THE Irish economy is languishing under close to €6bn of bad debts that have been chased in the courts over the last decade but still haven't been repaid.
The massive bad debt pile, which has surged almost €4bn in the past 15 months alone, is revealed in research carried out by debt monitor 'Stubbs Gazette' for the Irish Independent.
The figure includes almost 220,000 judgments obtained since 2001 as banks, companies and individuals use the courts to pursue errant borrowers and customers.
Under the judgment process, the courts legally confirm that a debt exists and the amount of that debt. The credit rating of the person who owes the debt is damaged until it is repaid.
Figures from 'Stubbs' judgment database show that more than €6bn of judgments obtained over the last decade are still listed as outstanding.
Some of these may have been "satisfied" or cleared without giving the courts formal notice, but Stubbs chief executive James Treacy believes the "vast majority" remain unpaid.
"We know from our research that well under 10pc of judgments are satisfied," he said.
The value of unsatisfied judgments has surged from €2.1bn at the end of 2009 to just over €6bn this week.
Mr Treacy said the dramatic increase in judgment values over the last 15 months also stemmed from the fact that the big business Commercial Court had begun handling some cases.
In the first quarter of 2010, Commercial Court judgments came in at €82.7m, including a €32m award in favour of Zurich's Irish banking offshoot.
Banks also featured heavily in the €293m of judgments that were registered in the courts in the first three months of the year, as did utility providers and the taxman.
Registering a judgment is the most advanced stage in debt pursuit short of actually compelling a person to sell assets to pay the debt or getting a claim on some of a person's income.
Anglo Irish Bank lead the registered judgments activity in the first three months of the year, with almost €127.3m in judgments registered by the bank against just five people.
A spokeswoman for the bank declined to comment on the matter.
Bank of Ireland was the most active financial institution over the quarter, registering 70 separate judgments, totalling over €15.6m.
A spokeswoman for the bank said legal action was used as a "last resort", adding that the high level of recent cases was linked to "the very challenging economic environment".
Utilities also featured strongly, including the ESB which notched up 31 registered judgments totalling almost €200,000. A spokesman for the state company stressed that the tally represented a "tiny percentage" of the ESB's 1.4 million customer base.
He added that the ESB only pursues legal action when it thinks it can recoup the debts involved -- in 2010, the company wrote off €20m worth of unpaid bills.
The other major player in the judgments sector is the Collector General, who uses the courts to chase unpaid tax bills.
In the first three months of the year, the taxman got registered judgments in 444 separate cases, for bills totalling almost €21m.