Step low

By Anthony McIntyre (for Pensive Quill)

Pretty much as low as we are likely to find this side of Christmas. A lender repossessed the home of a Waterford couple which they shared with their special needs child. The pair had previously worked for Waterford Crystal but had since lost their jobs when the company folded. In debt and arrears they desperately tried to save their home. The lender, Stepstone Mortgage Funding Ltd, usuriously refused to renegotiate the terms. Phone calls met with no compassion. The couple had earlier written to the company requesting negotiation but were ignored. The excuse later given by the company was a ‘regrettable’ administrative oversight. Waffle.

The monthly payment amounted to the not inconsiderable sum of 2,422 euro. In most households two jobs would need to be held down to sustain that level of repayment. Unable to obtain mortgage interest relief because they were in arrears the couple, in a bid to retain their home, offered the lender a monthly payment of 800 euro. No mean feat for a family on benefits. Stepstone demanded 1000 euro knowing this to be beyond the family’s means. ‘I offered all my carer’s allowance, they said no’ the tear filled mother explained. Even the judge asked legal counsel representing the lenders to accept the 800 euro but not an inch were the heartless swine of Stepstone willing to budge. Then the company had the chutzpah to issue the following statement: ‘we do all that we can to assist borrowers when they find themselves in financial difficulty ... repossession will always be a last resort.’ Bollix.

The judge hearing the case offered words of sympathy, protesting that he was powerless to do anything other than help the powerful pursue their quarry. That he did not adjourn and in the interim call for a moratorium on all home repossessions was because he did not want to. Rather he rebuked those who took out loans on the grounds that if they borrowed money they were under obligation to repay. Of course, but under what conditions? Here the judge was confirming his role - to uphold the strong against the weak. Just to rub it in Stepstone asked for their legal costs to be paid for by the family. The ‘sympathetic’ judge awarded that as well.

Green Party senator Dan Boyle promised that the case would be raised at cabinet level and accused the lender of having behaved “appallingly”. His party colleague TD Paul Gogarty might shout ‘fuck you too Senator Boyle’ in exasperation at Boyle having spoken out on behalf of the disadvantaged but it is good that he raised it nonetheless. Labour’s Ciaran Lynch told the Dail, that subprime lenders like Stepstone were ‘screwing people to the wall.’

The victim of Stepstone, a young mother, exclaimed, ‘I’m sorry I ever went to them, they brought me to hell and back and they can have the house.’ But they should not have it. It would be a crime were that to happen. The recently proposed Home Defence law should not be instituted to afford protection only against the John ‘Frog’ Wards of the world. But we would be justified in suspecting if Padraig Nally had confronted and dealt with Stepstone in the same fashion as he did with Ward, he would still be in prison struggling through a life sentence. Nally was right when he told RTE that ‘the criminal is more active now than ever in this country’; active in their pursuit of the homes of people who don’t have the economic power to either pay up or resist.

Any Home Defence law that would seek to defend homes against gangsters would not restrict itself to warding off small fry. It could do much worse than acknowledge that when the aggressor forces a weaker opponent into a retreat, scorched earth is a time honoured tactic designed to render worthless the ground taken.

If some Christmas spirit animated by an anathema for Scrooge was to bulldoze the house to the ground before the greedy lenders got their hands on it few would really care, viewing it as the type of Christmas present Stepstone should get every year and throughout the year to boot.

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