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Government set to face its greatest test in tackling the mortgage crisis

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Political World with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

Some years ago, the UCD economist Morgan Kelly – the man who foresaw the crash of the property boom – made a new prediction. He said that the next big crisis would be caused by mortgage defaults.

He may have overstated the extent of the implications of it – he wrote about almost a full-blown peasants’ revolt – but he was not too far off the money. And unlike his earlier warnings, he wasn’t alone this time.

But there were still doubters who just couldn’t get their head around it that the malaise would spread to Irish homeowners who had a reputation for sacrificing everything just to make sure the mortgage repayments were made.

Just a cursory look at the mortgage arrears statistics confirms the extent of the problem. At the end of 2010, some 44,508 mortgage accounts were in arrears for 90 days or more, in other words problem mortgages. That constituted 5.7 per cent of the total.

Two years later, that figure had more than doubled to 94,500 private dwellings being 90 days or more in arrears. That’s well over ten per cent. What is worrying is that 23,500 of those have been in arrears for over 720 days – that’s two years. Many of those mortgages are essentially beyond recovery.

It’s one of the tortuous realities now coming home to roost as everything deflates after the boom years. Over the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time on the hustings in Meath East for its bye-election.

What’s remarkable about the county is that the biggest towns in the this three-seat constituency from 30 years ago have been dwarfed by small villages in the south of the county that have been transmogrified into big dormitory towns for Dublin.

Ashbourne now has a population of 10,000, while other towns like Dunboyne, Dunshaughlin and Ratoath have also grown into behemoths.

It has made for a kind of hybrid constituency. The south is commuterland, with people living in houses and flats on new estates and developments built during the boom. The north has its fair share of long-distance commuters but it is more rural and more traditional.

You go to country areas of Kells and Nobber and Skryne and you find a much stronger Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil mix than in the south where things are more volatile and shifting.

In the commuter areas, you find droves of people in negative equity, living in starter homes and flats that are unsuitable for their growing families. But they can’t move because they are trapped by negative equity. And then there’s the mix on the same estate.

Those who worked in anything that touched of construction and development during the boom and who are now unemployed and struggling with their repayments.

And then there are the legions of public sector workers (there are a lot of guards, health sector workers, civil servants) who are incandescent with fury over what they consider to be unfair cuts.

I was in the supermarket in Ratoath on Monday to see the extraordinary exchange between an off-duty Garda and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, where the guard railed about the loss of overtime payments.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Labour’s awakenings will take time to reap any real reward

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Passing of the baton...Michael D Higgins with his successor Derek Nolan at the Galway West count at Leisureland.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The film Awakenings was based on the experience of the psychiatrist Oliver Sacks with patients who had contracted a disease called encephalitis lethargica during and shortly after World War I.

Thousands contracted it around the world. How they got it has remained a mystery but it could have been connected to the Spanish Flu outbreak at the time.

It essentially left them in a catatonic state, sleeping, unmoving, like zombies for decades. By the time Sacks came across a group of them in New York, they were all residents of an institution called the Beth Abrams Home for the Incurable.

That did not leave much to the imagination. Some of these people had been essentially sleeping for over 40 years.

He experimented with a drug called L-dopa, which had been used successfully for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.

The effect was extraordinary; the drug was like an electric shock that jolted the patients back to life and to sentient existence.

The ‘miracle’ had its drawbacks, however. After a while, it became difficult to control the patients as they became increasingly manic. Ultimately a tough decision was taken to withdraw the drug and the patients relapsed into their catatonic states.

All of that is a bit of a stretched way of saying ‘flash in the pan’, but life sometimes teaches us that success can be very temporary indeed.

There is a long pattern in Irish politics, for example, of a winner in a by-election going on to win a seat in the subsequent general election. However, less than six months after winning a by-election in Wexford, Malcolm Byrne of Fianna Fáil got turfed out in the general election.

Look at it the other way. Sinn Féin were the big losers of the 2019 local elections but turned the ship around completely less than nine months later. The lesson to be learned is success or failure is never a permanent phenomenon in politics.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Changing political landscape fast becoming Double Dutch

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Big winner...Ivan Bacik after her by-election victory.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Holland is so used to enduring a perennial political log-jam – where every election just digs you deeper and deeper into a rut – that they’ve actually come up with their own name for it.

It’s called Dutchification – when society has become so urbanised, and globalised, and fragmented, and lacking cohesion, that no party, or parties, can expect to win any more.

The former RTÉ journalist Peter Cluskey wrote a very interesting article last week about this continued electoral limbo they have in Holland, where he’s been based for many years.

And truth be told, the same is happening here; the day of overall majorities is long gone.

We have gone from having two large parties to having three medium sized ones (and with the demise of Fianna Fáil it could even by two medium sized ones, or one large and one medium).

The reality is that it will be difficult for the foreseeable future for any two parties to form a coalition, and it could be difficult for any three parties to do the same.

The old fealties to the three long-established parties have been blown out of the water.

The biggest pool of voters now has no permanent loyalty. They are the floaters.

And there is a growing ‘none of the above’ contingent too, possibly spurred on by the cynicism, empty populism and downright lies, of social media.

They will vote for a party that opposes the government. And once that party they support goes into government, they immediately withdraw their support for it. Short of coming up for an elixir that guarantees everlasting joyous life, these voters will never support a party in government.

I know it sounds cynical but if you talk to enough people around the country – as I always try to do – the person with a deeply cynical disposition and a hate of politicians is no longer a rarity.

Sinn Féin is the growing party at the moment and – from this vantage point – looks like it will be in government for the next spin.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

Toughest of first years for the three at the top

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Tough year...Coalition leaders Eamon Ryan, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheal Martin.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Just a year ago, we got a new Government. It contained two parties who had separately led governments throughout the history of the State but had come together for the first time. Then there were the Greens. It was formed during a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, caused by a Coronavirus pandemic. It came after an election of huge churn where the first time no single party won over 50 seats or, indeed, 40 seats. Seven of the Ministers were new to Government and two were recently-elected TDs.

Almost all of the collective effort in the past year has gone into addressing the enormous challenges of Covid-19. It has meant unprecedented levels of spending, of support, has led to extended lockdowns, huge percentages of people without employments, and whole sectors shut down for 15 months and counting.

Every new government has teething problems. Given those additional challenges, this coalition was not going to be an exception. Many of the Ministers had lousy starts and looked out of their depths, or out of sorts.

The administration of late is on a more even keel but the big challenges lie ahead when the huge financial supports currently in place begin to be dismantled.

I interviewed Eamon Ryan last week. He does not do negative. Most others would see the jagged internal Green Party rows and squabbling as a huge drag; the bitter divisions detracting from the achievement; the reputation of both Ryan and deputy leader Catherine Martin being damaged in the process.

Not for Ryan. While he acknowledges there will difficulties this is the prism through which he viewed the Greens’ first year in government and its response to Covid.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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