Coalition pledges to ease 'mortgage distress'

The Government has admitted it must do more to help householders struggling to pay their mortgage and at risk of repossession.

Marking the two-year anniversary of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said tackling mortgage arrears and creating more jobs would be priorities during the remainder of its five-year term.

“Mortgage distress and jobs – they are the things that we have to do more to achieve success for our people,” Mr Gilmore said.

He insisted the Government was working closely with banks to encourage them to find sustainable solutions for hard-pressed customers.

He added that personal insolvency legislation introduced last year would help protect them.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny insisted repossessing homes would be a last resort for banks.

But he said the Government hoped to issue a strategy next week in relation to closing a legal loophole that prevented banks from seizing properties.

He said a “lacuna in the law” known as the Dunne ruling had to be dealt with from a legislative point of view.

“I hope next week we can issue a strategy that will deal with this and reflect the lacuna that has been in the law, which banks have been saying is important to them in doing their business,” Mr Kenny said.

The loophole followed a 2011 High Court ruling from Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne, who found that a failure to change some old laws before the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 meant lenders could only repossess properties where borrowers had defaulted if they demanded full repayment before December 2009.

Government plans to close the loophole have sparked fears of a new wave of repossessions.

But Mr Kenny insisted the Coalition did not want to see people losing their homes.

“What is important is we put in a process that is transparent and that is patently fair for people,” he added.

Recent figures from the Central Bank revealed that more than one in 10 mortgage holders were in arrears of three months.

The Taoiseach and Tanaiste today marked two years into the coalition’s time in Government.

They said two-thirds of commitments made under their Programme for Government had been delivered, and that stability was returning to the economy.

They pointed out that employment figures rose last month for the first time in half a decade and insisted Ireland was on course to exiting its multibillion-euro bailout programme this year.

But, conceding that more progress needed to be made, Mr Gilmore said mortgage arrears and unemployment were two areas that required increased focus.

He said job creation needed to be addressed – particularly in relation to youth unemployment.

Elsewhere, the leaders of the Fine Gael and Labour parties insisted they worked well together and played down speculation of a coalition rift.

Mr Kenny said such rumours were “false”, while Mr Gilmore said the pair were from separate parties that had distinct traditions and histories.

Despite this, he said the coalition was “working well together” and insisted the Government would go “full course”.

Meanwhile, Mr Kenny said he was not fazed by recent national opinion polls that showed declining support for the coalition and increased backing for Fianna Fáil.

“I’m not interested in opinion polls,” he said.

“I’m interested in sorting out the problems that were inherited here that were caused by Fianna Fáil.

“They have the view that people forget about the recent past, which has put an economic burden on every household in the country.”

He said the public would have an opportunity to cast its judgment on the Government in the General Election in three years – by which stage it would have fully implemented its Programme for Government.

“These are tough times,” he said.

“Nobody denies that.

“The general election will be in three years’ time when people can cast their judgment.”

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