THERE has been a dramatic fall in the number of evictions in the capital because banks are desperate to avoid being "left with empty properties", the Dublin sheriff has said.
Figures obtained by the Evening Herald show that there was just 10 evictions carried out in Dublin in 2012 – one of the lowest figures in years.
Banks issued the Sheriff’s Office a total of 67 court orders – but demanded evictions in just 10 cases.
Among the individuals evicted from their homes were disgraced property developer Tom McFeely and Killiney couple, Brendan and Asta Kelly.
In an exclusive interview, Dublin sheriff John Fitzpatrick said banks have adopted a “completely different attitude than previous recessions”.
He spoke about how bank bosses are now “holding back” when it comes to demanding evictions on the back of court orders.
“In the 1980s, I was overseeing an eviction every day in Dublin. Back then banks would demand evictions. They would insist on it and we’d have to do it. But there has been a complete shift in attitude which is reflected in this year’s figures,” he said.
“Now what they’ll do is they’ll deal with people and they’ll try and come to an arrangement. They’re holding us back which is great because we don’t enjoy evicting people.
“The banks don't want these houses, why would they want a load of empty properties? They'd have to put security into them. Sure that would cost them a fortune.”
Mr Fitzpatrick, who has served as a sheriff for more than 30 years, told about the challenges of removing people from their homes.
Since taking up the job, he has narrowly avoided stabbings and beatings – which he says is often because of the assistance of gardai.
In one instance, the 69-year-old was inches away from being seriously injured by a crossbow.
“I was doing an eviction in west Dublin but the guy wouldn’t open door. We forced ourselves in – I was accompanied with a young guard armed with a type of shield. We broke in the door and the guy was top of the stairs with a crossbow.
“The weapon was fired at me but bounced off the shield. Only for the guard it would have gone right though me.”
Developers, millionaires, families and priests are among those who Mr Fitzpatrick has been forced to eject from their homes.
“Emotions have to be left at the door, absolutely. We don’t like evictions – it’s the one thing we don’t like and never did. But it’s part of the job and there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.
“It can be quite traumatic for people. That's why I've always said to the lads – listen, take it easy, this will be traumatic for some people. The old hardy annuals who wouldn’t pay anyone wouldn’t give a damn anyway but for the ordinary person it would be so you have to take it easy and not humiliate them or take their dignity away. But if you talk to people normally you will be able to work it out. People often say to me: well you are only doing your job.”
Mr Fitzpatrick’s office is backed by legislation which allows him and his staff to enter properties by “any means necessary”.
And he admits that some of his staff, many of whom are former gardai, are so talented they could “climb into Mountjoy unnoticed”.
“I had one guy who was like a wizard. We stuck him up the drainpipe at a house and he got in unnoticed,” he said.
Mr Fitzpatrick spoke briefly about the eviction of Killiney couple Brendan and Asta Kelly who were forcefully removed from their home in April.
“That was a case that was different, in that the man wanted to make a point against the banks. We tried for a number of hours to resolve that one but we weren't going to be able to do it. They wanted to stay their ground and on the other side the bank was saying ‘we want possession' so it was a no win job, we had to do it.”
His staff also carried out the most high-profile eviction of 2012 – when they seized on the former home of Priory Hall developer Tom McFeely.
“Number two Aylesbury road was an eviction that attracted a lot of attention given who lived there,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.
Mr Fitzpatrick said he and his staff “saw the bust coming” after experiencing an increase in court orders in 2006.
“I remember arguing with a banker over this, because we were getting an increase when you would imagine we shouldn’t be getting an increase, when times were good – in and around 2006 and 2007 we saw that coming, the numbers began to increase so obviously people weren’t able to pay their debts and bang.”
John Fitzpatrick stepped down as Dublin City Sheriff on New Years Eve but will continue to serve as Dublin County Sheriff until the end of 2013.