Govt “grossly flawed” for failing to legislate to protect 13,000 Mortgage Holders now

This is the text of my speech supporting Fianna Fáil’s Bill Protection of Residential Mortgage Account Holders Bill from the debate in Dáil Éireann last night (Wednesday March 5th). This is an important issue for very many hard pressed and vulnerable families. They need action now – not later.

Brendan Smith TD

Brendan Smith TD

Deputy Brendan Smith: This Bill is an example of a party in opposition contributing positively to political debate by putting forward positive, sensible and viable proposals. Most importantly, it proposes to deal urgently with a major potential problem and avoid putting many hard-pressed families and individuals across the country in a more vulnerable position in dealing with mortgage forbearance and resolution issues.

They also face possible increases on the interest rates they pay when their loans are sold. As a responsible society, we need to act speedily and decisively in advance of the sale of the former Irish Nationwide mortgage book. As the law currently stands, customer mortgages can be sold to a third party which is not regulated by the Central Bank. This is far from a niche problem. In the case of IBRC, 10,633 residential mortgage holders could find themselves in this situation.

Some 4,175 of these accounts are in arrears and 38% have been restructured. The problem extends beyond the IBRC, however. Residential mortgage holders with Danske Bank, ACC and Bank of Scotland face a similarly uncertain fate because these institutions are in the process of closing their personal banking businesses in Ireland. We regularly receive representations from people with mortgages for these institutions. These mortgages could be sold to unregulated third parties who are not subject to Central Bank supervision. Even AIB and Bank of Ireland could decide to sell a portion of their home loan books.

David Hall and his colleagues in the Irish Mortgage Holders’ Organisation have been helpful to individuals and families throughout the country but the Government is maintaining a hands-off approach on the issue.

Hoping is not good enough. We cannot wait until the sale has been completed. Asking a purchaser of the loans to voluntarily comply with existing protections is not sufficient. The special liquidators have indicated that an agreement with phase two bidders would result in the purchasers servicing the mortgages in accordance with the Central Bank’s code of conduct on mortgage arrears.

Resolving this issue is a responsibility for the Government but unfortunately it has decided to leave it in the hands of the liquidators. Deputy Calleary referred to the recent exchange with the liquidators at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform.

When my party colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, asked one of the liquidators the status these voluntary agreements would have, he replied that it would be a voluntary agreement that would not be on any particular piece of paper.

When it was suggested that the agreement would have no legal standing, the liquidator agreed. This is why Deputy Michael McGrath produced this Private Members’ Bill and we urge the Minister for Finance to use it as a spur to action.

A number of speakers on the Government benches have described the Bill as flawed. Yesterday the Taoiseach went so far as to call it grossly flawed.

How can it be grossly flawed for the Oireachtas to act speedily to protect those who hold mortgages that are being sold by IBRC?

It is in the remit of the Oireachtas to amend the legislation if needs be so it fulfills its purpose.

I contend that it is grossly flawed for the Government to wait until 2015 to deal with the sale of unregulated mortgages to unregulated entities. It is grossly flawed for the Government to fail to legislate in advance of the deadline.

If Government Deputies sincerely believe there are flaws in the Bill, let us address them on Committee Stage at the earliest opportunity. We could show that our politics and parliamentary process can be operated to the benefit of our citizens.

Thirteen thousand families are very concerned about the imminent sale of this loan book and they want to hear from this House that their difficulties will be dealt with speedily and properly.


Irish and British Govts need to up their game on NI and International Community must do more for #Syria #AF13

brendan-smithSpeaking at the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis, Fianna Fáil’s Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Brendan Smith TD said:

“We are seeing a worryingly dangerous lack of commitment from both the Irish and British governments to making sure that the institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement are working properly.”

“What have we got to show for the past two years of a hands-off strategy from the Irish and British Governments? The flag protests, the increased dissident activity and growing public discontent at a dysfunctional Executive and Assembly.”

