A DEBT negotiator involved in the State's new insolvency service has apologised for claiming professionals are entitled to keep trophy homes because of the status of their jobs.
PIP (personal insolvency practitioner) Jim Stafford had also said solicitors or hospital consultants may need larger houses than PAYE workers.
His comments created a storm after he distinguished between indebted workers.
"I would be making a very strong case, for example, that a solicitor should have a bigger house that accords with his professional status in society so that his neighbours and clients can see that, yes, this person is a good solicitor who is living in a good house" Mr Stafford told RTE Radio 1's 'Drivetime with Mary Wilson' on Monday.
"The PIP will have to assess the type of house that might be needed for a professional person such as a solicitor, accountant or a hospital consultant as opposed to a house that's needed by someone who is in the PAYE sector," he said.
Mr Stafford is one of the first people in the country certified to negotiate with banks on behalf of debtors, under a new state-backed debt settlement scheme.
However, last night a PR company issued a statement on his behalf in which he "sincerely apologised" for the "hurt and distress" his public comments made.
"Simply it was not my intention to offend," the statement read.
"In particular, it was not my intention to create a distinction between so-called professional classes and PAYE workers nor appear to further the causes of a particular debtor type.
"I believe that every person has a passionate concern to retain their family home.
"I fully and unreservedly apologise for my comments."
The government agency behind the scheme, Insolvency Service of Ireland, was at pains yesterday to distance itself from Mr Stafford's approach.
"The professional standing of a borrower is not expected to be a factor in this assessment" it said.
But other industry experts said they understood his comments.
"In some jobs, it is true that a certain lifestyle is expected," said another qualified PIP, former Bank of Scotland (Ireland) director Harry Slowey.
"In some cases the ability to generate work is about perception, profile and confidence. If a partner in a top law firm is suddenly driving around in a Fiat Bambino, that will affect their work – it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."
"But at the same time this is a democracy – we can't have one roof for one, and one for another," he added.
Mr Slowey said the banks would ultimately make the decision and everything depended on whether they could be convinced.
Consumer champion David Hall said it was clear a massive class divide was emerging when it came to debt relief.
"It looks like one group of people will get a better deal here, based on their history, even though everyone who is insolvent should be treated the same. It is a totally unequal, crazy system," said Mr Hall.
But others dismissed the idea that professionals such as hospital consultants would be permitted to keep "trophy" homes.
"The PIP can say whatever they want to the client but at the end of the day, the deal has to be sold to the bank," said Tom Kennedy, another qualified PIP.
Defending his comments yesterday to the Irish Independent, Mr Stafford – of corporate recovery and insolvency firm Friel Stafford – said the demand for keeping "trophy" houses was coming from his clients and not himself.
He added that the new personal insolvency laws do not work for people with low or no incomes. His firm turns away four out of five people hoping to settle their debts under the state system because these people can't afford to do a deal with the banks.
Mr Stafford said people on social welfare had only one option – borrowing €15,000 from family and friends to try and do a deal with their lenders.
By Sarah McCabe