Working in the Community, Working for the Community

Statement on Behalf of Seamus Healy TD 087-2802199

AT Last Government Admits That There is a Problem for Low Income Families with Distressed Mortgages

Minister Quinn admits that more needs to be Done by Government to Keep People in their Homes

At leaders questions to-day Seamus Healy TD, for the third time, raised the question of low income families losing their homes under current debt resolution arrangements. Three weeks ago, Taoiseach Enda Kenny insisted there was a solution for all distressed mortgage holders which would enable them to stay in their homes. Two weeks ago, Tanaiste Eamonn Gilmore denied that the problem existed.

BUT To-DAY after Deputy Healy raised the issue a third time adducing irrefutable evidence, Minister Ruairi Quinn admitted that there was a problem ad that the Government would have to do more to keep people in their homes.

Under persistent pressure from Deputy Healy the government has shifted its position. Continued pressure is now required to make the Government act on its commitments.

The live debate can be viewed by clicking here

The Dail Record is appended below

Paddy Healy 086-4183732 on behalf of Seamus Healy TD 087-2802199

Dail Record

Deputy Seamus Healy: I join with all Members in the Christmas and New Year’s greetings, particularly to the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas, including the ushers, caterers, clerical and administrative staff who serve and support us.

The right to keep a roof over their heads and to continue to live in their family homes is one of the most cherished aspirations of the Irish people and people the world over. I make no apology for returning to the question of families being bullied out of their homes or legally compelled to leave by banks bailed out by the Irish people. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have refused to answer the question in recent times and I appeal to the Minister to address the question and answer it. It is very straightforward and I appeal to the Ceann Comhairle to ensure the Minister answers the question. For thousands of people, the fear of losing the family home is palpable and traumatic. It is giving rise to serious mental health issues. People fear the sight of the postman in case he or she has the dreaded letter from the bank demanding the sale or repossession of the family home. Since I raised the issue a fortnight ago, the rating agency, Fitch Ratings, has borne out my contention that up to 30,000 families face the loss of their homes under the insolvency arrangements put in place by the Government.

[Deputy Seamus Healy: ] Fitch puts the figure at 26,000 families on the basis of information given to the company directly by the banks. We are talking about people on low incomes whose only asset is a family home. They have fully engaged with lenders but have no disposable income.

This argument is widely accepted by people engaged in the mortgage distress area, such as the advocacy group New Beginnings, the free legal aid centres, the Phoenix project in Portlaoise, Grant Thornton and various personal insolvency practitioners across the country. New Beginnings has 1,000 distressed mortgage applications from people who see no out except for bankruptcy. Grant Thornton has a similar figure and when it studied 1,000 cases, it saw that up to 50% faced bankruptcy.

I want to ask a question I have already posed to the Taoiseach in the past couple of weeks. Does the Minister accept there is a serious problem and there are thousands of families on low incomes, below the minimum living expenses, who cannot avail of the insolvency process and who are facing the loss of the family home? What does the Government intend to do about that?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: I agree with the Deputy in that we should extend our best wishes and appreciation to all members of the staff for the way in which this House runs so efficiently. With regard to the Deputy’s first question, my answer is “Yes”, and I accept that we have a problem. We have known that from the very beginning and since we came into government. It was one of the many problems we inherited from the previous disastrous Administration.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: In respect to the Deputy’s second question, I accept that thousands of families are currently living in fear, and people in my constituency are struggling with the issue. As there has been a de facto moratorium on house building over the past number of years, there has been a significant increase in house rents, as Deputy Ó Caoláin noted. That has happened across the country and not just in the greater Dublin area, Cork and Limerick. We are trying to ensure, through massive change in the area of insolvency and mortgages, that systems can be worked out by families and lending institutions, including the two main banks, which have been massively recapitalised by the taxpayers in this country. That was so the banks could do what they were supposed to in this area.

Deputy Barry Cowen: We are getting that back in July, according to Enda.

Deputy Seamus Healy: I am not clear as to whether the Minister accepts the problem I outlined. Does he accept that there is a category of individuals – rather than individual families – numbering up to 30,000 families who cannot avail of insolvency arrangements put in place by the Government? As a result, they face the loss of their family homes. That will add another 20,000 or 30,000 to the 90,000 people already on our local authority house waiting lists.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Hear, hear.

Deputy Seamus Healy: They will also have to avail of rent supplement, at much cost to the State. Currently, the only solution for these families is bankruptcy. Does the Minister accept that as a solution for these families, as I certainly do not? What changes will the Government make in insolvency arrangements to ensure that this category of distressed mortgage holder can be helped? I repeat that these are blameless people on low incomes with no disposable income, so they cannot avail of insolvency arrangements. What changes will the Government make to ensure these families can stay in their homes?

Deputy Finian McGrath: Hear, hear.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Everybody in this House shares the concern which the Deputy has raised on a number of occasions. This Government has put in place a most comprehensive programme of action to assist householders struggling to pay their mortgages—–

Deputy Seamus Healy: That does not cover this category of people.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: I am trying to reply to the Deputy’s question.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: The Minister is not listening.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: We have rebalanced the rights of borrowers and lenders under the biggest shake-up of personal insolvency law in the century. We have given those who bought their first homes during the bubble significant increases in mortgage interest relief. That is not the end of what we are trying to do. I accept the concerns which have been expressed and although the figures are hard to calculate, they are of the order mentioned. Under this system, it is inevitable that some people will be faced with the prospect of losing their homes because of their circumstances. As a Government, we are prepared to look at the measures that can be adopted in that set of circumstances, where some kind of rental agreement or other form of intervention can be arrived at with institutions that in many cases have been funded by the taxpayer. This is to ensure that a family does not lose a home.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Write down the mortgages.

Deputy Peter Mathews: Correct.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Whatever way it is to be done, nobody in the House wants to see people put out on the street because they cannot repay amounts.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Deputy Peter Mathews: Well do something about it.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Nobody wants that.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Fine Gael and Labour are the Government now. They still think they are the Opposition.

Deputy Seamus Healy: The current arrangements do not protect the people I have described.

An Ceann Comhairle: If Deputies are not prepared to listen, they should not ask the questions.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: We all share the Deputy’s concern. This is an evolving problem and we have taken steps to resolve it in a number of areas. That does not mean we will not take more steps if necessary. In some cases, it probably will be necessary.

Deputy Peter Mathews: Of course it will.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: The Government will not be found wanting.

Deputy Finian McGrath: They still think they are the Opposition.


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