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mwOn Thursday October 20th Mick spoke on the Report by the Interdepartmental Working Group  on Mortgage Arrears, more commonly known as the Keane Report. The report was commissioned by the Government to offer solutions to those experiencing difficulty repaying their mortgages. In his statement on the report Mick argues that those who face problems meeting payments and groups who provide support for those people need to be consulted in solving this issue. The relationship between the Government and the people needs to be as close as the relationship the Government has with the banks. You can watch his speech here or read the transcript below.

I was always taught that when reading a factual book, the first thing I should do is see who wrote it, when he wrote it and in some contexts, particularly in history, where he came from and his background. When I looked at the Keane report, I was surprised that it came from people who did not have a direct relationship with the problems they addressed. That was a mistake. I am not sure if any of them is struggling to pay a mortgage; perhaps they are. However, I noticed there was no criticism of the banks’ behaviour towards the borrower, despite the fact that there is much evidence of bullying, threats and intimidation from the financial institutions in their relationship with borrowers. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that it is a pretty uneven contest between the borrower and the lender at the moment.

I recently met a group of national organisations who were also very surprised that they had not been involved in this report. I accept that the Government may take some of their ideas on board. Among those present were FLAC, Threshold, Respond, Focus Ireland, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and New Beginning. It was interesting to hear their opinions because they are at the coalface of the problem. They are dealing with the people who are suffering in a serious way on a daily basis. It would have been a great idea on the part of the Government to involve these people in the report.

The Government needs to connect more with civic groups in general, and not just on this issue. The Government has a responsibility to change the level of disconnection between Leinster House and the world outside. I am a newcomer to this House. I have worked all my life on a physical level and on a business level outside in the so-called real world. I am surprised at the level of disconnection. I am surprised at the lack of understanding in here at times of what really goes on outside and what is really happening. We spoke about Priory Hall only this week and I noticed that people do not understand what happens on a building site, but since they were never on a site, that is probably understandable. They will have to address the lack of regulation in the construction industry. It has been there for a long time, in spite of recent CIF protestations. I do not recall the CIF asking for more regulation over the past ten years. If the Government is to address the problem, its members need to speak to the people who work on building sites and learn from them.

I wish there was a closer relationship between the Government and the people when it comes to mortgages. I wish it was as close as the relationship between the Government and the banks. There is more interaction between the Government and the banks than there is between the Government and the people. The mortgage crisis is worse at this stage, and that is not surprising because things are becoming difficult for many people. They are falling further behind with their payments and they have a great deal of other debt. We still seem to lack a proper way of measuring that debt for some reason. We do not know what they owe, between credit cards, utility bills and so on. We probably do not realise just yet how poor many people are.

The top priority of the Government has to be to keep people in their homes and not to drive them into poverty. Whether the person is in trouble due to his own fault or due to the lender’s fault is a different argument. I am not very happy with the current perception that the borrower is the person who always needs to be forgiven. A great deal of forgiveness is required for the lender as well and we need to have a serious look at how we think about the way banks relate to their customers. I do not see much sense of responsibility shown by lenders towards borrowers, but they should accept responsibility. When a borrower takes money from a lender, there has to be more scrutiny of the agreement and there must be a level of fairness in it. The notion that any lender can demand payment of all money owed at 24 hours notice is outrageous. It is completely unrealistic. Who can come up with it?

In my predicament last week with ACC, it was hardly surprising that I could not come up with €19 million overnight. However, let us say a Member in here still owes €200,000 on his mortgage, can he imagine the banks giving him 24 hours to pay that? It would be very difficult for anybody to do that, and not just the builders and developers who might be in a difficult place. We seem to think there is a stigma attached to people who owe money. We have heard a lot of talk about “can’t pay, won’t pay”. Of course, we do not want people cheating the system, that is, people who could pay getting away with not paying. However, there is an unfair stigma developing about the people who are in trouble. In this regard, I saw two elements in the report. It stated that those who can meet their mortgage obligations must do so. It also said mortgage holders are not entitled to any particular mortgage solutions. There is a sense that borrowers are morally questionable, yet there is not a word about lenders being morally questionable and, God knows, they have not covered themselves in glory.

A point that is pretty obvious to us all was pointed out by the group New Beginning. It is that there is unlikely to be a recovery in the economy until we resolve what is now a mortgage crisis. Until ordinary people can return to economic normality, the real economy will stagnate, which means unemployment, emigration, misery and injustice, too, for a lot of people.

A Dublin man, Michael Lamb, wrote to me and other TDs about his family and his mortgage predicament. He wrote: “As it stands, we can just about cover the monthly repayments and, as such, do not appear as a statistic in the reports that are currently circulating on people who are experiencing mortgage difficulties. My family, including my two young children, make many sacrifices to pay the monthly repayments which would not be possible without the help of our parents.” It is so difficult for so many people, and it is a lot worse than we realise. There will have to be some sort of write-down for some people who really cannot pay.

The mortgage-to-rent scheme is dependent on housing organisations that were not going to get access to money themselves and are already seriously overstretched. I realise it can be difficult to involve a local authority in that situation but it is something the Minister will have to examine.

Looking to the future, we must surely rethink our whole philosophy on housing. In the 1940s, 70% of housing was social but since 2000 it has been 6%. That cannot continue. The notion that everybody will be able to afford a home is unsustainable. The State should change its mindset and consider having a serious social housing programme if it wanted to take proper care of its citizens.

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