growth in new households combined with people living longer and having changed housing needs is exacerbating long-term housing stock shortages.’

Rob Sabin, of estate agents Miles & Barr, said: ‘East Kent’s property market continues to be very active during the first six months of 2021 with buyers continuing to purchase the limited housing stock available.

Wales, South West England, the East Midlands, the East of England and the South East - are experiencing annual asking price growth of more than 8 per cent. Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 in Bristol

Wales, South West England, the East Midlands, the East of England and the South East – are experiencing annual asking price growth of more than 8 per cent. Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 in Bristol

‘The number of sellers coming to market has slowed as the year has progressed, which means we’ve seen the level of new listings coming to the market significantly decrease year on year, while in turn total available stock levels across the market is at the lowest we have seen in a number of years.

‘While the number of new listings has dropped, our results remained strong with 945 homes listed accepting an offer. East Kent has also seen the number of buyers looking to relocate to either the countryside or by the coast increase with a fifth of applicants registered coming from Greater London.’

Marc von Grundherr, of estate agents Benham and Reeves, said: ‘The UK property market continues to defy expectation, with house prices reaching yet another record high despite whispers of a decline in values as a result of the tapered stamp duty holiday deadline.

‘There’s no doubt the stamp duty holiday has been the catalyst for this impressive market performance. However, it isn’t the driving factor behind the intent to purchase for UK homebuyers and so a robust level of activity will remain long after it has expired. 

‘When you couple heightened demand with a severe shortage of stock, it’s very likely that property values will remain buoyant for the remainder of the year 2021 buyer frenzy reveals 225,000 shortfall in number of homes for sale.’ 

But property price growth has still seen a ‘surprising’ increase in August, with Nationwide Building Society figures placing it at 11 per cent higher than one year earlier. 

However, ONS figures released five days ago suggest the average UK house price dropped £10,000 in July.

The typical home was worth £255,535 in July, according to the Land Registry-based index – around £19,000 higher than a year earlier but significantly below the £265,448 peak in June.  

This translated to annual house price inflation slowing to 8 per cent in July, from 13.1 per cent the previous month.

In a reversal of fortune for the property market compared to the recent past, the North East is the UK’s hottest property market in terms of average price rises, with homes up almost 11 per cent in a year, while London is seeing the lowest gains at 2 per cent, ONS figures show. 

Rightmove added that buyers who are ready to move - including those who have already sold their own home, have cash in the bank, or are first-time buyers with a mortgage agreed - are 'out-muscling' those who still need to sell their home in order to buy. Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 in Norfolk

Rightmove added that buyers who are ready to move – including those who have already sold their own home, have cash in the bank, or are first-time buyers with a mortgage agreed – are ‘out-muscling’ those who still need to sell their home in order to buy. Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 in Norfolk 

Tim Bannister, Rightmove’s director of property data, said: ‘Competition among potential buyers to secure their next home is now more than double what it was this time in 2019.

‘To be in pole position in the race for the best property you need to have greater buying power than the rest of the field.

‘That traditionally would mean deeper pockets to outbid other buyers, but in the most competitive market ever, today’s ‘power buyers’ also need to have already found a buyer for their own property, or to have no need to sell at all.

‘Agents report that buyers who have yet to sell are being out-muscled by buyers who have already sold subject to contract.

Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 on Washington Road in Leicester

Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 on Washington Road in Leicester 

‘Proof that you are mortgage-ready or can splash the cash without needing a mortgage will also help you to get the pick of the housing crop.’

But there are signs of a re-balancing in the housing market. In the first two weeks of September, the number of new listings was up by 14% compared with the last two weeks of August.

Rightmove said a wider choice of properties should also encourage more homeowners to come to market as the number of potential onward purchases grows.

Mr Bannister continued: ‘This 14% increase in the number of new sellers coming to market in the first half of September is only an early snapshot, but autumn is traditionally a busy period, as those owners who have hesitated thus far during the year see the few months before Christmas as an opportunity to belatedly get their moving plans under way.’ 

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Zappone turns down invitation to appear before committee to discuss envoy role

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Former minister Katherine Zappone has turned down an invitation to appear before an Oireachtas committee to explain the circumstances surrounding her now-scrapped appointment as a special envoy.

The chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan confirmed on Monday that Ms Zappone had declined an invitation to attend to discuss the matter.

The committee, which met last Wednesday in private session, agreed to write to the former minister and invite her to appear before it.

It is understood the decision was taken at a private meeting after it was proposed by Sinn Féin spokesman on foreign affairs John Brady and his Social Democrats counterpart Gary Gannon.

The committee is also to invite Martin Fraser, the secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach and the State’s highest-ranking civil servant, to address the issue of precisely when Ms Zappone’s name was communicated to the Department of the Taoiseach.

Controversy erupted over an attempt by Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to appoint Ms Zappone as a special envoy for freedom of expression and LGBTQ+ rights.

Mr Coveney – who is attending UN meetings this week in New York – last week faced down a motion of no confidence as a result of his handling of the matter.

Earlier this month, Mr Coveney told the Oireachtas Committee Ms Zappone was mistaken in her belief she had been offered the job last March.

Mr Coveney also rejected claims that Ms Zappone lobbied for the position or that he breached Freedom of Information legislation by deleting texts between himself and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

However, Mr Coveney apologised for “sloppiness”, and for making mistakes in the past few weeks.

Records released by the Department of Foreign Affairs show Ms Zappone texted Mr Coveney to thank him on March 4th “so, so much for offering me this incredible opportunity”.

In mid-July she sent another message of thanks but Mr Coveney has insisted nothing had been formally agreed until it came to Cabinet on July 27th.

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