“Hollow rhetoric and empty press statements from the Taoiseach and Tánaiste are no substitute for hard work and direct engagement with all the parties in the North to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement delivers on its potential for all the people of this island.”

“The Irish government’s failure to mark the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in any meaningful way shows both their partisan reluctance to acknowledge any achievement that reflects well on others and contrasts to the actions in wider civil society which used the 15th anniversary to reflect on where the Agreement has worked and where it has failed yet to deliver. The government missed the opportunity presented to it by the 15th anniversary to explore how the Agreement can still deliver real change for people in their daily lives.”

Speaking on the issue of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria, Brendan Smith said:

“It is an indictment of us all that the world has allowed this tragedy to unfold, and is still doing so little to halt it. It has been described as “the worst humanitarian crisis since the Cold War”.

“We must keep raising the issue of this on-going humanitarian disaster. I urge the Government to use the remaining months of its EU Presidency to keep asking the international community – the UN and the EU – what they are going to do, and when.”

“Ireland has a proud record in International Affairs of standing up for small nations and supporting peoples who yearn to live in freedom and peace: from Frank Aiken through Brian Lenihan Snr to our leader Michéal Martin.”

“I echo the comments of our former colleague, the GOAL CEO, Barry Andrews who said that we must all keep highlighting what is happening in Syria. Less than 20% of the money promised by governments to the relief effort in Syria has thus far been delivered. We need to embarrass those donor countries who were loud in promises of aid, but who have been slow in turning those words into action.”

“The gung-ho talk from some politicians in the West of arming and equipping the opposition is a disgrace considering how slow they are to alleviate the suffering and human degradation of the innocent victims of Assad’s atrocities.”


Northern Ireland Issues – 11 December 2012

I appreciate the presence of the Tánaiste to take this Topical Issue matter.

The scale of the challenge facing Northern Ireland was laid bare during recent weeks. The rampant violence, lawlessness and intimidation we have witnessed is symptomatic of a problem which has come to the fore on the streets of Belfast in a profoundly depressing way in the course of the past week. There have also been unwelcome incidents in Derry, Armagh and elsewhere. As I see it, if politics in Northern Ireland is not demonstrably and tangibly about bread-and-butter issues it turns very quickly into shouting and roaring about flags, emblems, parades and all the things that have scarred public life in that area for far too many people for far too long. All of us in this House recognise that this part of Ulster was deprived of normal politics for many decades.

If loyalist gangs are able to burn the offices of political opponents, issue death threats, close schools early and cause economic havoc in the run-up to Christmas without sanction, all ostensibly in support of a proposition from Unionist parties that was democratically defeated in Belfast City Council, there is something seriously wrong within the leadership of Unionism. This leadership must demand the ending of all street protests once and for all. Every political party must condemn in the strongest possible manner this totally unacceptable behaviour. Similarly, if republican politics in the North has not evolved beyond the point at which a change in the timetable for flying a British flag and the naming of playgrounds are celebrated as major victories, serious questions should be raised about the kind of leadership that is being given and how much serious thought is going into defining republicanism in a post-Good-Friday-Agreement world. That is unless, at some level, it suits the dominant leadership of the Unionist and Nationalist blocs that their society, the media and the political establishment continue to be seized by the images and rhetoric of flags and emblems. Some would ask whether it is entirely unreasonable to worry that arguments about flags and emblems are being tacitly encouraged as a distraction from the fact that politicians are not delivering on the issues that make an actual difference to the quality of people’s lives. Those who are interested in real politics wonder where are the campaigns to highlight the fact that Northern Ireland suffers from unforgivably high levels of child poverty and economic inactivity.

Throughout my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan, small businesses and retailers are struggling to keep their heads above water. For them, Christmas is the make-or-break time when they need to make sales. Similarly, for the workers they employ it is a chance to make a few extra bob for the Christmas holidays or to secure their employment for the coming year. I can only begin to imagine how disastrous closing down Cavan or Monaghan town for a week in the immediate lead-up to Christmas would be for jobs in my area. This is exactly what is happening in Belfast city centre. How many families are quietly and helplessly seeing their livelihoods being threatened in Belfast as this failure of politics continues?

