A NEW deal between the Government and banks to strengthen efforts to tackle distressed mortgages could be struck in the next three months.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny revealed plans to meet more regularly with financial institutions in the new year, as they move towards their exit from the costly bank guarantee scheme.
"I expect to have a new deal with the banks by March," Mr Kenny said.
"That will include amending of the guarantee, in order to reduce the funding costs of the banks, and more specifically commitments by the banks on lending and dealing with mortgage arrears."
He said Finance Minister Michael Noonan would lead the recently-reformed Cabinet committee on banking and mortgage arrears in talks to negotiate measures for helping struggling mortgage customers hold on to their homes.
The Taoiseach said improved access to credit for small and medium enterprises would also be high on the agenda.
Official figures released last week showed more than 135,000 mortgages were behind in repayments.
The latest Central Bank report revealed that 11.3% of mortgages were three months behind repayments at the end of September. Over 86,000 accounts were in arrears of more than 90 days.
"Clearly one of the best pieces of news that any household can get is that a situation has been arrived at," Mr Kenny said.
"That there is a conclusion or agreement in regard to a mortgage that is either distressed or where there is a difficulty."
The Taoiseach said the Government's Economic Management Council had met with the banks two or three times before, when mortgage issues were addressed.
But he insisted meetings with the Cabinet committee in the new year would take a different format.
"Clearly there are many still in arrears and some in distress," Mr Kenny added.
"But I do notice that there is a big, much bigger pick-up in terms of those who can pay after their engagement with the banks. I think that's important.
"So the remit of the Cabinet committee will be extended to deal with banks and we want to engage with them probably on a more regular basis as they move out of the guarantee."
The Government extended its temporary bank guarantee - the Eligible Liabilities Guarantee (ELG) - until the end of 2013.
It hopes banks will begin making their final exit from the scheme in the first quarter of the year.
Exiting the guarantee will see banks secure their own funding, which the Government believes will inspire confidence from the financial markets and boost profitability.
The ELG was introduced for the State to protect deposits held in banks over 100,000 euro.
It was introduced in 2009 as a longer-term replacement for the blanket guarantee that was rushed through in 2008 as an emergency response to the economic collapse.
"What we want is banks to move out of the requirement for the guarantee," the Taoiseach said.
"That's going to help them in terms of their costs, in terms of the extent of losses that can be brought on them."