SHAUN CONNOLLY: Evictions bring home to us the cynicism of Government

THE long-anticipated wave of repossessions has suddenly turned tidal: 8,000 cases are surging though the courts.

In Limerick, 219 actions were listed for yesterday, yet, in a grim political irony of our age, people were transfixed by the stand-off at Gorse Hill, which was part property porn, part semi-farce.

A developer and his wife, who have debts of €71m, refusing to leave their lavish, Italianate mansion, hardly made for the most sympathetic of characters, but the nation was drawn to their predicament.

Why, even broadcaster Vincent Browne stormed past the self-styled New Land League to peak through their curtains. He seemed to be launching his very own version of Through The Keyhole, or, perhaps ‘Lifestyles Of The Rich And Infamous’, as he cajoled a motley crew of media to follow him to the front door of the beautiful bayside property.

And while the sun glinted on the sea below, the sun was setting on the hopes of families clinging on to far more modest properties across the country.

Why, it has got so bad even the Government has finally noticed and is threatening to actually do something — but at its usual pace, which makes the average snail seem like Usain Bolt on Red Bull.

With 118,000 family homes in arrears and 37,400 of those for two or more years, the situation remains stark, but do not fear, for the big Coalition idea of the insolvency service has now racked up the grand total of 199 resolutions.

Ever the master of inanity, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, shrugged and told the Dáil: “It is disappointing, I suppose, that not as many cases have gone through as one might have expected.”

Erm, that’s 199 cases out of 118,000 mortgages in arrears. That is a little bit more than “disappointing” Taoiseach; it is utterly pathetic.

Shame somebody did not warn Enda that would be the exact result when the banks were left with the whip hand in any insolvency negotiations.

Oh, but that’s right, they did warn him, repeatedly, and he just ignored it.

Just as Mr Kenny and the rest of the Government ignored the outcry over the cruel, mass medical-card cull for more than a year.

Just as they ignored the predictions from all corners that the Irish Water set-up would be a wasteful disaster and needed an urgent overhaul if its laudable aim of investing in the shonky supply system was to keep a semblance of public support.

But like medical cards and Irish Water before it, the Government knows it will have to perform yet another humiliating U-turn on repossessions by reducing the bankruptcy period to one year to scare the debt-holders into cutting a deal.

Labour has backed a private members’ bid by Willie Penrose to bring in the bankruptcy reform the Government should have brought in as a matter of urgency four years ago.

Bankruptcy is not the solution to all this. But the threat of it being available along the relatively fast-track time-scale of Britain and the North is the only way to stop banks turfing out families, as they cash-in on a property market that is finally rising out of negative equity.

But Labour leader Joan Burton is letting it drift on, as if blithely unaware of the emergency unfolding through the courts.

This stance is emblematic of a Labour Party that does not seem to know if it is still in Government, or should use its time left in office to prepare for opposition.

So, Labour is now against the Government policy of a three- to eight-year bankruptcy period that it approved — against all the warnings that it would be woefully ineffective — just two years ago, but will not insist on the reform as it still exhibits an unfortunate cravenness to the banks.

It is a similar case with legislation to ease restrictions on terminations for fatal-foetal abnormality pregnancies.

After opposing Clare Daly’s bill to allow abortions in such tragic cases, one Labour TD is to bring in a very similar attempt to change the legislation, though it has little hope of actually going anywhere.

And the party has affirmed its intention of holding a referendum on the repeal of the eighth amendment, which insists the life of the mother and unborn have equal legal weight.

But why wait until after the next election to do this?

Why not use the referendum ballot in May?

That would show Labour still had some spine — and a future — but, instead, like bankruptcy and the fatal-foetal issue, we just get mealy-mouthed concern with no concrete action.

When considering the ‘irony award of the week’, honourable mention has to go to Finance Minister Michael Noonan, after he insisted we should all stop “scapegoating” developers for the crash and move on.

I wonder if he will follow his own advice and cease scapegoating Fianna Fáil, for their pivotal role in the economic collapse, in the run-up to the general election? Hardly.

But the stand-out moment of ironic grimness must, again, go to Mr Kenny, for telling public-sector employees they must be careful not to “lose the run” of themselves over pay claims.

That would be the same Mr Kenny who insists he is “very much” worth €3,500 a week. This at a time when the minimum-waged Leinster House ushers, who have a basic salary as low as €24,000 a year, face having their allowances for working highly unsocial hours slashed. They could be down €5,000 a year.

But why should Mr ‘Because I’m Worth It’ Kenny be bothered about that, as its less than ten days’ pay for him?

Maybe that’s why the financial reality of thousands of families who face losing their houses does not seem to hit home with him at all.


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