Tuesday, 17 February 2015
Last week in the Irish Examiner, it was reported that approximately 400 homes have been listed for repossession since 1 January. Across Munster, the figure is just under 700 since the beginning of the year. I was looking at Kilkenny, for example, where there are 93, and Carlow, where there are 65 repossessions before the Circuit Court. That is just a typical list of any one day. There are 93 on this particular list on 11 February last. It looks like 2015 is going to be the year of repossession, given the scale and volume of repossession cases now coming before our courts. The Taoiseach will know that the finance committee of the House was given information that up to 30,000 families were given letters threatening repossession from the banks. We know there are more than 38,000 in arrears over 30 days and two thirds of those in arrears, interestingly, are in employment. It seems that many of those in arrears are actually in a position to do sustainable deals with banks, but deals are not being done. Two thirds are in employment - that is a very striking figure.
I had a case during the week of a young couple with young children, both in State employment with reasonable incomes.
They had formerly been with IBRC. The Taoiseach sold all those people down the river when he sold those loan books to vulture funds. The result is there is absolutely no protection for them and no proper engagement, despite their very best efforts to engage.
A number of years ago when all of this was going through, the Taoiseach refused our proposition for an independent debt resolution settlement office. He recently met personal insolvency practitioners because we know the personal solvency system has not worked.
There have only been approximately 1,000 cases versus 15,000 cases, which the then Minister said would happen in year one. We do not even know the proportion of those 1,000 cases which were mortgage cases. Essentially, the Taoiseach has given the banks a free rein. What is happening is that property prices are rising. The banks are going after the cases where there is no longer negative equity, knowing they can get their money back but leaving families in limbo without a home, a roof over their heads and shelter. It is having a devastating impact on many families across the country.
As late as last September, we proposed the Family Home Mortgage Settlement Arrangement Bill 2014, which went through Second Stage. It would provide a mechanism to deal with family home repossessions and to protect families. It is a realistic mechanism, using the personal insolvency practitioner service. We are trying to be constructive and reasonable but all along the way with the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2013 and so on, the Taoiseach has ignored any suggestion from this side of the House to protect families and he has given the banks a completely free rein. Will the Taoiseach consider that Bill?
I disagree with the allegations made by Deputy Martin. When he mentioned selling people down the river, I assume he is referring to his own selling of our country down the river a number of years ago.
A consequence of that was a complete collapse of the construction sector, the loss of 100,000 jobs directly in the construction sector and negative equity inflicted on the vast majority of people in the country. The consequences of that crisis are still with us.
The Government put together a whole suite of opportunities for borrowers to engage with lenders, to cut deals and come to a conclusion, so that they would not lose their primary home. It is fair to say that significant numbers of letters have issued to people all over the country.
That is true. In quite a number of those cases, there has been no engagement whatsoever between the person who borrowed and the lender, which will never resolve the situation. In cases where the borrowers responded to the lenders, I am not happy with the situation where some banks appear to ignore the recommendations made by personal insolvency practitioners in the interests of cutting a deal and coming to a sustainable agreement for many house borrowers. A number of personal solvency people were before a Cabinet sub-committee recently and they gave some clear evidence of this. It is our intention to call in the banks very shortly to discuss the nature of the arrangements they make with people.
Nobody wants to see a primary dwelling go or to see a family out on the road in that sense. However, this will not be solved by leaving things untouched, by not negotiating or by not engaging. Banks and others are making money. We cannot have a situation where with confidence returning to the economy, borrowers are afraid to read letters, dump them and do not engage at all with the lender. That is not a solution. We have MABS, personal insolvency practitioners and others who negotiate with banks on behalf of borrowers for solutions which mean they can retain their family homes in the first instance. Nobody wants to see them lose their family homes. However, it takes the borrowers to engage, either directly or through any of the agencies that operate on their behalf, with the banks to come to a sustainable conclusion so they can hold onto their homes and at least have clarity about the future arrangements they will make, whether one of the whole range of options now available or otherwise.
Even his response suggested that it is the borrower's fault. His whole mind-set is through the prism of what the banks are telling him. Most Deputies and I are raising cases where there has been constant engagement by the borrower with the banks but the banks have worn them down and have not engaged in many cases. That is the point I am making.
When I talk about selling people down the river, I am talking about the IBRC liquidation in those cases. When the mortgage books were sold - we raised this in the House - absolutely no protection was provided, in any shape or form, for the borrowers and families in those situations.
