JUST as the worst consequences of the economic collapse begin to recede for a growing number of people, one legacy issue is reaching a decisive moment for our society and for tens of thousands of individuals and families.
Huge and growing numbers of people are in court and face the prospect of losing their family home because they cannot repay their mortgage in a way that satisfies their creditors.
Lives are being redefined in the most profound ways and the most powerful influence in this terribly sad process, despite everything we have learnt over the last decade, remains the banks.
The Dáil has been told that the number of home repossession cases has increased so dramatically that additional court sittings have to be scheduled to deal with them.
The Seanad heard recently that 8,164 civil bills for an order of possession were lodged in the circuit court last year and that the pressure is so great that some cases are being heard by county registrars rather than judges.
It has been suggested that this surge is because the banks believe that rising house prices, especially in Dublin, give them an opportunity to recoup some of the losses they would have faced heretofore if they were forced to sell a home because it was in arrears.
This unbalanced situation has been recognised by the Taoiseach who told the Dáil last month that he was “not happy” that some banks ignore recommendations made by the personal insolvency practitioners to deal with distressed mortgages but this unhappiness did not ring so deeply that it provoked a decisive intervention.
Fianna Fáil have, however, responded with a bill that cuts straight to the heart of the matter and confronts the situation where an utter imbalance of power exposes consumers and protects the banks in a way that seems unfair, unjustifiable and socially dangerous.
Detailing his party’s Family Home Mortgage Settlement Arrangement Bill Fianna Fáil spokesperson on finance Michael McGrath warned that “there is now a clear strategy on the part of banks to step up legal action for repossession of family homes in cases where people have fallen in to arrears”.
To counteract this situation, and to offer a degree of protection to people in genuine mortgage arrears, the FF bill proposes to remove the banks’ incomprehensible veto on proposals to restructure a family home mortgage made through the personal insolvency process.
This simple gesture, this obviously fair and appropriate legislative intervention, could have huge positive implications.
It would force the banks to accept that they sometimes lent unwisely, that their objectives are not always the most important and that individuals cannot be picked off one-by-one as the fancy takes them.
It would also restore a degree of faith in the battered, bruised and quaint idea that the State exists to protect its citizens.
The nature of our tribal political system means that Mr McGrath’s bill will not be endorsed but it should be because it represents a fair and pretty minimal response to an industry that, on this issue at least, still seems indifferent to anything other than its own needs.
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