A short letter to the Irish Times on Friday titled ‘A new torment – hunger’ has reminded a lot of people that the ugly side to this economic downturn has yet to be dredged up. The economic war may be drawing to a climax but, as with the situation in Libya, the massacres that have occurred during the collapse have yet to be fully unveiled.
Despite the issue of mortgage arrears and private debt forgiveness now being given the air-time they deserve and daily reminders about the 55,000 odd people who are now in arrears on their mortgages, up until now the debate has been largely academic. We have debated whether the figures are accurate and what the real cost could be to the exchequer and we have accused those in the ranks of ‘moral hazard’ before we even knew of their personal situations.
Of course, we do so because we don’t bother putting faces or names to the numbers until we come face to face with one of the casualties. Now that the Celtic Tiger has finally brought the bloodied remains of the dead mouse to our door, we are finally forced to deal with the casualty and ask ourselves what is the right thing to do.
MP Mac Domhnaill from Tralee in County Kerry, we must presume, is just one of many people around this country who is now in the unenviable situation of having to choose between keeping a roof over his children’s heads and keeping food in their bellies. But already, the same people that would accuse him of ‘moral hazard’ are the ones who are now attacking him for even daring to put his mortgage before his kids.
Whatever Mr Mac Domhnaill’s back story, whatever the story of the 55,000 people who are now in arrears, we have no other moral option but to examine ways to help them out and come to solutions where no one is forced to make a choice between a roof and food.
It is interesting to compare the debate about private debt forgiveness now and the complete lack of debate that surrounded the previous government’s unilateral decision to bail out the banks at the expense of the country.
Coming out of our economic troubles, the last thing this country needs is a civil war, where citizens are pitted against citizens as we fight over what remains in the kitty. A blanket debt forgiveness plan may not be the answer but some comfort must be given to those in real distress.