Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle agus leis an Aire. Sa tseachtain atá amach romhainn, tiocfaidh deireadh leis an sos a dtugtar do shealbhóirí morgáistí agus d'aisíocóirí mar gheall ar Covid-19. Beidh tionchar aige seo ar na mílte daoine agus teaghlach ar fud na tíre. Beidh na daoine seo i riaráistí agus i dtrioblóid le haisíocaíochtaí muna gcuidíonn an Rialtas leo. Impím ar an Aire, ar an Rialtas, ar na bainc agus ar na hiasachtóirí eile céimeanna a ghlacadh agus cinneadh a dhéanamh go sínfear amach an sos seo. Níl fágtha anois ach sé lá leis sin a dhéanamh.
In March, the Government, the five main retail banks and their representative body, Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, announced measures to deal with the impact of Covid-19 on borrowers. These measures also involved other non-bank lenders. Among the measures introduced was a three-month payment break for mortgage customers, which was later extended to six months. These payment breaks were introduced in response to the introduction of guidelines by the European Banking Authority. These guidelines stated that, where payment breaks were implemented appropriately, loans would not go into default.
According to the Central Bank, 74,000 payment breaks have been granted to mortgage holders since the beginning of the pandemic. Nearly 40,000 of these have availed of an additional extension to their break. These payment breaks are, however, due to come to an end and no provision has been made for those whose breaks are to come to an end or for what will happen afterwards. With unemployment rates remaining sky high and cuts made to the pandemic unemployment payment by the Government taking effect from yesterday, many borrowers are facing imminent default.
The situation is no less grave for our small and medium enterprises. The Central Bank estimates that a quarter of SMEs have applied for Covid-19 payment breaks since May. With further restrictions now possible, the ability of many of those businesses to return to regular repayments is in doubt.
While the option of taking payment breaks of three to six months has been offered by Irish lenders, measures across Europe have differed. In Germany, breaks of nine months were offered while breaks of 12 months were offered to borrowers in Spain, Italy and Portugal. Covid-19 and the public health measures necessary to contain its spread will be with us and with the economy for some time to come. Many of those who have become unemployed will remain so for some time and many of those who lost income will not see it recover for some time. Many businesses whose trading has been disrupted will not be in a position to return to normal activity for some time. Unless these payment breaks are extended in the context of Covid-19, many of these borrowers will fall into default. That is the sad reality of the situation.
This is very concerning. The European Banking Authority's deadline for the application of its guidelines is 30 September, which is next Wednesday, six days away. Our banks and non-bank lenders must extend payment breaks before then or many of these borrowers will fall into default. We are quickly running out of time. I have been raising this issue with the Minister for Finance for some time but he has refused to act. I have also raised it with the Central Bank and have met its representatives in that regard. I have contacted all five main retail banks in the State. This is what the Minister for Finance should be doing. Urgent action is needed.
We read in the Irish Daily Mail that the Minister for Finance is to meet with the banks on Monday. That is two days before the deadline - 48 hours. It is simply too late. Will the Minister ensure that the Government, with Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, the retail banks and the non-bank lenders, urgently announces an extension to the payment breaks granted in the context of Covid-19? Will he ensure that interest will not be accrued during such payment breaks, a measure permitted under the guidelines?