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Snippet Contents:

This issue says something about the culture of light touch regulation pursued by this Government and previous Governments. The deficiency in the law identified and rectified by Deputy Doherty's Bill effectively allowed senior management in finance companies to lie, evade the truth, peddle mistruths and incomplete information to the Central Bank of Ireland and avoid personal criminal responsibility. If one were to be generous, one could perhaps forgive this Government and previous Governments if they had not been aware of this issue and this was an unforeseen loophole. However, the matter was flagged by the Governor of the Central Bank in 2015 and the Government did nothing about it. This approach has allowed scandals with tracker mortgages and insurance to drag on. At every turn, we have been given figures on the number of people involved which were grossly underestimated. We were consistently told the matter would be resolved quickly and all those affected would be given redress within months. In autumn 2016, for example, we were told, like soldiers on their way to the First World War, that everything would be done by Christmas. It is clear the banks hid the full truth, deliberately evaded proper scrutiny and dragged their feet at all stages.
These matters have consequences. How many people have been forced to pay thousands or tens of thousands of euro in additional mortgage repayments or insurance as a result of these scandals? How many lost their homes? What has been the impact on families across the country? How many more financial scandals have not been unearthed because of the culture of secrecy and evasion?
Tom Wolfe, in his novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, described financiers on Wall Street in the 1980s as regarding themselves as masters of the universe. It seems those at the top of the finance industry in this country took a similar view of themselves and adopted the same contemptuous approach to customers, those who found themselves in financial difficulty and members of the public at large with a sense of complete impunity. Over the years, we saw glimpses of this rotten culture in the DIRT scandal, the Ansbacher accounts, the scandal of Anglo Irish Bank's hidden loans, the Anglo tapes, Irish Nationwide Building Society, Quinn Insurance, Setanta Insurance, the culture of misselling financial products and the tracker mortgages scandal. For as long as banks continue to be run as they are now, this list will continue to grow. The Bill is to be welcomed, therefore, as it will make it more difficult for banks to behave in this way and impose individual responsibility on senior managers who lie to the Central Bank of Ireland.
Speaking some months ago at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Philip Lane, made an unintentionally striking comment on the culture of the banks, which has been the subject of much discussion. Professor Lane spoke about the problem with the culture of the banks and went a little further in explaining it by describing it as a culture of seeking profitability to the detriment of the banks' customers. I concur with Professor Lane on that point but that is capitalism. Banks are run on the basis of capitalism and to maximise profits. Even when they were nationalised, they continued to be run on a for-profit basis, despite Deputies on this side and others arguing they should be run differently. The solution is to have a completely different model of banking, a democratically controlled public banking utility to run banks and use them in the service of society and the economy at large, as opposed to doing what we currently do, namely, run society and the economy in the interests of the banks and those at their head.