FAMILIES in Dublin West are facing a 'massive social crisis' over mortgage debt, candidates running in the constituency's by-election have said.
The area went through a population explosion during the boom years as new communities in the likes of Ongar, Clonee and Tyrrelstown sprang up.
But the properties they bought in the good times are now worth up to 60pc less, while mortgage repayments have increased, the politicians told the Herald.
"It's a massive social crisis that needs to be addressed," said Labour's Patrick Nulty, the favourite to take the seat held by Brian Lenihan until his death.
"The first thing we need to do is make sure that there is a process established that is non-judicial for people to manage their debts with their creditors," the Fingal county councillor said.
He described the Keane Report on mortgage liability -- which argued against any blanket debt forgiveness -- as a "good start".
But Fianna Fail's David McGuinness said the report was a 'flop'.
"These reports inevitably don't turn up with any kind of solution. We've written a bill to take the decision-making off the banks and allow people if they're in difficulty to go to an independent office, a non-judicial office, to make a decision," Mr McGuinness added.
He said if he is elected he will promote solutions to the mortgage crisis.
Mr McGuinness added: "If people are putting all their resources into paying off their mortgage, then they are not spending money in the real economy. They're not going to the supermarket. They're not bringing their children out.
"Our economy needs these people freed up to actually contribute to the real economy. When that money starts spinning around, jobs can be created on the back of that. There is a sense that people are a bit browned off by broken promises."
The Socialist Party's Ruth Coppinger said Keane's recommendations merely "left people to the mercy of the banks".
She believes borrowers who bought during the boom should benefit from a write-down of their loans.
"I think it's absolutely essential for society to go forward that this debt albatross is lifted off people's necks," the Fingal county councillor said.
"The main people who are affected by this are young families, people in their 30s, who were forced into buying over-inflated houses in the last eight to 10 years," she said.
"We favour a write-down of mortgages to the real value of people's homes.
So far, the debate has focused on families who have fallen behind in their payments.
But the Socialist Party candidate said: "You don't have to be in mortgage arrears to be suffering."
She added: "It's like a double tax. We've had our wages cut to bail out the banks and now we're still bailing them out with inflated mortgages."
Fine Gael's Eithne Loftus believes that people's debt should not follow them.
If a borrower has to hand back the keys to their property, they will not be saddled with the outstanding liability for the rest of their lives, she says.