Honohan tells banks: 'act on home loan arrears'
Published 11/02/2013 | 04:00
THE Governor of the Central Bank has sharply criticised the country's biggest lenders for failing to tackle the mortgage arrears crisis.
Patrick Honohan said he was not satisfied with the pace of loan restructuring and said that senior management at the Central Bank were "tearing their hair out" at the lack of action from banks to get people "back on target".
He said addressing the slow rate of progress on the mortgage crisis would be the Central Bank's priority following the securing of a deal on the nation's debt problems.
And he warned that the Central Bank was so concerned about the lack of progress on mortgages that it was close to issuing directions to the banks on how to deal with the matter.
Almost one in five of all mortgages (17pc) are currently in arrears, with 135,628 homeowners failing to meet their commitments.
Despite the crisis, progress on restructuring loans was "not good enough" and if banks didn't begin dealing with the problem the Central Bank would step in, he warned.
"They're (homeowners in arrears) not being dealt with in sufficient numbers and that's why we're tearing our hair out... this simply isn't good enough.
"There's ongoing progress to get them to work more quickly, the sorting of people who have to be brought back on target and those who need relief.
"I'm not satisfied at all that the banks have made as much progress as I would have expected.
"They haven't made up their minds exactly how to make these choices and as time goes on, we're getting close to being more directive," Prof Honohan told RTE's 'The Week in Politics'.
Prof Honohan's comments came as new figures from the Courts Service show the number of repossession orders have sharply dropped.
Last year, 198 orders were made in the High Court, down 30pc from 2011, while 256 orders were made in the Circuit Court, down 27pc from 2011.
The applications relate to all properties, including a family home, farm, factory or business premises. Central Bank figures show a total of 944 residential properties have been repossessed.
Experts said the reason for the drop in repossession orders was because of a July 2011 High Court ruling which found that a lender could not apply for a repossession order where a mortgage was created before December 2009, but a demand for full payment was not made until after that date.
David Hall, from the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation, said the decision of Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne meant all legal proceedings had to be reviewed.
"The impact is big," he said. "There's a couple of thousand proceedings begun. It's just a complete waste of money because they're being adjourned all the time.
"The banks have an allergic reaction to debt forgiveness... This is a crisis and the response from the banks has been painstakingly slow.
"We have the Taoiseach, Tanaiste and Central Bank telling the banks what to do as they're not doing enough. What is the borrower supposed to do? Every single report, quarter on quarter, shows an increase in the arrears figures."
Prof Honohan added there was a risk to the Central Bank directing the banks as it might not solve people's "real problems".
"If we tell them what to do, they absolve themselves of responsibility," he said.
Meanwhile, Prof Honohan dismissed reports that he was rebuked by government ministers for failing to get the European Central Bank to sign off on the Anglo debt deal quickly enough.
Prof Honohan said there had been an "element of nervousness" about the delay in getting a deal but denied he had been criticised by ministers.
"That is just absolutely not (the case). We had discussions about how to deliver this as soon as possible," he said.
He also said that he believed the leak about the plan to liquidate IBRC, which forced the Government to bring in emergency legislation, came from Europe rather than Dublin.
"I have not landed on the definite answer. It's not obvious to me that it was in anybody's interests. The possibility is that it was a careless leak," he said.