Mortgage debate row as Government goes missing

Thu, Mar 15, 2012, 00:00

OPPOSITION TDs sought an adjournment of the Dáil last night because no Government Minister or TD was present during a debate on mortgages.

The absence of a single TD from either Government party is believed to be unprecedented in recent decades.

The Dáil was debating a Fianna Fáil Private Member’s motion dealing with the “unjustifiably” high standard variable interest rate charged by Permanent TSB on its residential mortgages, the ongoing lack of credit for small and medium-sized enterprises and the escalating problem of mortgage arrears.

At 7.40pm, when the debate was under way for 10 minutes, Independent TD Shane Ross observed there was no Government representative in the chamber. “Can we not have a motion to adjourn until they turn up?” he asked.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said it was “an absolutely outrageous scenario”, adding that it was a measurement of the Government’s abandonment, not just of the PTSB customers but of all distressed mortgage holders.

This remark prompted applause from the public gallery.

Fine Gael TD Catherine Byrne, who was presiding over proceedings in the absence of Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett, said she had been advised that standing orders did not allow her to adjourn the House. “I do not know where the Ministers are,” she added.

When Ms Byrne then called Sinn Féin TD Michael Colreavy, who was the next speaker, he said he could not contribute to the debate because it was a farce. No Minister or Government TD was present.

Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick then entered the chamber and sat on the Government benches and the debate resumed.

He was joined by Minister of State for Agriculture Shane McEntee and, later, Minister for Health Dr James Reilly and other Government TDs.

Mr McEntee apologised for the earlier absence of Government representatives in the chamber. Later, during sharp exchanges with Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness, Mr McEntee claimed he had twice sat on the Government benches when there was nobody present from the Opposition.

The debate on the Fianna Fáil motion heard instances of people under severe pressure from financial institutions because they could not pay their mortgages.

Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris called for legislation to deal with subprime lenders and action by the regulatory authorities to force certain companies to deal more sensibly with people in genuine difficulties.

Mr Ferris said Ron Weisz, of Wyse Mortgages, had a conviction in New York in 1995 for fraudulently acquiring a bank loan. He also had a number of judgments against him in the United States for unpaid debts and a District Court conviction in Ireland in 1995 relating to his advertising for people to deposit money with him.

“People like that are vultures,” Mr Ferris added.