I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran.
Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Amendment) Bill 2019: Committee and Remaining Stages
I thank the Minister of State for coming into the Chamber. I welcome the Bill. It is good legislation which will help people in mortgage arrears to stay in their homes and avoid having them repossessed. As many of the cohort of new homeless persons have had their homes repossessed through the courts, the broadening of the criteria judges will be able to consider and take into account is most welcome. However, I have a query that I have raised with the office of the Minister of State, whom I thank for his engagement on it.
In the briefing note on the Bill supplied to Senators there is a reference to an objection lodged by the European Central Bank to a provision in the original Private Members' Bill that would have allowed a court to consider whether the lender seeking repossession was the original lender of the mortgage. It would incorporate circumstances in which the original lender that provided the mortgage on the property had sold it on to a third party such as a vulture fund which then sought repossession. The briefing note states the ECB objected to this provision on the grounds that "it could impede investment fund activity in secondary markets and reduce participation and price competition in the lending market". I do not have much time for this objection. We are facing a crisis of repossessions and homelessness and our laws should be assessed on their benefits to vulnerable citizens, not the needs of actors in the international financial market. It seems very important that such a provision be included in the Bill. Whether a person's mortgage is still with the original lender or a third party is salient and relevant in considering his or her ability to repay the loan and a court should be allowed to include it in its deliberations. If the mortgage is with the original lender, one will have a pre-existing relationship that can be used to discuss personal insolvency arrangements, whereas if it is with a vulture fund, there will be a very different relationship. A court should be able to take this into account when deciding whether to grant a repossession order.
The briefing note goes on to state the relevant provision was not included in the Bill owing to the ECB's objection but would be introduced as a Committee Stage amendment later in the process. I presumed it would be introduced in the Seanad, but as that has not happened, I ask the Minister of State whether there are plans to introduce it in the Dáil. Has there been further engagement with the ECB and where do we stand on its objection? I considered tabling an amendment to this effect, but I did not want to prejudice the process under way with the ECB. This provision is a critical part of the suite of measures required to tackle the homelessness and repossessions crises. I would appreciate an update on the issue from the Minister of State.
I thank the Senator for engaging with my office. As she knows, it was open to engaging with her.
Further engagement with the European Central Bank, ECB, is under consideration. A decision on this matter will be taken as soon as possible. I am thankful for the support of the Senators for what I am trying to do. It is a very short Bill. We will work with the ECB as we have been doing. As Members will know, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, has continued to engage with it. Our objective is to get this Bill, including section 3, through this House today and into the Dáil. As the Senator noted, it is to help those who find themselves in a vulnerable position. It is a short but very positive Bill in what it sets out to do. In fairness to the Minister, he approved the proceedings of the publication of the Bill without receiving comment from the ECB. He will engage further with it. If we have to refer for further clarification we can do so but we are happy to proceed with getting it through the House.
I have no intention of holding up the Bill. We can commit to continued engagement with the ECB but does the Minister of State think that conversation will conclude in time for the important measure in the original Bill to be debated in the Dáil? Does he envisage discussions with the ECB on its objection to this provision continuing for so long that it will not feature in the Bill even in the Dáil debates?
The Minister and I will work with the ECB. I know the issues that Senator Ruane is describing. We are working as a team to make sure that we get this Bill through the House and onto the Statute Book to help people in that position. If we have to go further, there is nothing stopping me or anybody else from adding to this Bill at a later stage. I have travelled throughout the country, especially since I became a Minister of State and people know this Bill is coming through. More and more people contact me about these issues on a daily basis and I imagine the same is true for the Senator and every other Member. My entire focus is on getting section 3, which is really the core of the Bill, on to the books to help those people. I will look at doing more at a later stage if I must but my focus is to help those people at this time.
In some cases where a mortgage is sold to a vulture fund, the vulture fund tries to get possession of the house through eviction or agreement with the original holders of the mortgage. It has been brought to my attention that in lots of cases, when a loan is sold to a vulture fund it is still the bank that brings the mortgage holder to court. I have asked representatives of the Central Bank about this at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. How does that fit into the legal proceedings? The bank sells the loans and sells the property to a vulture fund. When a vulture fund seeks possession of a house, through agreement, litigation or eviction, in some cases it is the bank that issues the proceedings against the borrower in the first place.
I could give the Senator a long-winded and detailed response but I would rather get back to him. I understand where he is coming from. As I said earlier, the core of the Bill is section 3. The matter the Senator raises is for another day and another extension to a Bill. At the moment we are all beating up vulture funds. Everyone has their own term for them. As I said at the outset, I am trying help people throughout the country with this Bill. I will continue to do that. If we need to add on other elements, we will look at them at a later stage.
The Minister of State might consider them before it goes to the Dáil.
I congratulate and thank the Minister of State.
I thank the Minister of State for bringing the Bill forward. It is important to achieve a balance. There are genuine cases where the views, considerations and family circumstances of the property owner are not taken into account. I would like the Minister to take that consideration forward but balance is important and this Bill certainly helps that.
I thank all the Senators for their support, not just in the Seanad but in respect of bringing forward this Bill at an earlier stage. I thank my colleagues in the Department of Justice and Equality, particularly the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, who has been very helpful. I would also like to thank my own adviser, Mr. Eugene Deering, as well as Dr. Padraic Kenna and Julie Sadlier, who helped me to put this Bill together. I wish to thank each Member of the House, the Acting Chairman and the Department officials for making this possible.
The Minister of State is welcome. I again thank and congratulate him on getting the Bill through this House and wish him luck in the next House.
When is it proposed to sit again?
Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.