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Banks under fire from ministers to sort out debt

The Government yesterday piled pressure on the banks to sort out the mortgage debt crisis with key ministers from both parties demanding immediate action on distressed loans.

Labour's Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton told bank chiefs they "simply cannot expect to step off the pitch".

At the same time, Fine Gael's Junior Minister for Finance Brian Hayes put the onus of responsibility on "directors and senior managers of State-supported banks" warning that "denial and procrastination will only compound the problem".

It's the first sign of a coherent strategy from the two Government parties on the crisis.

Both ministers stressed that the State is already providing more than €70m to families in distress.

"That is money which is going into the banks' coffers," Ms Burton declared.

She said the State should not be resolving the banks' bad debts on their own and capitalised banks now "have to resolve the mess they made themselves".

She said there were many couples in their 30s and 40s with children who are in trouble and that "we need to make the banks much more responsible for coming to terms with the difficulties families are experiencing''.

Ms Burton warned banks that they "have to offer some support to their customers. Lenders have to engage seriously with their customers and actually help them re-organise their finances".

The ministers' views were echoed by the Governor of the Central Bank Patrick Honohan who also said in the Dail last week that Irish banks were "behind the curve" in how they deal with troubled mortgages.

Ms Burton said that banks need to reform current practice such as "applying penalties on to those who cannot pay their debts. Piling further debt on to debt will not resolve the current crisis".

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The minister also noted that banks will have to reverse their policy of "not dealing with people until they are in distress for three months" because by that stage "the damage is done to people's finances".

Responding to questions by Labour's Arthur Spring over the need for banks to "take responsibility for mortgages lent in a negligent format", the Finance Minister Michael Noonan last week modified his perceived hard-line stance on mortgage distress.

Mr Noonan warned that you cannot paralyse the spending power of people into their 70s and say "there can be no discretionary spending in a household" for two generations.

Mr Hayes told the Sunday Independent: "Carrying on as normal is no longer an option. We are all entitled to demand a more effective response from the banks in dealing with debt and the particular problem of mortgage debt.

"Banks need teams of adequately trained staff to deal with debt issues."

He said that almost 70,000 mortgages have been restructured already, which was an indication that the banks are trying.

"However it is very disappointing to see that almost 30,000 of restructured loans are already in arrears.

"This is a clear indication that lenders are not being realistic in dealing with their customers," Mr Hayes added.

He said any realistic restructuring proposal should have the capacity to last between three to five years at a minimum.

Sunday Independent

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