REACTION: What will the bank debt deal mean for me?

In light of the deal on Ireland's bank debt Irish Examiner journalist, Niall Murray, sought some answers to questions about his status as an IBRC mortgage holder, but didn’t find many.

I never thought I’d say this, but I was glad today and late last night night to be owing a six-figure sum to IBRC, the former Anglo Irish Bank.

Glad, I should explain, that I wasn’t one of more than 800 employees who learned from broadcast news or social media on Wednesday evening that my job was going. And glad I didn’t have the uncertainty about money on deposit with a corporation that will be liquidated under a new law passed between teatime and breakfast.

But despite some relief, a few things now remain clear as mud to me about my IBRC mortgage.

Like? Well, who do I now owe the remainder of the debt to? Or can the interest rate, or any other terms, suddenly change overnight at the flick of someone else’s mighty pen? Or how easy will it be for me to switch the loan to another lender while all this is happening?

Some of the most worrying talk was emanating from Dáil Éireann into the early hours of this morning, where TDs were effectively told: ‘vote for this and, sure, the country will be grand.”; talk of special powers being conferred on Finance Minister Michael Noonan, of unconstitutional measures, and questions about interference with property rights.

So it was only half-funny to joke to myself that the standing down of the IBRC board meant I now owe the remainder of my mortgage to, well, nobody.

A lot of questions have arisen for me, and I’m sure thousands of others, since then. So I took to the internet this morning to try and find some answers.

The first port of call was the website of Mr Noonan’s department, where - hidden behind a few innocuous links - I found the legislation that had been passed overnight.

Given the parliamentary draftspeople must have been working secretly on this for some time, I would have thought expectations of public interest and customer or staff concerns would have made it a priority to post the bill (now an Act) on the home pages of the Department of Finance and the Oireachtas.

A Q&A on the department website purported to give some guidance on the kind of concerns I might have. Assuming that my loan falls under the general heading of an IBRC ‘asset’, it appears to suggest my mortgage will be sold by the liquidator, either to another third-party or to NAMA.

Having already been transferred from the Irish Nationwide Building Society, with whom the loan was taken almost a decade ago, to the newly-founded IBRC in 2011, my mortgage will now be changing hands again.

It all sounds and feels rather like the kind of sub-prime mortgage market that brought the whole world economy to where it is today, as rogue financial institutions bundled up thousands of outstanding loans and passed the associated risk to other banks or credit outlets. My understanding of that whole murky situation was that the borrowers knew little or nothing about who they were really making repayments to, or were never even aware their debts were being swapped and sold on virtual markets somewhere in the world-wide-web - or higher still, up in the clouds.

And as things stand, I have to say I feel about as uncertain now about my own standing. A reading from the finance website of Michael Noonan’s opening speech on the IBRC Bill 2013, delivered shortly after the gong of midnight in the early hours, suggests my situation is unchanged. Although his precise words leave that open to interpretation.

“It is critically important that deposit account holders, mortgage account holders, and those indebted to IBRC understand that their situation following the liquidation should generally remain unchanged,” he told TDs.

The word ‘generally’ is what worries me, well, generally. Is it generally enough to mean everything is the same? Or is it generally, except that Section 17 of the bill does, in fact, allow the minister powers beyond the norm, as suggested by some TDs during the passage of the bill. Or generally unchanged, except your interest rate might go in the opposite direction to those Ireland must pay on the Anglo debts.

Section 12, to my reading, says the liquidator can sell my loan or any other asset without regard to any existing contract that might previously have required mine or anyone else’s prior consent.

The preamble of the bill refers to how, in the winding up of IBRC, “the common good may require permanent or temporary interference with the rights, including the property rights, of persons.”

Could that include my home? Could that include me? Who defines the common good? What does it mean by interference? Haven’t constitutional property rights prevented a whole lot of measures being introduced up to now that many people considered to be for the common good? In that event, what’s so different now?

Unfortunately, a phone call to IBRC’s mortgage administration team did not shed any more light on the situation. I was surprised but pleased to even get an answer, and clearly the staff are as much in the dark as the customers.

All I could glean was that my standard end-of-year account statement for 2012 would hopefully issue as normal next week. But until that is sent out, IBRC can not provide a current statement, which I want to have to ensure all is in order when my loan transfers to some other entity unknown.

The person I spoke to, who was alarmingly pleasant in the circumstances, was as helpful as she could be. But she sounded, along probably with her colleagues, to be as much in the dark as the rest of us.

For now, it would seem, my mortgage is still with the soon-to-be liquidated IBRC and will probably remain so until it is formally wound up by the liquidator and then sold on to NAMA or some other organisation. After that, who knows?

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