THE row over claims by the Master of the High Courts that repossession threats led to suicides among struggling mortgage holders deepened yesterday after bankers dismissed the remarks as inflammatory and emotive.
Latest figures from the Courts Service show more than two repossession orders a day were made in the first three months of this year.
There were 210 repossession orders made in the High Court and Circuit Courts during that period, compared to 173 for the same period last year.
Pat Farrell, chief executive of the Irish Banking Federation, said the banks were going out of their way to help people in arrears and the comments by Edmund Honohan were not helpful. “It ill behoves any of us to use inflammatory language when we are debating these issues,” he said.
Mr Farrell said there were only “handfuls” of homes being taken back by the banks, contrary to Mr Honohan’s prediction two years ago that an avalanche of repossessions was on the way.
“The avalanche has not happened because my members have engaged in extraordinary measures and extraordinary forebearance across mortgage debt and personal debt to ensure that every effort is made to enable people to manage their debts... We have to have honesty in the debate about this issue.”
In response, Mr Honohan, whose remarks in the High Court on Wednesday sparked a furious debate, said the reason the avalanche didn’t happen was because codes of practice giving breathing space to people in arrears were introduced on foot of his warnings.
New Beginnings, a group of 70 barristers and solicitors providing free legal representation to mortgage holders facing repossession, warned the full scale of the debt crisis has not been seen yet because of the moratoriums and the time it took to get a repossession order.
“The question to ask is not how many repossessions have taken place but how many legal proceedings have been issued. It takes two and a half years to repossess someone’s home,” said group co-founder, David Hall. “This crisis began in 2008.”
New Beginnings has proposed three solutions to the problem — debt forgiveness, debt restructuring or elongating the loan period, and ‘non-recourse’ loans where a homeowner in arrears wipes the debt out by handing back their house.
“Introduce legislation to allow for non-recourse loans and let’s see how fast these bankers are at allowing the madness that went on for the last number of years to arise again.”
Mr Honhan also called for debt forgiveness, saying in some cases banks were still pursuing loans they had already written off.
“The way to deal with it is to ensure that it is an offence for a bank official to claim in court that money is due to a bank when it has been written off. Some sort of back of envelope, stroke of pen legislation can in fact produce instant results.”
Mr Honohan also rejected the criticism of his comments on suicide: “What I have is the unfortunate occasional visit to court of a widow and that’s how I learn about these sad events.
“If you understand anything about suicide you will know that if you talk about it, it actually reduces the incidence.”
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