Saturday 25 November 2017

State must show mercy to ordinary mortgage-holders

If a household charge is eventually brought in, homeowners should get a refund on stamp duty, writes Marc Coleman

Disparate and desperate. So far, more talk than walk, the campaign for mortgage debt forgiveness has not been a cohesive affair. Then again, it's hardly surprising. As the presidential election silly season shows, the media favours celebrity over substance, and process over policy.

Having ignored well-argued articles on the issue, it turned on the spotlights for Morgan Kelly's address to the Kilkenny Arts Festival. But Morgan's idea for tackling the debt crisis -- reducing the budget deficit to zero in less than a year -- is so bizarrely right-wing that even Colonel Pinochet would have baulked at it. Brian Hayes can hardly be blamed for giving suggestions from that quarter a wide berth.

The first barrier to any successful debate on the topic is terminology. With its air of wealthy professionals cadging tax euros off us to stay in €2m homes, the term "debt forgiveness" is unhelpful. Fortunately, a better narrative exists, one that is clear and compelling. Forget "debt forgiveness", what Ireland needs now is a simple cry, "Give us our money back". Instead of a pathetic cry for some undeserved mercy, we should be confidently asserting our rights. It isn't the mortgage-holders -- those forced to pay small fortunes in stamp duty to buy homes as the Government urged them to do -- who should ask forgiveness. It is the State which forced those taxes upon them and that forgiveness can only flow from a policy that is a much more workable alternative to debt forgiveness: a rebate on residential stamp duty.

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