Wednesday 20 September 2017

Finance chief 'crass and out of touch' over mortgages

Secretary General of the Department of Finance John Moran
Secretary General of the Department of Finance John Moran

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

THE head of the Department of Finance was admonished for his "crass, insensitive and out-of-touch" warning on repossessions, the Irish Independent understands.

Cabinet ministers were angered by secretary general John Moran speaking of an "unnaturally low level of repossessions" and felt he was not articulating government policy.

Mr Moran also said homeowners could not expect the taxpayer to subsidise them to remain in a house "that is beyond their means".

His comments sparked a furious reaction from the country's largest trade union, calling for a better solution "than terrorising people out of their homes".

SIPTU general president Jack O'Connor said calls for more repossessions of homes were "reprehensible and barbaric".

The senior civil servant's testimony to the Dail Public Accounts Committee annoyed both Fine Gael and Labour Party ministers as it left the wrong "impression" with homeowners and the banks.

"It is a matter of government policy to avoid repossessions. The impression left is repossessions is the order of the day," a government source said.

"They have to be part of the mix but that's not to say the low rate is to be regretted. There have been repossessions and there will have to be. But this gives mixed messages to banks and homeowners."

Ministers felt Mr Moran failed to stress that repossessions should be a last resort and their dissatisfaction has been articulated.

"It was an economic analysis, rather than an articulation of government policy. It has been communicated," a coalition source said.

"The government policy is very clear in this that repossessions are a last resort after all other options have been explored. We don't see it that not enough people being turfed out of their houses is a problem.

"He was being crass, insensitive and out of touch. He is certainly out of step with broad government policy.

"His language, his tone and the substance of what he is saying is out of kilter with what his own minister is saying."

The Department of Finance said it was not aware of disapproval being expressed with Mr Moran's performance.

Mr Moran answered the questions put to him by the Dail PAC "honestly".

"There is no change in government policy. He set out the factual position. I don't think there is any uncertainty or ambiguity," the spokesman said.

"Repossession is something that in the vast, vast majority of cases would not be considered."

Cuts

Mr Moran also annoyed ministers recently by suggesting the €1bn proceeds from the promissory note earmarked for less budget cuts could end up being used to reduce borrowings.

"This is the second time in fairly quick succession he has crossed the line in terms of being out of touch with government policy," a source said.

Yesterday, even IMF managing director Christine Lagarde denied the bailout team was ordering the Government to carry out more repossessions.

"Losing of the home is the last, last option to be considered," she said.

SIPTU's Jack O'Connor said the Government must come up with better solutions than repossessions.

"We have to find a better solution to the problems facing our society than terrorising people out of their homes," he said.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said government policy was about keeping people in their homes.

Irish Independent

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