PMB – Mortgage Arrears

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this motion.

 

This Government inherited a severe mortgage crisis.  Too often discussions on this mortgage crisis are dominated by facts and figures when in reality we should be focusing on the social problems it is causing, the untold sleepless nights, the children who will grow up hearing an on-going battle in their home because unsustainable mortgage debt has placed insurmountable financial obstacles in front of the family.

 

There has been some good news on the economic front in recent weeks, including the deal on the promissory note and the recent announcement of the sale of Irish Life and buoyed by that good news, it is now necessary that our full focus is brought to bear on the problem of unsustainable mortgage debt, because, put simply, failure to tackle this problem will allow this tsunami of misery to continue in homes all across Ireland.

 

We have all dealt with cases where families faced with an impossible debt are paying a huge emotional price in terms of their daily living.  I have come across a case where a man on disability, with no other income, living in a house built on his parents farm, which is unsalable as it is of little use to anyone else, is still pursued by the bank for an astronomical sum and despite repeated attempts, the bank has failed abysmally to open any line of communication with this man in terms of a write down, causing huge upset and worry for him and his elderly parents.

 

There is much talk of moral hazard and many people who never took out large mortgages will find the prospect of a write down difficult to comprehend, but what must be communicated is the extremely high social price that is being paid daily for the alternative.  No solution will be a one-size fits all panacea, but some solution has to be arrived at.

 

I know that many aspects of the October 2011 report of the Inter Departmental Mortgage Arrears Working Group have been implemented, including the Personal Insolvency Bill and the Mortgage to Rent Scheme, but I am looking forward to the Central Bank’s report on its expectations in terms of the banks achieving lasting solutions with mortgage customers in arrears.

 

Currently, our smaller towns and villages are being strangled by the lack of spending power of ordinary families.  These ordinary families don’t have any money to spend because all of their income is being gobbled up by the banks as they try desperately to keep a roof over their heads.

Until ordinary families begin to spend modest amounts of their hard-earned money in their local economy, the downward spiral will continue.

 

Alternatively, if these people found that their unsustainable mortgage debt was dealt with, it would allow them to begin to live again, to make simple everyday purchases within their reach and to provide the economic lifeblood that our local towns, towns such as Tuam and Loughrea in my own constituency, require so urgently.

Achieving this will require a sea-change in the banks and I believe that we, as legislators, have the power to institute such change.  It simply has to happen because the alternative will consign generations to the economic scrapheap.

 

The Irish people bailed out the banks, yet there appears to be little or no recognition of that fact in the prevailing culture in the banks, as they attempt to squeeze every cent out of hard pressed families. It is crucial that proper monitoring be put in place to ensure that the banks so not employ sleight-of-hand, as they have done in the past, to sidestep measures introduced which are designed to force the banks to engage with householders whose debt is unsustainable.

 

Another issue of great importance in relation to the motion before us tonight relates to social housing.  Every week, in towns such as Portumna, Headford and Tuam, I am encountering people who are experiencing huge difficulty in securing social housing.  These people have been on the housing list for many years, it is not unusual to encounter people who have been on the waiting list in County Galway for five to seven years, yet all around them they see half-finished housing estates with houses that would make lovely family homes, lying abandoned and unfinished.  NAMA needs to work more closely with councils such as Galway County Council with a view to providing a much-needed boost to the county’s housing stock, both in terms of greater numbers and higher quality housing.

 

 

The work of NAMA needs to be more focused on providing a social dividend as well as an economic dividend and I believe that if NAMA in future works more closely with local authorities, it will enable those authorities to house people more quickly and reduce the prevalence of people living for many years in what is temporary accommodation for their family and instead allow them to move to a permanent home.