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Fix the home loans crisis, before even more fathers are forced to go begging

The old bard himself Shakespeare got it right in Hamlet with the immortal words, ‘When trouble comes, it comes not single spies but in battalions’.

Our once prosperous and thriving economy, which was the envy of Europe and, indeed, much of the world, sadly now lies in ruins.

We are insolvent, gone into receivership and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Only but for urgent intervention, we would all be on the streets with bowls begging for alms to keep body and soul together.

Okay, so I'm exaggerating our plight – but maybe not to the extent you would imagine.

A couple of days ago on an RTE interview, I heard the president of the St Vincent de Paul Society speak of the unbelievable hardship and misery being endured by thousands of our citizens.

Impassioned

It brought home to me just how serious our situation is. The president spoke of the deprivation of families struggling to put bread and butter on the table.

He made an impassioned plea for donations as he said the unprecedented demand for help, threatened to overwhelm the organisation.

Most of the requests were from families who had no money to pay utility bills and his organisation was giving money to these families for basic foodstuffs.

What made me sit up and listen was the dramatic revelation that those seeking assistance were from right across the spectrum and included nurses, guards and professionals, as well as the unemployed.

Sadly, the news just keeps getting worse. Reports have stated that 70,000 families are now 90 days or more in arrears with their monthly mortgage. As of Monday, a report added another 10,000 to that figure.

One striking example that made shocking headlines was of a father who said he was unable, because of unemployment, to feed his family. They were keeping body and soul together with a diet of cornflakes and milk.

Many, many thousands of householders are in a similar dilemma. It is high time this Government got some plan of action for dealing with this enormous crisis. As a matter of urgency it must now come up with a mortgage rescue plan. Many economists and other experts are clamouring for some level of debt forgiveness, others, including the Government, are vehemently opposed to a blanket debt forgiveness plan.

I'm no financial guru – but I do not accept the concept of universal debt forgiveness as I believe it would be unjust, inappropriate and ultimately unworkable.

My approach to this would be to make a special case for those first-time buyers who took out a mortgage between 2003 and 2008 and are now in difficulty.

Distressed

I think debt forgiveness for this group should be in the form of their house being valued at the current value and the mortgage adjusted accordingly.

For those others, an extension on the time they have to pay might be the answer – with reduced payments until they get back on their feet.

Banks and mortgage lenders should engage on a one-to-one basis with distressed mortgage holders to see what their situation is. Repossessions should only be considered as a very last resort to deal with this human tragedy. Time is running out for this Government to deal with this crisis.


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