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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

City’s cycling plans must get out of the slow lane

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Days like this...the Galway Community Cycle making its way along Grattan Road.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

From about the age of ten I began cycling to school every day, from Glenard into Sea Road – not alone in and out in the morning and afternoon, but also home and back at lunch-time – because everybody had dinner in the middle of the day in the 1980s.

The concept of separate facilities for cycling back then were as alien as having parking for spaceships. Traffic was much lighter though; only a third, maybe a quarter, of the cars on the road today.

I can remember accidents involving bikes – fatal and serious ones – during my youth. I’d say up to half the pupils in my school cycled every day.

That picture has changed over the years. The Galway Transport Strategy quotes a figure from the 2011 Census which says that five per cent of people cycle to work, school or college.

The city is compact and relatively small. The strategy recommends “high quality facilities for walking and cycling” to encourage more people to walk and cycle to school, to work, to the shops, or for leisure.

So what’s happened in the 30 years since I left Galway?

Traffic volumes have increased and the number of people using bikes for the daily commute has decreased. There are some bicycle lanes in the city but the percentage is very small compared to other Irish cities.

I spent a few hours cycling around Galway last week and wrote a piece on it for The Irish Times. I might have cycled in and out to school when I was a kid but I would not put my eleven-year-old daughter on a bike in Galway. It’s just not safe enough.

I put in a number of queries to Galway City Council last week and they told me there was a total of 20.45 kilometres in the city – that excludes off-road and park cycle tracks such as NUIG.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Sinn Féin will discover power brings evolution not revolution

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Taoiseach in waiting?...Mary Lou McDonald with Galway West TD Mairead Farrell on the streets of Galway.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Sinn Féin is not like any other party; even when it enjoyed only a fraction of the support of the SDLP it was still attracting the attention of the world media. During the 1980s and 1990s, just about the only Irish political figure American political journalists could name was Gerry Adams.

There was something about Sinn Féin that set it apart – that smell of cordite was catnip for the media.

So the party is viewed through a different lens than, say, the Labour Party, or the Social Democrats, or even the Greens. It carries original sin in the eyes of a portion of the electorate (generally older) who see its association with violence (which included many egregious murders and massacres) as unforgivable for all time.

For others, the passage of time has taken some of the sharp edges away. For the rest, specifically those born after the 1994 ceasefire, that is just not relevant to their lives. For some of those who remember those years, that attitude of younger voters is hard to stomach. But that’s the reality of how things stand just now.

I was always taken by the phrase of the late historian Ronan Farren that the birth certificates of all nations are blood-soaked. The fact of the matter is that Sinn Féin has been in from the cold for 25 years almost, accepting that it would strive to achieve its goals by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

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

Áras an Uachtaráin and the constitutional ties that bind

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Making headlines... President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina during their visit to the Galway 1916 Exhibition in the former Connacht Tribune Print Works on Market Street.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Those who become President of Ireland are, metaphorically, provided with a silken gag; for the seven years they reside in Áras an Uachtaráin, they are supposed to keep their opinions and personal political persuasions to themselves.

The relevant Article in the Constitution sets out this rule: “No power or function conferred on the President by law shall be exercisable or performable by him save only on the advice of the Government.”

The President is not allowed to leave the State without first receiving the advice (i.e. the permission) of the Government. Theoretically, every speech they make needs to be run by the government first.

The President is said to be “above politics”. That meant they are not subject to any criticism from parliament or from the government. The other side of the coin is that it is expected the President will not wander into the political forum.

For most of the time since the office of the President was established in 1937, these rules have caused no major problems. With one exception.

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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