Our party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, expressed an opinion on what is happening in the North only to incur a raft of the usual criticism from both dominant political parties in Stormont, parties that seem to be content with the frozen status quo. The peace process is not about two permanently opposed entrenched blocs occasionally flaring up into violence. It must be – and is – about more than that. The Good Friday Agreement was achieved with the work, effort, commitment, diligence and tenacity of so many people on this island, as well as the work of Mr. Blair, who was head of the British Government at the time. The aim of the peace process was always intended to be more than just an absence of violence. The people of the North deserve a political system that delivers progress and demonstrates that politics works. In other words, it is about making their lives better.

Middle East Peace Process – 22 November 2012

Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade   the discussions he has had with his EU counterparts in relation to the outbreak of violence in the Gaza strip; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52025/12]

56. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade   if has had raised the issue of the outbreak of violence in the Gaza strip with Egyptian officials; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52026/12]

57. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade   if he has raised the issue of Israeli strikes against the Gaza strip with the Israeli ambassador; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52027/12]

58. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade   his plans to accelerate joint EU action against illegal Israeli settlements in view of recent violence in the Gaza strip; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52028/12]

59. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade   his plans to provide humanitarian assistance to the Gaza strip in view of the recent outbreak of violence. [52029/12]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore):   I propose to take Questions Nos. 55 to 59, inclusive, together.

Though tensions had risen following a number of incidents on either side in recent weeks, the latest round of violence was triggered by sustained rocket attacks launched on towns in Israel from Gaza. There was further escalation with the targeted killing of a senior Hamas leader.

In statements on 15 and 18 November, I expressed the Government’s deep concern over the increase in violence and its effects in particular on innocent civilians. I called clearly for a cessation of all attacks and the establishment of a durable ceasefire.

On 19 November, I discussed the situation in Gaza with my EU colleagues in the Foreign Affairs Council. We agreed that the efforts of the Egyptian Government and of other players to broker a ceasefire agreement provided the best chance of bringing this exchange of attacks to an end and we expressed our full support for those efforts. The Council reiterated the need for an immediate ceasefire and noted that this outbreak of violence underlined the urgent need for progress to achieve a wider political settlement to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

My Department was in contact with Egyptian officials to express our support and encouragement for their efforts. We were also in contact with the Israeli authorities, both through the Ambassador here and through our own Embassy in Tel Aviv. We repeated our concerns about civilian casualties and about the need to avoid further escalation, in particular through the possible launching of a ground campaign. We acknowledged, as is appropriate and as we have always done, Israel’s right to protect itself and its citizens from attack. But we emphasised that this right is not a blank cheque. Any actions taken must be proportionate and must clearly distinguish military targets from civilian facilities.

I very much welcome the announcement of a ceasefire by all parties yesterday evening. The ceasefire appears to have come into effect as intended, and it is essential that all sides fully respect its terms. The peoples of both Gaza and Israel should be able to live their lives without fear. I commend the prompt and intensive efforts of the Egyptian Government to bring about this cessation of violence.

I do not consider it appropriate to attempt in EU discussions to link this conflict to the separate question of Israeli settlements. Indeed, I believe it would be counterproductive to do so. The Israeli settlements in Gaza were evacuated in 2005.

Following my recent discussions with Commissioner General Filippo Grandi of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) here in Dublin, and in light of the serious situation now in Gaza, I am considering the possibility, in light of the evolving situation on the ground, of providing additional funding for UNRWA’s Emergency Appeal for Gaza. In 2012 so far, my Department, through the Irish Aid programme, has already provided €4.2 in support to UNRWA for its activities across its five areas of operation in the Middle East region, including in Gaza.