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Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 965 No. 5

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Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

  It is important to put this Bill into context. It is incredible that, as we speak, thousands of families across the State are paying over the odds on their mortgages, not just because of high variable interest rates, but because of the tracker mortgage scandal. We know this because the banks brazenly and openly told us at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. They accept they did wrong but they will fix it in their own time. They know they are a protected species. Banks and bankers destroyed the finances of the State through arrogance and what I believe is criminality, yet they still act as if they are unaccountable to anybody.

  Why do they do so? It is because the State has let them away with it for decades. We kneel down to bankers and worship them. One of the first things I noticed in the Members' Bar was a picture of one of the most notorious bankers along with a group of Deputies in a celebrated little cubbyhole surrounded by all the different trophies Members would have won at the Galway races and elsewhere. That is a symbol of how the State has dealt with bankers in the past.

  However, things must change. The days of bankers breaking the rules, lying and getting away scot-free must end. Today must mark the start of that process in some small way. I am glad to bring this Bill before the Dáil today on behalf of Sinn Féin. It is a short but important Bill.

  Section 1 makes providing false or misleading information to the Central Bank a "prescribed contravention" under the Central Bank Act. It specifies the people to whom this applies and, for the first time, allows the Central Bank to sanction an individual even if the financial service provider as a whole has not committed a contravention. In summary, it is about the individual accountability of bankers and those in financial institutions.

  Section 2 makes it a criminal offence to lie to the Central Bank. Moreover it makes it punishable by a custodial sentence. Bankers or anybody else, such as those in the insurance industry, found guilty of this offence could face up to five years' imprisonment.

  Section 3 is required to implement section 2 fully. It amends Schedule 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 2011 so that the new offence introduced in section 2 of the Bill is a relevant offence in the Criminal Justice Act. Section 4 specifies the Short Title of the Bill and provides for its commencement on the day after being signed into law by the President - a day I look forward to.

  In 2015, nearly three years ago, the then Central Bank Governor, Professor Patrick Honohan, wrote to the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, arguing that this law needed to be brought in. However, two and a half years later nothing has appeared on the legislative programme from the Government. Were it not for the Freedom of Information Act, who knows if this recommendation from the main person, the Governor of the Central Bank, would have ever seen the light of day? Why is that? It is not as if bankers have not been in the limelight for all the wrong reason in the meantime.

  When I initially submitted a freedom of information request to get the correspondence between the then Governor, Professor Honohan, and the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, the letter was provided but the Governor's comments regarding financial institutions lying to the Central Bank were redacted. It was only later when The Times, Ireland edition journalist, Peter O'Dwyer, received the information unredacted through a subsequent freedom of information request that the public became fully aware that the Governor of the Central Bank had written to the Minister telling him that the Central Bank knew that bankers and those in financial institutions were lying to it and that it had no powers to hold them to account and that it wanted something done about it.

  The letter from the former Governor, Professor Honohan, states, "There have been instances where the Central Bank has been given false... information by regulated entities or by individuals in regulated entities." He went on to state that this was done to cover up inadequacies or failings within the institutions. All this is shocking. Why did the Minister not immediately order his staff to close this loophole or, as the then Governor called it, this lacuna in the law?

  Although the Government will, I hope, support the Bill, it is my firm belief that it does not want too much light shone on this area. Individual accountability is not something this State has ever done well except in the case of the poor or vulnerable. In those cases the State, as we all know, will come down on them like a ton of bricks. However, for the bankers and politicians, the protected circle at the top, there is no individual accountability.

  Earlier this week a banker from Irish Nationwide Building Society was fined €20,000 for his part in bringing down a building society for which the taxpayers are still paying the price. As one journalist put it, ten years, millions of euro, thousands of hours of investigations later - what a joke. Ten years later after the individual retired, he has been disqualified for three years. That is a sick joke. What about the next generation of bankers? They have overseen the theft of €1 billion of the money of hard-working families as a result of the tracker scandal. Does anybody believe that anyone will ever be fired? Will any of them see a day behind bars? Sadly, the answer is "No".

  Two and a half years after the Governor of the Central Bank suggested this modest law, why has no finger been lifted from within Government Buildings or the Departments of Finance and Justice and Equality? It has been left to Sinn Féin to bring forward this change and we do not shirk from doing so.

  Níl an dara suí sa bhuaile ag Sinn Féin ach an t-athrú seo a chur i bhfeidhm, ach ní dhéanfaidh muid faillí inár gcuid dualgais. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le hOifig an Chomhairleora Dlí Parlaiminte as ucht a gcuid tacaíochta agus an Bhille seo á dhréachtú againn.

  It raises the question as to what could be achieved if the services the Minister has available to him were made available to me or my party. If we had access to the Civil Service, the Attorney General, the Central Bank and all the other arms of the State, there would be a suite of legislation that would come down on bankers to ensure they would not be able to act as they have done in the past and in my view are still doing at this point in time. If the people in power had the passion to take a zero-tolerance approach to white-collar crime, we would be in a different situation. My party will continue to drive this agenda, tackle and root out corruption and ensure the individuals responsible for so much hurt face due process and, if convicted, are sentenced to terms of imprisonment.

  The days of trusting banks and bankers must end. I recently helped a constituent with a passport application. That person had to register in the register of foreign births and had to get the application signed. When it comes to this most important piece of identification - a passport indicating Irish citizenship - who does the State allow to sign it? It is the banker. The banker who robbed the country is still seen as the person we put up on the pedestal. We accept the word of a banker when it comes to a person's identity and all the rest of it. That indicates where Government is at in all this.

  As lawmakers, we need to put in place a system where they are held accountable for breaking the rules and stealing money as would happen with any other criminal. This goes way beyond banking. Following the Mahon tribunal and the Moriarty tribunal, is there a single person behind bars? The only people who went to prison as a result of those tribunals were people who were found guilty of contempt of court. Despite the corruption those tribunals highlighted, nobody served terms of imprisonment as a result of that. There is no culture of individual accountability in this State.

  The last line of the Governor's lengthy letter to the Minister, Deputy Noonan, stated that the structure "effectively allows individuals to act without responsibility for their actions of lying or misleading".

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