Poll: it's no country for young men or women
Developers, lawyers and celebrities -- nothing to give as the bailiffs circle
In a week when the Taoiseach urged short-term sacrifice to allow a return to prosperity by the centenary of the Easter Rising, more than three-quarters of people say that they have no confidence in the political system to solve the economic crisis.
A Sunday Independent/ Quantum Research nationwide telephone poll also found that 62 per cent did not believe Ireland had anything to offer students who will leave the education system in the next few years.
The results show that, despite attempts by the Government to create a view that the worst of the crisis is over, the vast majority are desp-ondent about the future, something which is deeply affecting the mood of the nation.
Statistics published last week revealed that 6,700 full-time workers lost their jobs in January, bringing to 436,936 the number who claimed the dole last month.
Our telephone poll of 500 households shows that the worries of people in relation to employment is divided: 52 per cent say they are not worried about their ability to earn a living, or to continue to do so, but 48 per cent have precisely those worries.
Full poll details, Page 26 Analysis, Pages 24,25,26,28,36
While those polled try to remain generally upbeat about their ability to keep a roof over their heads, and to pay their bills, the poll also shows that financial worries have had a serious affect on the national mood: 54 per cent said their mood had been "seriously affected", while 46 per cent said it had not.
In a sign of the times, the Sunday Independent can also reveal that officials empowered to seize goods to meet an undischarged debt are coming away empty-handed from the often palatial homes of wealthy developers, lawyers and celebrities.
Dublin County Sheriff John Fitzpatrick said: "A different class of individuals are coming into us. We are getting developers, lawyers, celebrities . . . and for very big money too."
Mr Fitzpatrick is currently handling court judgements worth an estimated €100m against a range of debtors. But he said he will be lucky to retrieve less than a third of what is owed.
His current caseload includes a court order against a property developer for €18m, a judgement of €3m against a solicitor and one for €1.4m against a "celebrity". He does not believe he has a "hope in hell" of getting the money back.
While smaller businesses and individuals are trying to reach a deal with the sheriff's office, Mr Fitzpatrick said: "The other fellows will tell you to feck off or 'I have no money' or 'I'm waiting on Nama'. The attitude of some developers is 'we have nothing' and 'we owe everything to the bank'."
At a dinner attended by business people in Dublin last week, Taoiseach Brian Cowen sought to invoke the centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016 as a "rallying cry" for sacrifices to be made to return to prosperity.
He said: "Yes, we were a generation that lived at a time and place of prosperity, but when challenged we looked to the future and looked beyond our own self-interest and said that, yes, this is a country that is worth working for and building.
"Yes, we can say in 2016 when we get to O'Connell Street and look up at those men and women of idealism that gave us the chance to be the country we are that: 'Yes, we did not fail our children, but we did not fail our country either.'"
In the unemployment figures released last week was a particularly startling disclosure -- that 60,000 young people under the age of 25 have already fled the country.
In the Dail last week, the Taoiseach insisted that the Government was seeking to protect jobs through improving the "competitiveness" of the economy. He said the only way to protect jobs and create new ones was for the country to regain its competitive edge.
"The idea that the Government is not involved in seeking to protect jobs is a nonsense. By taking the decisions we have taken and by improving competitiveness in the economy by seven per cent per unit labour cost compared to our competitors, we are seeking to protect the 1.85 million jobs in the economy," he said.
The opposition is maintaining that the level of emigration among young people is acting as an escape valve, thereby keeping unemployment below the 500,000 mark.
The Sunday Independent/Quantum Research poll has found that 22 per cent now see emigration as an option for themselves, while 78 per cent, mainly older, settled people do not.
The people are doing their best to remain stoic in the ongoing crisis. Asked if they had ever felt ashamed because they could not pay a bill, 73 per cent said no, while 27 per cent said yes.
A slightly larger majority (80 per cent) are not concerned at the possibility of losing their home, while a sizeable 20 per cent of those polled said they were concerned that they could.
The level of personal debt has soared in Ireland in recent years, prompting the Government to promise to overhaul the country's archaic debt laws. The Sherrif's Association has made a submission to the Law Reform Commission (LRC) to modernise the archaic laws on debt recovery.
A key recommendation in a consultation paper on personal debt by the LRC was that a distinction should be made between those who cannot repay their debts and those who will not. It also recommended a new debt enforcement agency and encouraged a timeframe in which people could discharge their debt.
"A lot of the rules we are working on date back to 1926. We asked for powers to deal with the modern-day situation. The main thing we wanted was to get the information on what is owned, such as properties and bank accounts," said Mr Fitzpatrick.
Mr Fitzpatrick is one of 16 bailiffs empowered to seize goods or enforce eviction orders on behalf of Revenue Commissioners, banks and creditors who secure court orders. They are entitled to force their way into any premises without a search warrant to seize goods to discharge a debt, when executing a warrant. However, some debtors are transferring property and assets into the name of a spouse to put them beyond the reach of the sheriff.
At the moment, sheriffs cannot seize money from bank accounts, although they can seize cash and other belongings they find in a house, unless it belongs to a member of the debtor's family. Nor can they seize property such as cars that are on lease or hire purchase. They can seize leases on commercial properties.