The family I mentioned has engaged, chapter and verse, for three years with the IBRC and it has all been initiated by the borrower. The Taoiseach should please stop the patronising claptrap he is going on with that somehow it is the borrowers who are at fault, that they are not engaging or that they are ignoring letters. They are not. What is now happening is that the property prices are rising and the banks know they can get the full amount back and they are going after families in those situations and are not engaging in meaningful deals with them.
The Taoiseach is saying he is not happy and that he called in the personal insolvency practitioners. Why did he call them in? I warned the Taoiseach in July 2013 that this would happen. In an exchange on Leaders' Questions, he denied that there would be wholesale repossessions of family homes. It is now happening before his very eyes and in a public relations exercise last week, he brought in the personal solvency practitioners to find out what is going on on the ground. Everybody knows what is going on on the ground and it is time the Taoiseach intervened.
We have been constructive and have put forward legislation which would allow the utilisation of existing mechanisms to ensure there would be restructuring of family mortgages, in particular for families who own their homes, on a reasonable and a sustainable basis. That is not too much to ask for. It is too late for the Taoiseach to say he is calling in the banks yet again to have a chat with them about this. It is time for action and for mechanisms to be put in place.
Deputy Martin is wrong when he said that I blame the borrower. I said that in many cases, there is no engagement at all while in other cases, there has been. I made the point that the reason we called in the personal insolvency practitioners was to get from them first-hand evidence of where the banks are failing to cut deals after the personal insolvency practitioner has put forward a sustainable solution. I am not happy about that and that is why we will call in the banks to address that very matter. That is why it took a long time to put in place all of the options now on the table so that those hard-pressed borrowers and those distressed mortgagees can negotiate with lenders and arrive at one of a number of sustainable solutions. That is what the personal insolvency practitioners are for and where MABS and a number of other organisations have helped out.
It is true to say that thousands of letters have been sent out and that banks are back making money but it is not a case of waiting until property prices rise. Many of these mortgages have been restructured already but not enough and not quickly enough. I hope that following our engagement with the banks, we can come to a far more-----
-----realistic appraisal. When personal insolvency practitioners make an arrangement, I do not want to hear banks telephone the client to say they will not accept that deal but will accept it if the client gets rid of the personal insolvency practitioner in the first place and waives his or her fee. That is not good enough and I do not, nor will I, accept that from banks in the borrowers' interest.
Once again, hundreds of our citizens are languishing on hospital trolleys. There were 551 people on trolleys this morning, some 32 of these in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, which consistently has among the highest number of patients on trolleys. In 2011, when the Taoiseach's Government took office, there were 10,000 patients waiting longer than six months for elective care.
Last month there were 24,369. My constituency, and I am sure it is the same for all Deputies, is inundated with people who are waiting for unacceptable periods for procedures. One man from Drogheda, Peter McDonnell, has been waiting for two years for surgery. Lily McDonnell is waiting for an urgent surgical appointment for the removal of a growth on her face. Apart from the 24,369 who cannot get surgical appointments within a reasonable time, there are those citizens who cannot be discharged because the Taoiseach's Government will not provide the level of care in the home that they deserve. The health Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has said the Government's response has not been enough. The Minister is a master of understatement - the Taoiseach has taught him well - but the issues remain; we have patients on trolleys, citizens without homecare packages and elective surgeries cancelled. Meanwhile, the Government paid €7.5 billion in debt interest, including private banking debt. Will the Taoiseach accept that there is a clear link between the hospital crisis and the pursuit of such wasteful and unjust austerity policies by Fine Gael and Labour?
As I have often said to the Deputy before, if money could have sorted this out, it would have been done ages ago. He mentioned the trolley count. The trolley count numbers for today, 17 February, at 8 a.m. show 464 patients waiting on trolleys nationally, with 222 of those waiting for longer than nine hours. Yesterday's figure was 445 on trolleys at 8 a.m., with 248 waiting over nine hours. Yesterday's evening figure showed that the number of patients waiting had reduced to 235 by 8 p.m. and 103 of those were waiting over nine hours. Yesterday morning in Drogheda there were 44. By 2 p.m. that had reduced to 22 and by 8 p.m. it had reduced to 18. The 8 a.m. figure for this morning shows 22 people on trolleys, half yesterday's figure. The Minister for Health has pointed out quite clearly that the trolley waits are unacceptable and he acknowledges the difficulties the overcrowding in emergency departments cause for patients-----
-----their families and the staff who do their utmost to provide safe and quality care in very challenging circumstances.
