DUBLIN, May 20 (Reuters) - The number of new mortgages issued in Ireland fell to their lowest first-quarter level since data was first collected eight years ago, further tempering hopes that house prices would begin to rebound following a devastating property crash.
Irish residential property values have fallen by half since 2008 but a gradual month-by-month rise in house prices last year as well as quarterly increases in the number of mortgages being approved raised hopes that the market was recovering.
While prices in Dublin were 3 percent higher in March compared a year ago, they fell for the fourth successive month across the country and data on Monday showed that just 2,068 mortgages were drawn down in the first quarter of the year.
That compared to 2,630 a year ago and over twice that amount in the final quarter of 2012, just before the expiry of a government stimulus plan offering mortgage interest relief to those buying their first home.
Economists see a stabilization of the property market as vital to allowing Irish banks and households recover and generate the growth needed to pay off debts that forced Dublin to seek an international bailout in late 2010.