Sunday 20 October 2019

Cool reaction to mortgage relief plans

THE THRONG cheered enthusiastically and the heart of the nation was lifted - by a fraction at least - when US President Barack Obama stood up in College Green last May and declared to our struggling nation: ' Yes we can'. It was just what we wanted to hear - the kind of ebullient enthusiasm that proclaimed we could take our problems by the scruff of the neck and overcome them.

Talking is a lot easier than doing of course and no amount of enthusiasm can mask the enormous problems this country faces or the amount of hard graft and pain it will take to get to grips with them. One such problem is the mortgage crisis that weighs heavily on the country in general and in particular on the 45,000 people who can't keep up the payments on the homes they bought in the boom years.

In an effort to find ways of dealing with this human catastrophe, the government commissioned the Keane Report, which was unveiled last week. The report contains a number of proposals including the possibility of homeowners handing their property over to the lender, or to housing charities, and then staying on as low-rent tenants.

There is a lot of merit in the report but it got a cool reception because it ruled out blanket debt forgiveness as a scheme that "would not be an effective use of state resources". Given that we're talking about some €14 billion in state resources - in other words taxpayers' money - it's easy to see where the report's author Declan Keane was coming from, even if it's not what some people wanted to hear. How much of the report will be adopted by the government remains to be seen but it serves to illustrate that there's a long and rocky road to be travelled before ' yes we can' becomes 'yes we did'.

As far as getting on with the job is concerned, perhaps the Taoiseach, who found President Obama so inspirational, could learn something from the pragmatism of Laois man William Tuohy who solved his particular housing crisis by squatting in a vacant house in a 'ghost estate' in Tullamore.

Mr Tuohy, who had been on the council housing list for five years, checked out all the 30 vacant houses in the 250-house estate until he found one with an open door and then he simply moved in. The house wasn't quite finished by the builder who is now in NAMA so the enterprising squatter put down new floors, solved a dampness problem, did the painting and got connected to the ESB. He was helped out with donations of furniture from family and friends and, at the end of his endeavours, he had a 'very habitable' house for an outlay of a mere €2,000.

Unfortunately for Mr Tuohy he was brought to court and charged with trespass. Fortunately for him though, the case was dismissed by the judge who said there was no evidence he had intended to commit an offence. He now plans to stay on in the house in its "lovely, quiet location" and is offering to pay rent and arrears if anybody cares to collect it.

This is a man who can take Obama's 'Is feidir linn' and turn it into real action, in quick time and at low cost. If Enda needs inspiration he need look no further.

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