The Deputy mentioned the hospital in his own constituency. Drogheda has had particular difficulties over the past weekend, up to and including yesterday, as I have pointed out. The hospital has treated three patients who tested positive for influenza and there has been a sporadic outbreak of norovirus, which has been contained and isolated and has not had an impact on bed capacity. I am informed that the hospital is confident there is no need to activate any ambulance diversion at this time. At the Labour Relations Commission last week, 22 agency nurse conversions, 66 nursing posts and an additional healthcare assistant post were agreed for Drogheda hospital, with industrial action suspended until October, pending the putting in place of these staff. I am quite sure that they, along with existing staff, will do their utmost to see that this is regulated in the best way possible.
The Deputy is also aware that the Minister for Health appointed and convened the emergency department taskforce last December, to provide focus and momentum in dealing with the challenges presented by the current trolley waits. At its meeting on 2 February, that taskforce considered a draft action plan to specifically address emergency department issues with a view to reducing trolley waits in 2015. The Minister is determined that the action plan be completed as soon as possible, that the views of the taskforce are taken into account and are implemented without delay. Other measures are being taken. The HSE is accessing all suitable non-acute accommodation to the maximum extent possible to allow those who have been clinically discharged to leave acute hospitals. The allocation of €25 million made a big impact here in terms of the delayed discharges in the national service plan. That was utilised, as was planned, to provide additional funding for 50 transitional care beds in the greater Dublin area, 65 extra beds in Mount Carmel to come on stream on a phased basis from April, and a range of additional homecare packages. It is never easy, believe me, but it is a case of a Minister making the most effective decisions possible to regulate it in such a way that those who need care and attention get the very best, delivered by front-line staff, who are very challenged in some cases.
I asked the Taoiseach whether he would agree that there is a connection between his brutal austerity policies and the crisis in our health services. He did not answer that. He hit me with a blizzard of stats, almost like a commentator at a horse race. There is a connection. The Taoiseach knows that and he will not acknowledge it. That is the price people are paying for his policies. Could I have the Taoiseach's attention? I thank the Minister. Last month I raised with him twice a letter from HIQA, which said that if recommendations made in 2012 had been implemented, the risks to patients would have been significantly reduced. He promised to write to me and he did not do it. I asked him again at last week's Leaders' Questions and he promised again to write to me but still has not done it.
I did receive a letter from the Minister for understatement in answer to an Order of Business query. It only arrived into my office this afternon, so I have not been able to give it the type of consideration it requires. However, what did HIQA say in 2012 about this issue of what the Taoiseach calls "trolley waits"? It recommended that "[e]very hospital should cease the use of any inappropriate space (for example, a hospital corridor or a parking area for trolleys) to accommodate patients receiving clinical care".. What is the Minister's response in his letter today? The Ceann Comhairle must listen very intently to this.
This is Alice in Wonderland, or Leo in Enda-land, where words mean what the Government wants them to mean. Is it the truth that the situation in our hospitals, the crisis that our people are experiencing every single day, is the price the Government expects them to pay for the Taoiseach's brutal austerity policies?
-----and austerity, as he put it, he is the person who has said in here time and again that he does not want the moneys that were put into AIB returned to the taxpayer. He wants it retained in public ownership.
The Minister says in part of his letter that the Deputy chose not to read out, that "the HSE disseminated copies of the HIQA Tallaght report to all relevant care providers and requested local assessment of service provisions against these". He went on to say, in focusing on the emergency care recommendations, the HSE wrote to all sites providing emergency care in relation to care provision in those appropriate areas.
In reacting to the arrests last week, arising from the protest in Jobstown, the Taoiseach stated the matter was entirely one for the Garda, which is completely independent of the Government. Will he expand on this view in the light of the arrests over seven days of residents of Tallaght? The Government is not totally separate from the Garda or, for that matter, the Judiciary. It hires and can effectively fire the Garda Commissioner, for example. Would it not be amazing if the Garda were making independent decisions to devote such a high level of resources to dealing with one protest and the water charges generally? Is it not worrying that the Garda has such powers of decision making without any democratic control by elected representatives?
