Tuesday 15 October 2019

Thousands who face eviction need our leaders to act - not New Land League

Gorse Hill
Gorse Hill
Ken Lee cartoon Irish Independent
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

The newfangled Land League's continued insistence that Brian O'Donnell's mansion on Vico Road in Killiney, Dublin, is "bog standard" is an affront to those battling to save their modest homes from the clutches of the banks.

It's not surprising the O'Donnells would be doing everything in their power to try to salvage whatever scrap of their former wealth they can, but the spectacle of other failed property developers invoking the proud history of the Land League in their attempts to frustrate the courts is nauseating.

One of the most vocal members of this motley crew, Jerry Beades, is a former member of Fianna Fáil's national executive and a close friend of the party's former leader, Bertie Ahern.

He is slow to mention it in interviews, but Mr Beades also owes millions to a number of financial institutions, which he says he is in the process of contesting.

One recent judgment against him came when the Supreme Court dismissed his claim that IIB Bank was not entitled to repossess two of his commercial properties in Dublin after he defaulted on a €1.5m mortgage.

Bank of Scotland also secured a judgment of €9.6m against him when he failed to complete a development of apartments in Dublin; while Ulster Bank was awarded a summary judgment of €3.5m against him.

Mr Beades may like to paint himself as the little guy in a David and Goliath-type battle against the banks, but the truth is his financial situation, and level of indebtedness, bears no relation to the kinds of debts that most people in danger of losing their homes have built up.

Given some of the comments he has made about the O'Donnells, including his infamous "bog standard house" remark, it is also clear that he is totally out of touch with the reality of most ordinary people's lives.

This may be news to Mr Beades, but a bog standard house in Dublin costs approximately €269,000 - you could buy 26 of them for what the O'Donnell's mansion is conservatively said to be worth - and doesn't come with a swimming pool, tennis court, pool room, snooker room, gym, sauna or stunning sea views.

While the original Land League fought for the rights of impoverished tenant farmers to purchase their tiny patches of land from rent-gouging landlords, Mr Beades and his group seem to think its revised raison d'etre is facilitating the formerly rich to live in the extravagant manner in which they have become accustomed, even after all of their money is gone and they are flat broke.

Given that the O'Donnells owe a reported €71m to Bank of Ireland - in which the Irish people have a 15pc stake - the bust property developer also clearly thinks that ordinary working people should help foot the bill for the family's lavish living conditions.

He has admitted he doesn't see any difference between the O'Donnells' desire to remain Bono's neighbours and the desire of a working class family to hang onto their three-bed semi on the north side of the city - the underlying principles are the same, we are told.

In this novel interpretation of land law, people's living arrangements should remain frozen in 2007 - whatever grandiose house you were living in then is the one you are entitled to remain in indefinitely, no matter how drastically your circumstances have changed.

If Mr Beades really wants to help those fighting repossession orders from the banks, then the best thing he could probably do is take a vow of silence and stop disgracing the memory of the Land League with his inane utterances.

His mantra that the courts and the banks are corrupt, and that lay litigants can ultimately secure victories over trained professionals, hasn't worked especially well for him, so why would anyone else take his advice?

What people in financial difficulty need is not Mr Beades and his loud-hailer outside their homes. They need the Government to accept its insolvency service is an unmitigated disaster and to do something about it.

According to new figures from the Central Bank, banks are currently trying to repossess thousands of homes, with the number of repossession orders for family homes far exceeding those of buy-to-let properties.

The high number of repossession orders should not come as a surprise to anyone, given nearly 40,000 mortgages are now more than two years in arrears.

What is surprising is the Government's apparent lack of interest in this crisis and its unwillingness to immediately change schemes touted as solutions that have proven to be monumental failures.

Take, for example, the mortgage-to-rent scheme, which was first introduced on a pilot basis in February 2012 and extended nationally in June of that year. To be eligible, a household must have had their mortgage deemed unsustainable, agree to the voluntary surrender of their home, be in negative equity and be deemed eligible for social housing. The house must also have been bought for less than €220,000 in Dublin and €180,000 in the rest of the country.

Despite the 117,000 people who are in arrears, the 60,000 in arrears of more than a year and the nearly 40,000 in arrears of more than two years, the High Court heard earlier this year that just 38 people have availed of the scheme, with Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank completing just one deal each.

So, that's a plan that has been in operation for nearly three years and has been shown to be an abject failure - but one the Government seems loathe to change.

The problem, according to the Free Legal Advice Centre, is that banks have the discretion to determine whether a mortgage is sustainable or not and seem to prefer trying to get blood from a stone instead of coming to agreements with those in mortgage difficulty. Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said she is in the process of reviewing current insolvency arrangements, but it has been obvious for quite some time now that the existing scheme is flawed.

How much longer are people expected to wait for relief? How many more thousands of homes will be repossessed in the interim?

Those who face eviction and homelessness do not need promises, they need action.

Irish Independent

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