Inishowen’s debt stress growing rapidly

Government plans to introduce water and property charges, cut wages, and plans by the ESB to increase their charges by 15% could be the final tipping point for many people in Inishowen. According to Kevin Cooley, of the St. Vincent dePaul, the debt situation in the peninsula has become so dire for many people they have now had to set up an ‘expert service’, staffed by professional accountants, to help stressed out locals

Amidst claims that the new charges could easily amount to an additional 1000 euro being taken from the average family Mr. Cooley said the planned budget in December is causing serious concern and stress for many people.

“The government has indicated it will be cutting wages of public servants while introducing charges on property and water.

“They are trying to claim that, for example, it is only an extra 5 euro a week for a family for water. It sounds reasonable until you add up all the 5 euro charges - for property, for wage levies, for hidden tax hikes etc. The cost of living is also on the rise in regard to electricity, and costs involved in running a family car - diesel, insurance, tax - are now likely to be a lot higher than they were last year. People on local incomes and on social welfare will be especially hard hit. When you have little enough as it is, these cuts could be the final straw.”

But Mr Cooley said there was also a major issue with what he described as the ‘new poor’.

He said: “A lot of people in Inishowen were self employed - carpenters, electricians etc. Because of this they are not entitled to any benefits until they are a year unemployed. These people used to be well off. Now they are getting a double hit. Their job and earning power has gone, and they have huge debts

“We, at the St Vincent dePaul, simply don’t have the ability to pay debts of two or three thousand off for people. We used to refer them to MABS, the budgeting and advice people, who do a great job but they have now got so backed up that there is a long waiting list. Because the situation is so serious we have set up an expert service, staffed by volunteer accountants, who are willing to provide expert advice for people under pressure.

“Let’s be clear - the situation is very stressful for many people. We have about 20 per cent increase in new clients, people who never came to see us before. Many people don’t want to come to us - for many it’s a matter of pride - and so we are willing to come to see them in their homes. In fact we are willing to do any kind of meeting in as sensitive way as possible.”

Government TD, Joe McHugh, yesterday acknowledged that many people were ‘maxed out’ in regard to debt but he suggested there were no quick fix solutions.

“Indecisiveness at a European leadership level is creating such uncertainty. The day of quick-fix solutions for individual countries is over. There has to be a plan for the European project collectively, whether this is lower interest rates on the Irish bailout, or monetary policy intervention, there will have to be something proactive.

“At a domestic level, we have inherited an unsustainable, top-heavy Government apparatus. There is a willingness on the part of this Government to shred the unnecessary lairs of bureaucracy and to build a leaner model of governance.

“However, while austerity is inevitably on the table across the board, we still have to be conscious that many people are already maxed out, be it high levels of indebtedness or other areas of financial vulnerability.”