HEART-BREAKING scenes were witnessed in Limerick Circuit Court, where 219 applications to repossess homes were taken against individuals and families across Limerick.
Just two orders were made against defendants who appeared before the court, but up to two dozen more are likely to be enforced at the next court hearing on May 8 amid hundreds of cases. In a number of cases, people who failed to appear have been summonsed to appear in court, and consent has been given for court proceedings to be nailed to their doors, after registered letters in the post were returned undeliverable.
Divorce, separation, domestic abuse, bankruptcy, illness, job losses and reduced working hours featured as causes in many of the cases, which defendants offered as reasons they fell back on their payments.
A number of protestors, some with the Irish Democratic Party, attended the proceedings, and Fianna Fail deputies Willie O’Dea and Niall Collins appeared on the front pews of the public gallery to support some of their constituents at risk.
However, Sinn Fein city councillors Maurice Quinlivan said it was ironic that Fianna Fail deputies appeared in court, saying they are “the same party who caused the collapse. You couldn’t make it up”.
Barrister and Independent councillor Emmett O’Brien said he has been representing home-owners for a number of years and says he’s “acutely aware” of how distressing it is for people.
“I don’t think it’s time for political point scoring. I just feel a bit uneasy about the political circus that has resulted out of these cases,” he said.
Deputy Collins said it was very sad to see the size of the list and to hear some of the cases. “It’s a clear example of how the economic policy being pursued by the Government is having a clear social fall-out,” he said. Asked if Fianna Fail are partly culpable for people’s misfortunes, which were witnessed in court, he said: “That’s clearly not the case. I would reject that completely. We in Fianna Fail have been to the forefront in offering common sense solutions.”
Deputy O’Dea said the county registrar is “doing his best, adjourning cases on his own initiative. The fundamental flaw [in legislation] is that the banks have the final say - the court should have the final say. We’re on the cusp of a major crisis here and a change in the law, as we have suggested, would substantially reduce the number of repossessions.” He accepted that in some cases repossessions have to take place where there is no prosect of the person repaying the mortgage. “The banks have lost patience with the mortgage holders, but I’ve certainly lost patience with the banks,” he added.
Anti Austerity Alliance councillor Cian Prendiville, who was also in court, said “these families are victims of the property bubble built up by Fianna Fail, and victims of the austerity imposed by Fine Gael and Labour.”
“Rather than ordinary people being hauled in front of the court, it should be the Fianna Fail TDs, the bankers, and the speculators who are put on the stand.
“People should not be squeezed to pay off what were always over the top house prices, inflated up by the policies of the banks, developers and government. Instead mortgages should be written down from their bubble prices to their real values,” said Cllr Prendiville.
In one case taken by TSB - which took the bulk of the cases - it was heard that a man abandoned his wife and children and moved to Qatar in 2010, leaving them with debts of €503,858, including arrears of over €26,000.
The last payment of some €2,000 was made in June 2012. Divorce proceedings are now underway.
In another case, a mother of four felt compelled to leave the family house due to an abusive partner, and said she would only be able to make the repayments if she’s “guaranteed that he can’t go back into the house”.
A sum of €124,000 is owed on the house, including arrears of €16,000. The case has been adjourned until July 3 to allow the matter go through the family courts first.
Permanent TSB also sought to bring a case against a couple in Galtee View, Hospital, who owe just €4,000 in arrears but can’t meet their mortgage payments. County registrar Pat Wallace said the overall amount owed of €38,000 and the arrears were not substantial, and expressed concerns that TSB was potentially loading costs onto borrowers internally, and called for a breakdown of all costs.
The court heard that one local businessman has been declared bankrupt and that Permanent TSB will be attending a hearing in the High Court later this month to stake their asset in his home.