Accusations that Finance Minister Michael Noonan is a “vulture-fund lover” sparked a major row at the Oireachtas Housing Committee yesterday.
During his contribution to the committee, Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation chief David Hall was speaking about the lack of supply of new homes when he spoke about Mr Noonan.
Fine Gael deputies objected to the remark and the disagreement led one TD to walk out.
Mr Hall had been answering questions from AAA-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger when he criticised Mr Noonan.
Ms Coppinger referred to Mr Noonan’s previous comments to the committee where he said that “vultures provide a very good service in the ecology through cleaning up dead animals that are littered across the landscape”.
She noted that Mr Noonan has had as many as eight meetings with such funds. Responding to Ms Coppinger, Mr Hall said: “Minister Noonan falls into the vulture lover category.”
Fine Gael TDs Catherine Byrne and Bernard Durkan objected to the description of Mr Noonan as being favourable to the so-called vulture funds that have bought Irish properties and loan books and demanded that the record be corrected.
“Chairman, a reference was made to the fact that the Minister for Finance was a vulture-fund lover. I object to that and I want it corrected,” said Mr Durkan.
He argued that it was not fair to make such references to Mr Noonan when he was not there to defend himself and that the issues “can’t be left in the ether”.
Ms Byrne, TD for Dublin South Central, weighed in, calling for Mr Hall to withdraw his comments.
“I support what Deputy Durkan said. I believe it is wrong for anybody to come to the committee and make accusations about an individual, a minister or a deputy,” she said.
“I am disappointed that Mr Hall has decided to use this opportunity — on live television — to make a statement about the minister. It is wrong and it should be withdrawn.”
Ms Byrne walked out of the committee room after saying she was “disappointed” with the remarks.
Mr Hall was addressing the committee on the problem of mortgage arrears as part of its deliberations on the housing crisis. Mr Hall said the country faces a homelessness “catastrophe” unless there is a “radical” solution to help 100,000 people living in households that are in arrears.
The committee also heard from Lorcan O’Connor, the head of the State’s Insolvency Service. Given the scale of the crisis, Mr O’Connor was pressed as to why the numbers using the service have been so low.
Mr O’Connor said the ISI has helped more than 1,000 people do new personal insolvency arrangements and in excess of 3,000 people overall. He said the service has in some cases “saved lives”.
“For those people, it has been hugely valuable,” he said. “Much of the feedback we have received is that it is life-changing or has even saved lives in some cases because we are dealing with such a sensitive subject.
“I would, however, have expected the numbers to be higher than they are, given what we have come through in recent years. Ours is a new organisation and it takes time for people to become familiar with the solutions but we do need to work on communications.”
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