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Those safely in charge are still telling Irish public to eat cake


Finance Minister Michael Noonan has welcomed the new PwC report. Photo: Frank McGrath

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has welcomed the new PwC report. Photo: Frank McGrath

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has welcomed the new PwC report. Photo: Frank McGrath

INDIGNATION is often expressed at the spectacle of celibate priests in frocks telling women what they should or should not do with their own bodies, the implication being that those with no personal understanding of a situation shouldn't lecture others on what to think about their own lives.

Perhaps we should start applying the same rule to those who pronounce publicly about money. Marie Antoinette learnt that painful lesson after popular myth claimed she told the Parisian poor, who had no bread, that they should eat cake instead. A one-way trip to the chopping block was her eventual reward. An equivalent one-way trip to the electoral executioner should be the fate of any Government minister with the cheek to pretend to know what ordinary people have been going through since the crash. Starting, fingers crossed, with Michael Noonan.

Does the Minister of Finance really look like a man who lies awake at night worrying about his pecuniary circumstances? He's been a TD for more than 30 years, and a minister at regular intervals during that time. Those pensions and benefits soon pile up. Does he even have a mortgage anymore, or, like most TDs, did he have his house paid off long before the property bubble hit the proverbial fan? Still, he was to be found in the Dail last week not only ruling out any prospect of IBRC mortgage holders being allowed to buy back their own mortgages from the liquidators, but also saying that those who were worried about the prospect of seeing their loans sold off within weeks to international financiers "are being wound up by TDs making exaggerated claims and frightening people to get headlines in the papers".

As a private sector worker, with no nice portfolio of public sector pensions, or even a private pension to plug the gap, and a mortgage that I can't afford, let me assure the minister that it doesn't take a TD raising concerns about the situation to scare me. My own personal financial instability, and the banks, are perfectly capable of doing that all by themselves.

I'm also much more alarmed by the lordly complacency exhibited by Noonan in the face of the genuine concerns of thousands of ordinary people, or, for that matter, his apparent belief that the world of international finance plays by the rules of cricket. The reason that these mortgages are up for sale in the first place is because Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide went belly-up – hardly a ringing endorsement of world banking's competency and ethics. If anything, those of us who are in the position of being sold on the open market like Roman concubines, far from being scared when a handful of concerned TDs take a stand on the issue, are generally relieved to discover that some public representatives do actually give a damn about the situation.

If Michael Noonan wanted to reassure us, he could easily do so. Instead, the best he had to offer last week was a promise that, after the mortgages are sold to some as yet unknown third party, "we'll talk to them. We'll say, 'We expect you to comply. What's the story?'"

Your worries are over, people. No more lying awake at 3am, panicking about the future. Michael Noonan's going to ask your new owners: "What's the story?" Have a good sleep now.

Noonan even indulged in a little scaremongering of his own with the suggestion that, if IBRC mortgage holders were given the option of buying their own mortgages, it raised the possibility that "someone with whom the mortgage holder is in dispute, or another family member, in circumstances where the family is not pulling together, could come in and buy the mortgage. Therefore," he concluded, "it is not a solution."

Therefore? That suggests a sequence of irrefutable reasoning has been established which can lead to no other logical conclusion, rather than what actually happened there, which was that a ludicrous hypothetical scenario about imaginary people was suggested, shot down in flames, and then used as an excuse not to offer non-ludicrous solutions to people in actual real life situations. How can a situation in which the Government offers mortgage holders the opportunity to buy their own loans from the liquidator possibly lead to a situation where neighbours and strangers suddenly own the deeds to your mortgage? "I'd like to buy this mortgage." "Are you the mortgage holder?" "No." "Then you can't." Problem solved.

Noonan's fictional scenario was like something out of Dallas. In fact, that's exactly what happened in the recent revival of the iconic soap opera, as wily ole JR managed to buy Southfork out from under the nose of his goody-two-shoes brother Bobby. Has the Minister for Finance been spending his evenings with the DVD box sets he got for Christmas rather than the ministerial boxes?

There was a fundamental contradiction in the minister's argument, when he said he couldn't attach conditions to the forthcoming sale to protect mortgage holders because that might reduce the value of the mortgage book. If those buying the mortgage book know that Michael Noonan is on their case and they'll have to abide by the terms of Irish law when it comes to dealing with those in financial difficulties, then how can the value of the mortgage book be reduced by making this explicit?

Sunday Independent