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John Drennan: Mortgage misery index shows commuters' pain

DURING the Celtic Tiger era, the most high-profile example of how the country was finally wealthy was the booming numbers who constituted Ireland's 'rich list'.

However, the new realities of post-boom Ireland are epitomised by a county-by-country breakdown of the numbers receiving Mortgage Interest Relief Supplement (MIRS), that has just been compiled by the Department of Social Protection.

MIRS is a scheme whereby the Department of Social Protection pays the interest part of a mortgage when householders become unemployed and can no longer meet their payments.

Such payments are supposed to be short term -- although in practice this is no longer the case -- and are meant only to cover the interest element of the mortgage.

After a modest start to the scheme, the numbers availing of it -- and therefore its cost -- have almost quadrupled.

Unsurprisingly, the department's figures indicate that the two counties with the largest numbers of citizens in receipt of the relief were Dublin and Cork.

But when it came to the Misery Index, which traces the top sufferers from the collapse of the property boom, other high population centres, such as Galway and Limerick, area lowly seventh and eighth on the department's mortgage map.

Instead, recipients of MIRS are overwhelmingly concentrated in the 'commuter constituencies' of Kildare, Meath and Wexford, while the figures are also surprisingly high in counties such as Tipperary and the Taoiseach's own constituency of Mayo.

The political consequences of the collapse of the housing market are illustrated by the fact that Fianna Fail does not currently have any Dail seats in Dublin, Kildare or Meath and has just one in Wexford.

The statistics reveal that, astonishingly, five counties have more than a thousand households that are in receipt of the supplement.

In a grim illustration of the extent of the housing collapse, the list reveals that an estimated 19,720 houses will be in receipt of the supplement in 2011 at an estimated cost to the Exchequer of €77.2m.

It should be noted that whilst households technically receive the supplement, the money actually goes to the banks, in what amounts to another taxpayer-funded subsidy.

The figures supplied by the department also reveal that when the numbers receiving MIRS are combined with those who are in receipt of rent supplement, almost 120,000 households are receiving housing support from the State at a cost of more than €520m.

When it comes to mortgage interest relief, the latest statistics also reveal that during the boom years of 2002 to 2005 the numbers availing of the scheme fell by 10pc, 16pc and 3pc respectively.

However, this was more than counterbalanced by increases of 97pc in 2008 and 87pc in 2009 -- although the rate of increase has subsequently flattened out.

Nevertheless, increases of 19pc in 2010 and an estimated increase of 10pc this year means the numbers availing of the scheme over the previous three years have almost quadrupled.

Sunday Independent