The Anti-Austerity Alliance does not believe there is a paper trail somewhere linking the Government with the current actions being taken by the Garda. That is a highly unlikely scenario. The point of political policing, however, is that the Garda is operating in a political fashion that benefits the Government. For example, the Taoiseach and the Garda Commissioner hold similar views on protests. Last November the Taoiseach stated in the House that protestors in Jobstown had acted "like hounds after a fox," thereby depicting them as wild savages rather than people who were livid following six years of austerity. The Garda Commissioner, Ms Nóirín O'Sullivan, described some of the protests against water charges as unacceptable in "tone and sentiment."
I received a letter from a garda following my contribution last week.
I will read a short segment which describes how he feels about being asked to intervene in the water charges issue. He states:
What is really bringing the Gardai into disrepute is not the water charge protesters, but the government that is using us against them. As a Garda, I am to prevent protesting the installation of water meters, but as a worker, I am not paying when the bills drop in April. An Garda Siochana is paying a heavy price for their role in the introduction of the water tax. We are losing credibility with the ordinary man and woman. Successive governments have long since willed the Gardai of our country to be protectors of corporate Ireland and their vested interests at the expense of workers.Is this garda not right? Are the Garda and the courts not being used to defend corporate interests and the establishment, as we see in the anti-water charge protests and have seen in the cases of the Greyhound and Thomas Cook workers, Rossport and many other circumstances? How else could one describe the current policing of communities which are protesting against the installation of water meters that do not benefit them, that only benefit companies, including some which are owned by the richest man in Ireland, Mr. Denis O'Brien?
I reject the Deputy's charge that the Garda is operating on the basis of political direction. That is outrageous. Gardaí operate on the directions of the Garda Commissioner who runs the day-to-day operations of the Garda. In that context, they do not operate to any mandate from any Government and cannot do so.
The Deputy referred to water charge protests and the Anti-Austerity Alliance. I am not sure whether she believes it is appropriate that somebody should not be allowed to get out of a car for more than two hours and be prevented from moving. She has referred to protests that have been taking place for many years in Ross Dumhach. I do not know if she was ever there, but most of those who were protesting were not from the locality or region and, in many cases, not from this country. To say the Garda is operating in a political fashion is completely without basis, false and untrue and the Deputy knows better.
I do not know to which gardaí the Deputy has been speaking or which garda has written to her. If she wishes to publish the letter of the garda in question, we will be happy to see what he has to say. I find it strange, however, that workers who go about the legitimate business of installing water meters which are a measure in reducing water consumption and, therefore, for beating the cap are being told within 30 minutes of their arrival by some of the Anti-Austerity Alliance people who they are, where they live and that they should be very careful. I find that quite sinister.
I completely reject the Taoiseach's comments. Not all of the approximately 350 groups protesting against the water charges come under the auspices of the Anti-Austerity Alliance. Ongoing commentary in the media and sections of the establishment suggests the protest in Jobstown went beyond the Pale, perhaps because the Tánaiste is female or because she was delayed for two hours.
The point the garda makes in his letter is that gardaí are being asked to go to civil protests in the heart of communities to act on behalf of the Government in the implementation of water charges and on behalf of companies in the installation of water meters. Many gardaí are not happy in doing this. Far from defending the Garda last week, the Taoiseach was defending Government policy and the Government's use of the Garda. Is that not the case?
The Deputy made a series of comments, as opposed to asking a question. On her remark about women being assaulted in Áras Attracta and the use of Garda resources in County Mayo, that is a serious case that is being investigated.
The Deputy seems to know that nobody has been arrested. I cannot comment on that matter, as it is one for the Garda and investigations are taking place in the Health Service Executive. It should never have happened. I attended the opening of a geriatric unit in Dublin.
Those who were involved in the protest about water charges had no interest in the people in the geriatric unit. Their intention seemed to be to knock gardaí and kick them on the ground. That seemed to be the intention of those who were protesting-----
For that reason, I reject what she said about the gardaí operating in a political fashion here. They have a job to do that is very difficult and it is not being helped by some of the clients that I see on the streets. It might be far more in their interest if they looked around the country to see the many places that have inferior water and that have no facilities in terms of being able to do business in the way one would expect.
We cannot deal with those challenges unless we have a system of investing to fix and investing for the future. All those people could help in their own small way. A man approached me with two pints in his hands complaining about the charge. I reminded him that one pint would pay for his water as a single person for a couple of weeks.