Fianna Fáil councillor Aengus O’Rourke has called on the Athlone Municipal District to write to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance to deal with the “staggering” number of property repossession cases coming before the circuit courts.
Cllr O’Rourke has suggested that a high-level working group be set up comprising relevant State and banking interests to deal with a situation he deems to be “out of control”.
He pointed to 59 repossession matters that came before Roscommon court on May 16; the 58 matters that came before the court in Athlone on May 23; 24 in Mullingar on June 7; and 17 in Longford on the same date as evidence that the situation has gotten out of hand.
“These numbers I give you today are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “This has been happening for the past 18 months or more and will continue to happen for potentially years. This is a national emergency. If homes are continually allowed to be taken from families and the banks are allowed to walk all over them, which is how it’s been in recent years, then the social and long-term economic cost will be with us for a generation or more.”
Cllr O’Rourke said the last Government has simply allowed the banks to sell their impaired loans to “overseas vulture funds”. “These financial predators prey on vulnerable families in a financially distressed state,” he said. “These families are helpless, demoralised, and now homeless.
“Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process was set up to help people in arrears. It is not fit for purpose as they have no say in the courts process; their findings or recommendations are unenforceable by the courts on the banks, therefore it is of no assistance to those in arrears.”
“Furthermore, there is no legal aid in Civil matters, so if you go before the court on a repossession case and you can’t afford a solicitor you are on your own, again thrown to the wolves.
“On top of this, the norm in a case of repossession is the bank gets possession, they sell the house, they pursue the family for the arrears and the negative equity amount, so repossession is not the end of the nightmare, it’s quite often just the beginning.”
Cllr O’Rourke also spoke of the wider ramifications of taking homes from families: “Look at the wider impact of this on social welfare, social housing, the health service, mental health services, courts services and so on,” he said.
“I am calling on the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance to pull the relevant minds together with the experience and intelligence necessary to put a better process in place that finally protects the people I’ve spoken of here today.”
A letter will now be written to the offices of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan.