Check Against Delivery
19 December 2018
To discuss the eviction in Strokestown last week
Response by the Minister for Justice and Equality
I wish to thank the Deputies for raising this important matter.
As the Deputies are aware, a High Court Order in relation to repossession was executed last week on a property at Falsk, Co. Roscommon. As the Deputies will also be aware, the courts are, subject only to the constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of their judicial functions and in the management and conduct of cases which come before them and I have no role in the matter.
Sheriffs (or County Registrars acting as Sheriffs) are officers of the court and are independent in the exercise of their functions and duties under statute and rules of court. The Sheriff (or County Registrar acting as Sheriff) is responsible to the Court for the Enforcement of the Court Orders. The law and procedures governing the execution of Court Orders is contained in the Enforcement of Court Orders Acts, 1926 to 1940 and the Rules of Court made thereunder, and I as Minister have no operational function in this matter.
However, it should be emphasised that there is a very clear difference between persons or companies employed to execute Court Orders and vigilante groups carrying out acts of organised and serious violence, as occurred on Sunday.
As I have already stated in relation to this matter, I condemn in the strongest terms the violence that occurred at Falsk, Co. Roscommon early on Sunday morning. A Garda investigation is underway following the violent incident that occurred there, during which a number of people were injured and hospitalised. It is important that the Garda investigation can take its course and I note that arrests have already been made in relation to this matter
The Gardaí are required to carry out their important duties in accordance with the law and should any person have a complaint in relation to the actions of a Garda, they can and should go to the independent complaints body – Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.
While I do not wish to comment on any individual case, I wish to stress that violence is never justified. An Garda Síochána are the sole legitimate guardians of the peace in this State, charged with upholding the law in the interests of the whole community. It is never appropriate for vigilante groups to take the law into their own hands and commit acts of serious violence against people, animals or property, as was the case on Sunday. I strongly condemn the incidents on Sunday and I welcome that An Garda Síochána is investigating the matter.
I am deeply disturbed by the thinly veiled references to vigilantism that have been made in recent days in social media and elsewhere. This is a very dangerous road to go down and vigilantism cannot and will not be tolerated in this State.
While very conscious that the full facts of this particular case are not in the public domain, it is clearly deeply distressing to see a family lose their home, particularly at this time of year. I hope the situation can be peacefully resolved through dialogue and mediation.
On the broader issue of mortgage arrears, the Government is committed to helping borrowers to achieve solutions that allow them to stay in their homes. Abhaile, the national state funded mortgage arrears resolution service, has provided free financial advice to over 10,000 households in mortgage arrears since it was established. The fact that there are over 116,000 mortgage restructures completed to date and that 87% of those restructures are on track, is positive proof that engaging with a lender works. There is help available for those in mortgage distress to wish to avail of State support.
Furthermore, my Department officials are in the process of drafting the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Amendment) Bill. The principal purpose of the Bill is to broaden the range of matters a court must take into account when deciding whether to grant a possession order to a lending institution in respect of a borrower's principal private residence.
As I already indicated in my response to a Parliamentary Question last month, it is a matter for the Attorney General to advise on whether consultation with the European Central Bank (ECB) in relation to the Bill’s provisions is required. The Bill, the final draft of which has now been completed, sets out detailed and complex procedures to apply in certain cases in which legal proceedings are brought by lending institutions seeking repossession of a borrower’s principal private residence.
In particular, a court hearing such proceedings will be required, when considering whether to make or refuse to make an order for possession, to take account of a number of specific matters, including whether the making of such an order would be proportionate in all the circumstances. The circumstances of the borrower and his or her dependents, if any, will be a matter to be taken into account, as well as the conduct of the parties, including the conduct of the lender towards the borrower in any attempts to find a resolution to the arrears problem.
If the Attorney General advises that consultation with the ECB is not required, I intend to proceed with publication of the Bill in the New Year. Otherwise, the draft Bill will be forwarded to the ECB for any observations it may have on its provisions.
I am aware that there is some disquiet about private security operators who, from time to time, are employed by third parties to enforce Court orders. I recently requested that my officials examine the regulation of these operators with a view to bringing them within the remit of the Private Security Authority. I expect a report from an intergovernmental group, chaired by a senior official from my own Department, in January 2019 and I will then make all the necessary and appropriate steps in the light of the report.