Wednesday 22 October 2014

Arrears crisis needs a carrot-and-stick approach

Published 11/02/2013 | 04:00

NO Irish politician wants to be remembered as the man or woman who ushered in a wave of home repossessions.

We have a collective memory of bad landlords evicting starving peasants from their cottages and forcing them to emigrate to America.

That folk memory is so strong that we had a ridiculous scenario last year where Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore took to the national airwaves to describe the eviction of a landlord from his luxury home as "saddening" and "distressing".

The landlord owned 21 other houses.

This reluctance to play the bad cop has led to an absurd situation where the number of repossessions is falling every year while the number of people in arrears continues to soar.

The Government and the Central Bank know this makes no sense – there is no incentive for anybody to repay their mortgage.

Struggling

There is already evidence that Irish people stop repaying too quickly. The number of mortgages in arrears here is much higher than in other countries struggling with the fallout from the financial crisis. In Spain, for example, where unemployment is running at more than 25pc, the level of arrears is far below ours.

The Government is about to embark on an ambitious scheme to write-down mortgage debt for those with debts of less than €3m. This will be popular with those who have their debts written off, and the Government is doubtless looking forward to picking up a few votes.

The Central Bank knows the scheme will be an expensive failure that will destroy the banks and cost the taxpayer billions unless it is accompanied by repossessions for those who are not bothering to try.

The bank's Patrick Honohan (pictured) has asked for a stick as well as a carrot. The Government must now fashion a stick and let him get on with his job.

Irish Independent

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