A new report detailing what FLAC director Noeline Blackwell called "the devastating and largely pointless human cost of the debt enforcement system in Ireland" was launched on 6th July 2009 in Dublin by blues singer Mary Coughlan on behalf of legal rights organisation, FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres).
Entitled To No-One's Credit, the report examines the most commonly used system of debt enforcement, punctuated with the voices of people who have actually been through the process. The report calls for urgent reform of laws in the area, dating from 1926 and 1940, which put 276 people in prison for non-payment of debt in 2008. Under current rules, judges may make instalment orders for payment without knowing the current income or circumstances of the debtor and without the debtor ever attending court.
Launching the report, Mary Coughlan recalled how she lost her house but avoided jail only through a last-minute intervention. "For some people, advice and help comes way too late - we need to make sure this doesn't happen," said Ms Coughlan.
"The whole process of debt enforcement in Ireland almost seems designed to exclude the debtor from both understanding and fully taking part in it," according to FLAC Senior Policy Researcher Paul Joyce. "FLAC is proposing a raft of measures which will bring debtors into the procedure and, we believe, will save time and money on legal action. Apart from the risk of individual human rights violations involved, which has been noted by the UN, our penal system does not in any way actually improve the debt problem in Ireland."
Measures suggested include an alternative debt enforcement system, appropriate financial and legal information and advice to be available to debtors as early as possible in the process, debt enforcement to be dealt with in private and better recording of data by the Courts Service to allow suitable legislative and policy responses to debt issues.
FLAC's report and executive summary are available to download and in paperback from the FLAC office at 01-874 5690.