Seanad debates

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Mortgage Arrears: Statements, Questions and Answers


5:00 pm

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)

There is an article in a newspaper but I do not accept it. What the article was based on is entirely anecdotal. No substantial study has been made whereby anyone can make this conclusion. The great majority of people want to pay but cannot do so because of their circumstances. I ask people to be fair in their reporting of these matters. Obviously in circumstances where people are crippled with mortgage repayments they will try to find a way out and it is our responsibility in working with the banks to ensure such solutions are ultimately fine. The Senator is correct to state most people want to continue to make their repayments and I fully accept this.

Senator Quinn asked whether people could use some of their pension payments now for the purpose of paying back debt to allow them return to the real economy and function. I have heard him ask this question previously and his colleague, Senator Crown, also referred to this point. It would have a knock-on effect on the domestic economy and would raise concerns about its effect on mortgage arrears and about the current level of pension savings not being sufficient to meet the expectations that exist. We will examine the issue. All of these issues are being worked on. If such a situation were to arise the question for the State would be whether a person using his or her savings for future income requirements would create a greater liability for the State because it would be expected to make up the balance. This debate must be held. Certainly there is some logic to some freeing up to allow people to do so but it would probably be in limited cases. We are examining it, but we would have to balance the potential liability of the State.

Senators raised the issue of personal insolvency legislation. Senator Quinn mentioned the UK legislation, and the Bill proposed by the Government is similar to this but goes further in dealing with secured debt, which the UK legislation does not. One of the reasons we have produced the Bill in draft form is to ensure it encompasses international best practice. We have learned from some of the defects of the UK legislation, which is why the Minister, Deputy Shatter, wants to ensure he has robust legislation that will stand the test of time, will deal with the problem and will unlock the potential as I mentioned in my opening speech.

These are my reflections at this point. I note the colossal interest of the House in this issue, which is shared by us all. I understand people have shown significant patience with the Government and, as I stated, I readily admitted there is frustration throughout the Government about the pace and scale of meeting the challenge. However, we are getting there. In the latter half of this year we will begin to see a range of options being rolled out on negative equity, split mortgages and other options being worked through. They will not solve everyone's problem and I very much take the point made by Senator Michael D'Arcy that in some cases the circumstances will be so difficult and dire for individuals that they may well be faced with the option of moving on. The entire focus of the Government, as was stated in the programme for Government, is to ensure people can remain in their homes. In the great majority of cases this can be successfully achieved if the banks work with us and produce the solutions required. In the great majority of cases this will be achieved. However, as has been rightly stated there will be a minority of cases where it cannot be achieved because of the level of indebtedness and unrealistic prospects faced by people.

The Government is always open to examining new ideas. It is very easy to make a political speech on this but quite frankly it will not solve anything. It is an appalling mess that must be sorted out. By endorsing the recommendations of the Keane report, and through the insolvency legislation we are bringing through the Houses and our dialogue with the banks which I accept is slower than was originally envisaged, we are showing our determination to resolve the issue and produce the options required. I accept what Senator Darragh O'Brien stated. The situation will deteriorate as the economy deteriorates. The key task we face is to get the economy to a better position so people are given a chance to stay in their homes. This is the objective of the Government and we can achieve it if we work together. The Government is minded to support positive ideas from this House and the committees.


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