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mMick Wallace TD has called for the immediate suspension of mortgage repayments for those who own apartments at Priory Hall. It is accepted that financial institutions have an obligation to inspect properties before they offer mortgages to customers. In this case, it is clear that banks provided finance without carrying out a reasonable assessment of the property.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Deputy Wallace said “banks must take some responsibility. Before parting with their money, the financial institution will always insist on the property being inspected by an architect, engineer or valuer of their choosing. Clearly, in the case of Priory Hall the financial institution appointed inspector was negligent”. He added that “there is no doubt that primary responsibility lies with the builder. The architect and engineer who signed off on the project were also negligent as were the local authority. But the mind-set that banks bare no responsibility to their customer needs to be challenged, particularly so when they are part of the problem”. Deputy Wallace insists that through no fault of the owners, “the value of apartments at Priory Hall has been irreparably damaged and there needs to be some financial write down by the institutions concerned. Government support for the residents on this issue will be essential”. Earlier this week, Deputy Wallace called for greater supervision in the construction industry. He commented that “when there is an inspection once a week or once a fortnight, an inspector can only see what is visible and cannot see what has already been covered up”. Wallace called for serious changes to the manner in which building work is supervised and regulated. Residents from the Priory Hall apartment complex in Donaghmede left their homes this week as the building failed to meet fire safety standards. Over 240 people have been moved to emergency hotel accommodation for at least five weeks. You can click here to watch the full discussion between Mick and Minister Brian Hayes from today's Dáil sitting regarding Priory Hall. The dialogue is available below. Mick Wallace I promise this will be more peaceful. I raise the issue of Priory Hall, which we all know has become an absolute nightmare for those involved. The madness of it has meant the people there have had to move into hotel accommodation or apartment accommodation, often at quite a distance from where they work or where their kids go to school. It is a frightening scenario and hopefully there will not be too many more, but I would not be shocked if there was. There is much responsibility involved in this. The builder is the main culprit. The architect signed off on stuff that clearly was not correct. The engineer signed off on stuff that was not correct. The local authority clearly did not regulate the matter or supervise the construction project in the correct manner. I would also argue that the bank must take some responsibility. If anybody wants to get a mortgage for a new apartment or house in this country, the bank will insist on either an architect, engineer or valuer of its choosing inspecting the property before it agrees to part with the money. Whoever went out to inspect this on behalf the bank did not do a good job. The bank must take some responsibility in the whole affair. For starters, there is no way that the people who have been moved out of these apartments should have to make their repayments while they are not in them. All payments should be suspended. Even if the builder fixes the problems to a certain acceptable level, the apartments in Priory Hall would not be worth the money that they were worth even two weeks ago. They have been downgraded dramatically. Nobody in their right mind would buy an apartment off any of the residents in Priory Hall if they wanted to sell on. It is a complete non-runner. The bank needs to take that on board, given that it is very much part of the equation. The residents deserve a write-down on their mortgage, given that this was no fault of theirs. Like everybody else, the bank has a responsibility and it should accept that. Brian Hayes I thank the Deputy for raising this important topic. The situation in which the residents of Priory Hall find themselves, through no fault of their own, is truly dreadful. It is particularly harrowing for those with young children. The Government is obviously conscious of their plight. In this regard, I am pleased that the National Management Asset Agency has at short notice made available to Dublin City Council a list of 332 units in nine residential developments in the Dublin 11, 13 and 17 areas. More specifically, these are in Clongriffin, Baldoyle, Finglas and on the Malahide Road. The units range from one-bed apartments to four-bed houses. I understand Dublin City Council is now working to match residents’ requirements to available units, which is the first step. The next step is for Dublin City Council to approach the developers involved and agree rental contracts for those units identified as suitable for the residents. Once that is done, NAMA will provide funding to enable the selected units to be completed. This is expected to take two weeks after leasing contracts are signed. I understand Dublin City Council has arranged for some families to move into hotel accommodation. While these arrangements are necessary in the current circumstances, the accommodation is not somewhere that families want to continue living in. Everyone needs their own private space in their own home for which they paid dearly. I want to turn to the contract that the mortgage holder has with the lender. A mortgage agreement is a contract. The terms of a contract cannot be altered without all the original parties or their successors in title giving their consent to the alternation. The Minister for Finance has no powers in this regard and cannot force the lenders to alter the contract to affect a suspension in mortgage repayments. However, I suggest the people involved discuss the matter with their mortgage provider. The Deputy asked a straightforward question. These people have been put on the street through no fault of their own. Would I be paying a mortgage in that circumstance? No, I would not. I would raise with my mortgage provider the issue of the appalling treatment I have received. Why these people have to continue to make mortgage repayments when they have no house in which to live is a fundamental question that their mortgage provider needs to answer. If they encounter difficulties with the mortgage lender in regard to how they are treated in any such negotiations, then a complaint may be made to the Financial Services Ombudsman, who is an independent statutory officer. The Minister for Finance does not have the power to make that order. We have an independent Financial Services Ombudsman to take complaints of this nature, and it would be a useful first step if the residents concerned initiated those proceedings, but that is a matter for them. I cannot tell them to do that. I do not have details of which financial institutions, whether covered institutions or not, have lent to Priory Hall residents. The issue remains in the legal sphere and is still subject to litigation. It would not be correct to speculate in the House on the legal process. However, once a decision has been reached through the legal process, the circumstances will then be clearer and any problems in respect of the mortgages in place with the residents will, I am sure, be reviewed by the relevant institutions in light of the court’s findings. Mick Wallace I thank the Minister of State for his positive response. In arguing the toss with banks and other lending institutions on a case by case basis about whether there is room for manoeuvre on a better deal, a write down or compensation for what occurred, some people will be in a poorer position than others. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable people are likely to get the rawest deal when confronting a powerful financial institution. I agree that people will have to discuss the matter with the lending institution, but given that the taxpayer owns a few of these banks which may be involved, I would like to think that if they were not behaving ethically in this case, the Minister of State and his colleagues might have a word with them. Brian Hayes I thank the Deputy. I suppose this is complicated because there are at least four parties involved here. We have the unfortunate individuals who purchased the home, who are in this circumstance and who now have had to move out. We have the lending institutions which provided the funds to allow that purchase to take place. We have the local authority and its responsibility in this entire affair. Finally, we have the builder’s responsibility, the standard of the building and its certification. It is a complicated legal issue that will ultimately have to be determined outside this House. Any effort involving the Government - I am thinking here of the work of the Minister of State, Deputy Penrose and his Department - is all about trying to get the best possible deal for the people in this situation. Any action the Government can take that will help resolve the issue will be taken. We are limited by virtue of the fact that this is part and parcel of a legal process in which we cannot get involved. I hope the remedies set out in my initial reply to the Deputy are there for the regulator to enforce, if complaints are made to him. While I cannot instruct anyone to make a complaint, it is clearly a matter for him if complaints stack up in his office. In the first instance, it is a matter for the residents concerned. The Government will take any action it can to help in the matter.

namaleaks

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Namaleaks is a project that seeks to uncover possible injustice and poor practice related to NAMA (National Asset Management Agency) and financial institutions in Ireland.

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