Expert group to advise on ways to help those in debt

 

THE MEMBERSHIP of an expert committee to give recommendations to the Government on ways to help people in debt or mortgage arrears was announced yesterday by Ministers Brian Lenihan and Eamon Ryan.

Speaking at Government Buildings yesterday, Mr Lenihan said Hugh Cooney, an insolvency accountant with BDO Simpson Xavier, would chair the committee.

“This is not a committee to shake down money from the taxpayer. This is a committee where we want a realistic engagement between the banks, the Government, the various other interested parties for finding solutions for people,” Mr Lenihan said.

Mr Ryan said he was confident the group’s recommendations, which will be presented “on a rolling basis” for consideration by Government, would help small businesses and individuals in financial difficulties.

“The current inflexible, court-based, expensive system of debt management doesn’t help anyone,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of small business people, through no fault of their own . . . now find themselves, because their business is in cash-flow difficulties or credit difficulties, that they’re getting caught.

“We don’t want them caught. We want them back on their own two feet working again.”

But Fine Gael’s social and family affairs spokeswoman Olwyn Enright last night described the expert group as a “talking shop on mortgages” which she said was a “pathetic response to a national crisis”.

The other members of the group are: Pat Farrell, Irish Banking Federation; David Duffy, ESRI; Matthew Elderfield, Consumer Protection; Tom Foley, retired banker; Paul Joyce, Free Legal Advice Centre; Patricia Rickard-Clarke, Law Reform Commission and Brendan Burgess of www.askaboutmoney.ie.

Senior officials from various government departments will also be involved.

The terms of reference will include an examination of measures to assist those in mortgage arrears to keep possession of their family home with reference to the measures adopted in other jurisdictions.

The Law Reform Commission’s deliberations on the reform of personal insolvency, bankruptcy law and debt enforcement will also be considered.

The revised programme for government, approved last October, included two measures to help protect family homes and to help those who fall into unmanageable debt. The measures were understood to have been included at the insistence of the Green Party in return for its support of Nama.

The protections were targeted at families having difficulties with their home mortgage payments. The options included reduced rates, longer maturity dates, rolling-up of interest, banks taking equity in homes and lease-back arrangements.

The programme promised regulation of debt collection agencies; new personal insolvency regulations; and the setting up of a new debt enforcement office.

Meanwhile, Mr Lenihan said he was heartened by the degree of international confidence in how Ireland was tackling the economic crisis. “We heard chancellor Merkel last week say to Greece, ‘Why don’t you do what Ireland has done?’ They’re her words. Not mine. And all we need to have is confidence in ourselves now. The world looking in has confidence in us, that we have taken the right steps as a country, we’ve tackled the difficult problem.”