Debt settlements such as the deal agreed by AIB with former Kilkenny hurling star DJ Carey in the wake of the property crash have become commonplace in the world of personal insolvency.
While the percentage of debt written down might be eye-watering to the public and some politicians, in the High Court – where formal debt write-offs in so-called personal insolvency arrangements (PIAs) are regularly approved – there are only dry eyes.
PIAs are the financial rescue deals where borrowers can escape large debts by showing that they do not have the income or assets to repay unsustainable debts.
For all the arrangements that are signed off by a High Court judge, many more agreements have been reached privately, outside court, between banks and borrowers since the crash.
Carey’s settlement is one such agreement. Hit with a €9.5 million judgment by the court in 2011 over his Celtic Tiger-era debts to AIB, the hurler lost three golf resort properties, two in the K Club in Co Kildare and one in Mount Juliet in Co Kilkenny, that the bank held as security for his debts.
[ AIB defends debt deals following DJ Carey criticism ]
[ Sale of golf properties linked to DJ Carey raised €1.8m towards his AIB debt ]
RTÉ revealed last week that the bank reached a €60,000 deal in full and final settlement of his liabilities in 2017 and that the settlement funds were received by the bank the following year.
Without naming Carey in an internal memo on Tuesday but referring to recent “commentary” on the settlement, AIB’s retail banking chief Jim O’Keeffe essentially signalled to staff that Carey got no sweetheart deal.
The bank followed “robust governance process” in debt-resolution cases, he said. This included exhausting “all appropriate avenues” to recover debt and seeking third-party certification on a borrower’s income and assets and other documents around a borrower’s personal circumstances.
Assuming this was followed in Carey’s case, AIB would have checked all this out and ensured Carey had no more assets or income before it agreed to a €60,000 settlement for his residual debt.
This amounted to a debt write-down of more than €7.7 million once the €1.7 million proceeds from the sale of the three golf resort properties and the €60,000 settlement are taken into account.
This kind of deal is not out of the ordinary.
Just last week, the High Court approved personal insolvency arrangements for husband and wife property developers Kevin Brophy and Jacinta Rochford. They had more than €12 million written off in deals supported by creditors who shared a lump-sum settlement of just €12,500.
Personal insolvency advisers say that a once-off payment, similar to Mr Carey’s €60,000 settlement to the bank, is typical once borrowers show they cannot pay their debts.
Mitchell O’Brien, a Co Waterford-based personal insolvency practitioner who devised the Brophy-Rochford PIAs, said Carey’s €60,000 settlement would have been “€59,000-odd more” than AIB would have secured had he been declared bankrupt, an alternative option available.
“The amount that a borrower has to pay to settle an unsecured debt bears no relation to the amount owed and is solely linked to their means to repay,” he said.