Taoiseach fails to give mortgage assurance


THE TAOISEACH made no reference to the establishment of an expert group to help those in debt and in mortgage arrears when challenged in the Dáil yesterday about remarks on the issue by Green Party Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan.

“There is an interdepartmental group looking at this matter, and, as I say, the Minister for Finance, in due course, will consider any proposals that come from that, in addition to what is already being done by Government,” said Brian Cowen.

Mr Ryan said on Monday that the formation of an expert panel had now been designated a “priority matter” for the Government and would be formed within weeks if the Cabinet signed off on it.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach outlined existing Government measures to help those in arrears. “The Government continues to look and see if there is anything else that can be done to meet particular circumstances,” he said. “There is also the whole question of insolvency law etc and how we can do there . . . so that is being looked at by various departments and the Minister for Finance will, in due course, bring forward any further proposals that he believes are practicable and effective.”

Mr Cowen reacted sharply to Opposition ridicule of Mr Ryan’s remarks. “I do not agree with the rather dismissive and puerile view that some deputies are taking in relation to this matter,” he said. “It is a matter of concern to us all how we can assist families who may encounter difficulties in the present economic circumstances regarding the repayment of mortgages on their family homes.”

The Taoiseach said there were references to that in the renewed Programme for Government as referred to by Mr Ryan.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said he was very pleased to hear Mr Ryan, at the weekend, announcing that the Government was going to do something for homeowners who were hard pressed to pay their mortgages and at risk of having their homes repossessed.

“I listened to some very good interviews which Minister Ryan did on the issue . . . However, I am disappointed to find that the Department of Finance does not appear to know anything about it, that the Government has not made any decision on it . . . and that all it amounts to is the appointment of some experts to have a look at . . .” he added.

He asked what proposals were to be brought before the House on the issue. “Or was what we heard at the weekend from Minister Ryan just more hot air and just more cruel misleading of people who are already in difficulty . . .” Mr Gilmore said.

“And the last thing they want now is some Minister coming out, blowing his own trumpet and giving them a bum steer.”

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin urged the Taoiseach to “translate Minister Ryan’s oft trundled out statement of the recent past number of days into a reality for these people . . . Otherwise, what are we looking at . . . another old soggy lettuce coming from the Green party?”

Earlier, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny asked if it was in the public interest, at a time of economic difficulty, that mortgage interest rates should rise. They were being driven by the banks which had been given a guarantee, recapitalisation and Nama.

The banks’ cost structure had not been kept down in line with European counterparts, he said, adding that AIB and Bank of Ireland could save €1.3 billion. The Minister for Finance should call in the banks, he added.

Mr Cowen said the level of mortgage interest rates reflected a broad range of factors.