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'So many people are suffering because they took expert advice -- buy now or else'

'IT doesn't look like I'll ever be able to pay it off. I'm terribly stressed, of course, but what can you do? There's such a sense of hopelessness."

I'm sitting in Helen Phelan's small, pretty kitchen, in the home she and her partner bought in 2007. "I'd rented for 13 years," she tells me: "We both had good jobs, we worked hard, we saved, it didn't seem unreasonable to want your own home, did it? It's something that seems to be deep within the Irish psyche."

"We'd always been very frugal, we had no personal loans, no other debt (we didn't have a car), a combined income of about €5000 a month and I've never even paid interest on a credit card, so we thought a small two-bed house in north Dublin would be well within our reach."

Helen knew that prices were going through the roof, but as she explains: "I worked for a year in Holland and when I came back to Ireland in 2002 I really felt the pressure from everyone to get on to the property ladder before it was too late. If I didn't I would be left with no prospect of ever owning my own home -- and as you know people who rent in Ireland don't have the same rights as elsewhere in Europe, so it really seemed like the sensible thing to do. The Government, the banks, mortgage brokers, everybody really, were all saying 'buy now -- or else!'

"When we started looking we began to feel even more pressurised, as estate agents were telling us: 'Hurry up, there's very little left', or 'If you don't make an offer now your chance will gone'. There was lot of panicked buying going on.

"So we bought. And then the problems began."

In 2008, Helen's partner lost his job, and she followed him in 2009. Though they both worked in professional fields (IT and graphics) it proved impossible to find employment again. Helen is currently in work experience, trying to broaden her employment prospects.

"To try to cope with the mortgage we changed from fixed to variable without penalty and we negotiated with the bank to go on to interest-only. We rented out the other room briefly, we even slept in a little concrete out-house that we had hurriedly changed into a bedroom, while we rented out the other room.

"We thought we might -- just might -- be able to manage. Then we had three interest rate rises of 0.5 per cent within the space of 14 months. Last week we had a full 1 per cent increase.

"I'm at the stage where I don't know what to do -- opt for repossession, bankruptcy or just keep trying to pay."

I ask her if she were allowed hand her house bank to the bank with no penalties would she do it?

"I would, yes. Now, I love my home but there doesn't seem to be much hope of finding paid employment in the near future and with interest rates continually rising I'd feel so free to be actually able to rent again. Which is strange because the whole point of owning your own home is for the security it brings. But instead of security all I have is an albatross around my neck."

What does she say to those who cry "moral hazard" every time a suggestion of helping out beleaguered homeowners is made?

"It just doesn't seem fair -- the developers and banks have been bailed out and it was the Government who helped, with them, to fuel the whole thing, with their tax-free incentives to speculators. In a supposedly capitalist market it doesn't make sense."

Does she have any hope that a change of government will help her and others like her?

"No, I don't. I don't think any of the politicians have the courage to take on the banking sector. They don't want to rock the boat -- they don't have the same financial problems as us -- it really does show up what a two-tier society Ireland has become.

"In hindsight of course ... well, so many people are suffering because they took all the expert advice to buy, but what's done is done, there's no point looking back, is there?"

Sunday Independent