23 August 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The indications that international bank Investec are set to enter the Irish mortgage market are potentially positive ones for this important dimension of the economy.

The move should generate competition and fresh activity in a sector moribund since the 2008 collapse.

Those entering the housing market in the future, should, if the laws of competitive practice hold true, benefit from having more attractive variable interest rates on offer as the existing players jostle for the available business with a newcomer that, significantly, does not have to contend with the burden of the negative equity the established lenders are labouring under.

The generation of movement in the property market that would result could make a significant contribution to revivifying the wider economy.

The Investec decision is of course not an altruistic one – the major international financial operation obviously scents a profit-making opportunity attractive enough to encourage it to diversify from its existing concentration in this country on private and investment banking.

But where Investec leads, others will probably follow and a broader range of lending choice can only be good for both potential and existing homeowners.

The move also suggests that there is concrete substance to the recent ‘straw in the wind’ indications from a range of property surveys that house prices in Ireland are now beginning to ‘bottom out’ after successive years of sharp falls in value.

The presence of significant new forces in the sphere should help safeguard the establishment of sensible lending practices – and adherence to them – when the mortgage market returns to functioning.

It might also restrain the established banks from proceeding down the worrying road of increasing existing charges or establishing new ones.

There are disconcerting indications that the regulations governing bank charges might be amended to enable banks to generate additional income.

The Dept of Finance must proceed very carefully down this avenue of review, whatever troika pressures may be exerted with regard to bank profitability.

The balancing act is extremely tricky – banks will undoubtedly agitate for greater freedom in the area of charges on the grounds that they need the income to generate capital for lending purposes.

But additional bank charges are very hard to justify in the current economic climate – for many of those people not burdened by mortgage debt, they represent an insidious but increasingly significant drain on their income, and are proving increasingly problematic for small businesses operating on ever-tighter margins.

The Central Bank is currently a guarantor of comparative restraint in this area – diminishing its regulatory power is not a step that should be taken lightly.

The prospect of increased competition in the mortgage sector is a welcome one – but the established banks should not be allowed to embark on a spree of charges until they make good on their obligation to release capital to those with the entrepreneurial and job creation know-how to get the Irish economy moving again.

Peter Madden, the solicitor representing Monaghan born-woman Michaella McCollum Connolly, who with her friend Melissa Reid is facing drug trafficking accusations in Peru, has rightly described some of the media coverage of the unfolding story as “bizarre”.

At a traditionally slow time for news from the standard sources, newspaper and broadcast journalists on these shores and internationally have been having a field day with the plight of the two young women.

Some of the reportage has been balanced and insightful, but a good deal of it has been irresponsible and sensational.

A particular cause for complaint has arisen in our own circulation area due to the content of a profile piece on Ms McCollum Connolly published in last Saturday’s edition of the Irish Daily Mail.

In it, the Mullaghmatt area of Monaghan Town where Michaella lived for a time during her childhood (a “shabby estate” according to the headline) is described as “a highly disadvantaged area” where problems of “crime, drug dealing and anti-social behaviour” are presented as being rife.

Independent member of Monaghan Town and Co Council Seamus Treanor has rightly protested at the inaccurate and potentially damaging picture of the area conveyed by the piece in question.

We are sure his sentiments are shared by the residents of the estate, who are justifiably proud of the regeneration Mullaghmatt has undergone in recent times.

An extensive and ongoing Remedial Scheme is serving to correct structural deficiencies in some of the residences there, and has led to a significant improvement in the overall estate environment.

The strength of the community in Mullaghmatt, as Colr Treanor points out, has also manifested in the development of an outstanding family resource centre in the Teach na nDaoine facility.

The design concepts that dictated the scale and layout of this estate when it was built would not now be considered in alignment with prudent planning – and there is no doubt that the area suffered a degree of neglect from both central and local government in the past.

But it was never a place where criminality or social malady of a scale suggested by the description in the newspaper piece ever prevailed – and if a less than favourable reputation once attached to Mulllaghmatt, that has long since been rendered anachronistic through the community-building efforts of the residents themselves.

The effect locally of the references will be more to provoke anger than to damage reputation, as the area’s accomplishments in recent times are widely known and acknowledged.

But the picture that has gone out to the wider readership of the newspaper concerned is a very unflattering one at odds with actuality.

It is hoped that the duty habitually discharged by responsible journalists and their publications to correct inaccuracies will see the people of Mullaghmatt receive the expedient repair of reputation they clearly deserve in this instance.

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