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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae] They are the only ones we can say have treated the people fairly and honestly.

Given what has gone on in the banking sector, the introduction of accountability through legislation that will ensure wrongdoing is penalised deserves support and I consider anyone who would not support it as completely out of order. At the end of the day, our job is to work on behalf of those we meet at clinics. They come to us individually and in groups and tell us the horror stories of what they have put up with over the years. Our banks have kicked and screamed against what we want to do which is achieve fairness for their customers at the end of the day. In many instances they have treated their customers with contempt.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I too am happy to speak to the Bill. I salute Deputy Pearse Doherty for the excellent work he has done on the issue and the manner in which he has tried to hold financial institutions to account.

The Bill seeks to extend the application of Part 111C of the Central Bank Act 1942 to provide the Central Bank with the power to conduct inquiries into the suspected provision of false or misleading information. It also seeks to provide for administrative sanctions that may be imposed by the Central Bank for the provision of false or misleading information, also known as downright lies. Anyone who has followed the work of the finance committee in recent times will be under no illusion about the level of resistance by the banks and others to the provision of full and accurate information. We see the contempt in which they hold this House when they come before its committees with partial explanations and half-truths at best. It is therefore vital that we finally empower the Central Bank so that it stops being a useless, toothless and fruitless institution because it is in danger of becoming even more so. I am glad to note, however, that it seems in recent times to have finally found a bit of backbone and teeth when dealing with these financial institutions.

The recent performance of the chief executive officer of Permanent TSB, Mr. Masding, when he was before Deputy McGuinness's committee was absolutely appalling and clearly demonstrates the need for this type of legislation. Unless compelled otherwise, the banks and financial institutions will continue to do as they see fit. Families up and down the country have been terrorised. Some years before he became a Minister of State, I met a neighbour of the Minister of State's down in his county. That man was beaten within inches of his life one night by thugs who were sent out by Friends First. I call them "Friends Last" because they are no one's friend. They are a third force, and it is still going on.

Today we see that Permanent TSB will sell thousands of mortgages, as will AIB. Something needs to happen and this Bill is an effort in that regard. Unless the Government does not oppose it, however, the Bill will have to go into the lottery. What will happen then? There is absolutely no legislation. Our latest banking legislation dates to 1942. I have said it here before but it is no wonder the cabals and the gangsters have disdain for the House. They do not care about it because the real power in this country is in the boardrooms of these institutions. The bank robbers are not on the streets any more but in the boardrooms planning and plotting. These people are robbing from within, with impunity, and they are robbing all of us. They have their hands in our pockets. Then there is the way they treat the people.

A farmer friend of mine's case was listed in the High Court today. Another fella is coming up next week. The banks are nothing but legalised terrorists. We had Mr. O'Brien calling families who were worried about their sick children emotional terrorists. This is emotional terrorism, direct terrorism and institutional terrorism that is supported by the State and there is little solace or support below in the Four Courts. It is very little aside from the clocks ticking and the tab mounting to pay the barristers every day. We must do something because it has been going on for ten years and people are at their wits' end. We have had suicides, marriage break-ups, sickness and illness. When will the Government do something?

As the then Taoiseach called it at the time, the Government got a wallop from the electorate the last time. It will get a bigger wallop if it allows these marauding gangsters to go around terrorising our ordinary people. These people are trying to keep the roof over their heads. They are not asking the State for houses and causing all the trauma and everything else. The Government does not want to act, however. We can see the contempt. The Minister of State is here on his own. Not one Fine Gael backbencher or member of the Independent Alliance is present.

I plead with the Minister of State not to oppose the Bill. I plead with him to accept it and to bring forward more rigorous legislation to put some bit of manners and decorum on these people. People have been treated with total disrespect and it has been institutional from the top down. There are some good, ordinary front-of-house people in the banks who get the stick but there is a deep culture of robbery, theft and deceit inside the banks. The banks have no interest in ordinary people's lives or the trauma they suffer but what they can make for their shareholders and for themselves. They will then move onto some other business after it. It is time that the gloves were taken off and the Central Bank did something. It should also be made accountable to the House.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy I too thank Deputy Pearse Doherty and Sinn Féin for proposing the Bill. I hope it receives support on all sides. It was five years ago last week that we stood here and had the infamous "Prom Night". We watched helplessly as billions of euro worth of promissory notes were turned into sovereign debt which was in turn placed on the shoulders of Irish citizens for decades to come. The game changer that we were promised evaporated. The burden is a direct result of the banking sector in the country being allowed and facilitated by the political establishment to act more or less with impunity. As citizens, we picked up the tab for the banking failures. The handling of the tracker mortgage scandal suggests that little has changed regarding how banks behave. Many lessons should have been learned from the catastrophic banking collapse but front and foremost among them is that these banks cannot be allowed to act with impunity and that the political establishment cannot turn the other cheek to the practices of the banking sector.

What the sector does has a direct impact not just on the economy but on society too. The horror stories of families who have lost their homes as a direct result of what is essentially fraudulent behaviour on the part of the banks in the tracker mortgages issue show first hand how society has been impacted. We have homeless families, families that have been forced to rely on State subsidies such as HAP and, tragically, families who have faced the trauma of suicide. This is all as a direct result of the behaviour of the banks. It seems ludicrous that, in 2018, the Opposition has to move a Bill to, in effect, make it illegal for the banks to lie to the Central Bank. That is the situation, however. Needless to say, the Social Democrats wholeheartedly support the Bill.

While there must be sanctions on the sector as a whole, it is also clear from the many banking scandals that there must be strict and enforceable sanctions and consequences for senior decision makers. The only way to have a culture of good behaviour is to challenge bad behaviour and reward good behaviour. In this country we have all too often failed to punish properly bad behaviour and the culture of impunity and a sense on the part of certain classes of people feel that they are above the law has pretty much become the norm. That attitude must be challenged.

I do not accept the narrative that the wholesale, widespread tracker mortgage scandal happened randomly. I do not accept the decisions of the institutions are a mere coincidence. I believe this was a strategic and orchestrated action by senior decision makers in the banking sector and those decision makers should be held accountable for their actions. I also believe that there was a terrible lack of oversight on the part of a range of different actors. At the same time, if it can be proved that a decision was deliberately detrimental to citizens and customers, it must be punished.

Where was the regulator in all of this? Even where cases were brought, the regulator found in favour of the banks. It has now been found that he was wrong. What about the accountants? Were the contingent liabilities recorded? If they were, why are there no consequences for these same firms that keep cropping up? The tracker mortgages were the least profitable mortgages and the banks were making decisions in the interests of their balance sheets and not their customers' interests.

The banks have repeatedly demonstrated that they will not act ethically when left to their own devices. For that reason, the Bill is most welcome. I look forward to its smooth and speedy passage through the legislative process.

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