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

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 965 No. 5

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  4 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty] One might wonder of how many other situations in this State that sentence could be true, but the job before us is to act. The names of the bankers who did so much damage are well-known. It is a sign of how notorious these bankers are that they are household names. Their job was supposed to be to hold on to the money that people entrusted them with. Instead, many squandered that money through pure greed. Thousands of people signed up to a basic contract with their banks, including the right to a tracker mortgage. It was a plain, simple, black-and-white contract. Now we have learned that 30,000 of those contracts meant nothing because it did not suit the bank any longer. State-owned banks like Permanent TSB dragged their victims all the way to the steps of the Supreme Court before dropping their appeals. The arrogance did not end on that day, it did not end when the Central Bank started an examination and it still has not ended today after so many brave victims stood up to them publicly and called them out for the thieves they are. They still overcharge today, argue the toss over rates and fight tooth and nail against victims whose homes were stolen from them. They do this because they know there are no individual consequences for them. The bank might be fined but Johnny or Gilly Banker know they will not go to jail. They know that they are above the law.

Today, we send out a signal that we stand with the people, the victims of the tracker scandal or any other scandal which banks have created and walked away from, and say that today is the day that it will change. Sinn Féin is determined that the law will be changed, not just today in this small way in this legislation but in a wider way so that a crook in a suit is treated no differently from a crook in a tracksuit. Why is it up to us? There have been seven years with Fine Gael and various others and nothing has been done to hold individuals accountable for wrecking the country, with no new laws to tackle white-collar crime. Why not? Ideologically this is not a battle that Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil have the nerve for. Sinn Féin abolished the six-year rule and allowed thousands of victims of the tracker mortgage scandal to seek justice through the Financial Services Ombudsman. Sinn Féin had to take forward the legislation to allow for class action suits to allow those victims to come together and take on the bank. That Bill is progressing on Committee Stage despite Government opposition. We have to do this without the resources that Ministers have to bring forward legislation for what then Governor Patrick Honohan called for nearly three years ago, namely, to make it a crime to lie to or deliberately mislead the Central Bank.

I urge all parties to support this Bill, not only today but over the coming months, so that, for once and for all, everybody is equal before the law with no exceptions or get-out-of-jail cards for bankers or others in high offices.

Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín Many decent people work in the banks and do a good job every day, providing decent service for the public that needs those services. As Deputy Doherty has said, it is blindingly clear to anybody that the banks have done radical damage in this country. We only have to look back to 2008 and to the fact that the banks precipitated one of the biggest financial crises that the western world has ever seen. Our generation is paying dearly for that, and future generations in this country will also pay dearly for it. One would imagine, after such a crisis, that banking institutions would seek to keep their noses clean and their heads down and ensure that they did not get into more trouble. Within the same decade as the previous banking crisis, we have a situation where the banks are front and centre within a crisis-ridden Government. As the Government goes from crisis to crisis, the banks are front and centre. Up to 33,000 families have had their money stolen from them by the banks. Up to 100 of those have had their homes taken from them and countless others have had serious hardship in their own relationships. Much of this is impossible to quantify. The truth of the matter is that these people are the little people in society. These are the people who generally have to take it on the chin and accept the damage that they are given.

What makes my head spin in all of this is the absolute lack of accountability in society. There is no accountability and if there is no accountability, one can be guaranteed that reckless behaviour will continue without stopping. Having no accountability is a recipe for the whole facade to come crashing down again in the future. That is the problem in this country. There is no accountability in the Irish political system. A crisis happens. It consumes us all. It costs us dearly. Then the media cycle moves on and the political establishment forgets about it. This is not an accident. The truth of the matter is that it suits the establishment of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to allow this cycle to move on because the people at the top of these banks are from the same closely knit social circles that the establishment of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael come from. They are the big people in this country. Deputy Doherty's Bill seeks to tackle these individuals, to hold them to account and to ensure that this does not happen again.

Deputy Carol Nolan: Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan For too long now, velvet touch regulation has been the practice upon which Central Bank oversight and accountability has been determined, at the cost of both fiscal probity and ethics. This past decade has seen the stripping of the State's resources to pay for the sharp practice and duplicity of financial institutions. Regrettably, we now know that public anger, outrage and suffering are not enough to bring either institutions or individuals to account and this can only be achieved by criminalising reckless misconduct. It is critical that the Central Bank has at its disposal legal instruments which compel ethical compliance by both firms and individuals.

"White-collar crime" is a convenient term for people of respectability and high social status to hide behind while acting dishonourably in the course of their occupation. White-collar criminals played fast and loose and it cost the citizens of this country €64 billion. White-collar criminals acted deceptively by extorting money from customers on tracker mortgages and, as we speak, white-collar criminals are intimidating distressed mortgage holders into voluntarily surrendering their homes. I have seen too many of those distressed customers in my own offices in Tullamore and Edenderry in Offaly. Those customers are absolutely broken, disheartened and distressed by harassment from banks. We were all elected to serve citizens, not banks or corporations. It is about time that we started to do that. Despite this cycle of crisis and scandal, banks are subject to little more than a rap on the knuckles, a pledge to clean up their act, and payment of a fine which in most instances represents little more than a couple of weeks' profit for the institution.

Warren Buffett once famously said, "You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out." When the tide went out in 2008 and 2009, we discovered a lot of skinny dippers but we had no law against naked bankers. It is incomprehensible that the action of any professional, which has potential to cast every citizen of the State into penury, is above legal accountability. It is also incomprehensible that the individuals of any profession whose actions are financially underwritten by the people are immune from criminal charges when they recklessly gamble with the savings and future earnings of citizens. For these reasons, it is imperative that all officials, CEOs, board members and insurers of financial institutions are legally beyond immunity from prosecution either through acts of commission or acts of omission. They should be held to the highest possible standard of fiscal probity and legally bound by an oath of trust which affirms truthfulness, honour and ethical restraint, and which serves the interests of the State with equal regard to the interests of the institution. Let us never again expose the citizens of this country to the reckless brinkmanship of unaccountable individuals and corporations.

Deputy Imelda Munster: Information on Imelda Munster Zoom on Imelda Munster Just over one in four customers who face these higher mortgage charges have received compensation. As a result of the decision of these banks, we know that more than 100 families have lost their homes and in excess of 30,000 will be directly impacted by this scandal. The Taoiseach said before that this behaviour was scandalous and he said there should be a timeframe for redress and compensation, but nothing has happened. Is it not the same old story, that nobody is never held to account for white-collar crime in this State? A person can be arrested for being homeless in this State, but if a person makes somebody homeless, he or she can be given a big cheque and a tax break. These people are also exempt from any sort of accountability or responsibility despite that they have stolen more than €1 billion from thousands of families.

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