Government measures to help cash-strapped homeowners with mortgages were today dismissed as providing "scant relief" to the thousands in crisis across the country.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen said there were 70,000 households renegotiating repayments, with 36,000 in arrears.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny demanded to know what the Government was doing to tackle the problem, claiming people were crushed and saw no hope for the future.
"I think the problem for the Government is that you recognise that the people, who were caught in the pincer movement between the housing bubble on the one hand, which was inflamed by the Government, and the economic collapse on the other, is now crushing these people for which they see no hope for the future," Mr Kenny said.
The opposition leader said an expert group on mortgage arrears, due to report shortly, will recommend that those unable to make repayments give up their homes and seek local authority housing.
"Is the message to those people, who lived in an Ireland where there was never going to be an end to economic growth, hand back your keys and seek social housing?" he asked.
The Taoiseach said it had been suggested that 100,000 mortgage holders have renegotiated their payments, but he said the real figure was closer to 70,000, including 36,000 in arrears. Mr Cowen said repossessions remained low, with 86 homes taken by banks between April and June.
"We do want to see people retain their homes where that's absolutely possible and viable for them to do so," said Mr Cowen. The Government had provided financial help to over 17,700 families through the mortgage advisory scheme, he added.
The Taoiseach also said the six-month moratorium on legal proceedings on homeowners who default on payments had been increased to 12 months and services offered by the Money Advice and Budgeting Service had been boosted.
But Mr Kenny said: "The measures that the Taoiseach has spoken of give scant relief to those who know they are facing a family in personal crisis in many cases. There has been some relief for some."