Tánaiste must take "urgent action" as legality of home repossessions questioned - Fianna Fáil

Michael McGrath also called for the immediate publication of planned bill which will establish a dedicated mortgage arrears court

Tánaiste must take "urgent action" as legality of home repossessions questioned - Fianna Fáil

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald at special ceremony in Dublin Castle, 04-Dec-2016. Image: Brian Lawless PA Wire/PA Images

Fianna Fáil has called on the Tánaiste to take “urgent action” following claims the Irish Circuit Courts may be incorrectly applying EU law when ordering home repossessions.

The Master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan has said that many repossession orders are granted in the Circuit Courts by county registrars who do not have the legal training or discretion to apply EU law.

Under European law, national courts are required to assess the fairness of a mortgage contract between a lender and a home-buyer.

However Mr Honohan said that where the home-owner is not present in court - the decision is often left to the county registrar instead of a judge.

Mr Honohan told The Irish Times that county registrars are making decisions on mortgage contracts without the case law to back them up - or the legal skills to do so.

He said thousands of home repossessions granted in the Circuit Court may be open to challenge as a result.

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on finance, Michael McGrath has today called on the Tánaiste, Frances Fitzgerald to clarify whether the courts are correctly implementing the law.

“This is a very serious matter,” he said. “The Minister for Justice has a responsibility to ensure that when home repossession cases are being looked at by the courts, that those making the decision have the legal capacity to make such decisions.”

“These are incredibly impactful decisions on the families involved.

“The Registrar plays a very important role in the process by adjudicating on whether the mortgage contract was fairly applied. Their determination can ultimately decide whether a home can be repossessed or not.”

Deputy McGrath said the Chief Justice Susan Denham must also “ensure that she has confidence in all decisions being arrived at in the Circuit Courts with regard to the administration of justice and the application of EU laws.”

Dedicated mortgage arrears court

The Cork South-Central TD also raised concern over delays to the Mortgages Special Court Bill/Courts (Mortgage Arrears) Bill - which will aim to establish a “dedicated new court to sensitively handle mortgage arrears and other personal insolvency cases.”

The government’s legislation programme for autumn 2016 - published in September of last year - indicated that the bill would go under 'Pre-Legislative Scrutiny' by November 2016.

However, Deputy McGrath said that as the new year gets underway, it has yet to be published, “let alone reviewed by the Oireachtas Committee.”

“This bill allowing for the establishment of a special court to deal with mortgage repossessions needs to be brought forward, scrutinised and enacted as quickly as possible,” he said.

“Any further delays in this Bill are unacceptable. The Tánaiste must publish the bill early in the New Year, and deliver on the Government’s commitment to addressing possible home repossessions in a fair and targeted way.”

The Department of Justice has been contacted for comment.