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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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Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy Zoom on Seamus Healy I compliment Deputy Pearse Doherty and Sinn Féin on bringing forward the Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2018. I support its passage through the House. I support any measure which would help put manners on the banks. Light-touch regulation means no regulation, as we have seen through the years. Senior bankers have no moral compass and simply cannot be trusted. The banks have a 30-year history of scandal with deposit interest retention tax, DIRT, Ansbacher accounts, bogus non-resident accounts, and so on. They caused the destruction of this country during the boom and bust period, received a bailout of €64 billion from the citizens which resulted in significant austerity imposed on the same citizens. In more recent times, we have had the significant scandal of the tracker mortgage fraud.

The banks have shown they simply have no regard for ordinary, decent and respectable families who found themselves in difficulty during the recession and currently. They have hounded these families, creating fear, ill health and mental illness for them, as well as leading to suicide in some cases. They have done this by insisting on voluntary surrender, voluntary sale, repossession and eviction. The banks should be stopped from repossessing family homes. The Government could make a start on this as it does not need new legislation to do so. It can simply instruct the two main banks which we own, Allied Irish Banks and Permanent TSB, to stop repossessing family homes.

The banks were already bailed out to the tune of €64 billion. They are being bailed out for a second time by mortgage holders who are paying 2% over the European interest rate norm. This has been discussed in the House before and should be dealt with urgently. The tracker mortgage scandal and fraud is significant and has done damage to families and to the country. Up to 15 banks are involved with €1 billion in costs and 40,000 mortgage holders affected. We know there has been collusion between the banks on this. The Governor of the Central Bank told an Oireachtas committee last year, "There is no doubt there is a systemic and widespread aspect to this". The tracker mortgage scandal and fraud requires a criminal investigation. The Government should send the fraud squad into the banks, even at this late stage. What we really need to do is to nationalise the banks for the people.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Deputies Buckley, O'Reilly, Ó Laoghaire and Cullinane are sharing time.

Deputy Pat Buckley: Information on Pat Buckley Zoom on Pat Buckley I also congratulate my comrade, Deputy Pearse Doherty, on bringing forward this Bill. The actual idea that we need legislation to bring in sanctions for people engaged in misleading or telling lies to the Central Bank is quite amazing. It is not because anybody would be surprised that people at the top of the financial sector are capable of telling barefaced lies but we have been so foolish to never act on this before. This is especially surprising given the corporate culture of dishonesty which was laid bare in the aftermath of our recent economic collapse.

This Bill is about tackling white-collar crime with the seriousness it deserves. White-collar crime is capable of bringing just as much misery and pain to countless people as any other form of crime. As we saw with the sub-prime mortgage scandal, people were intent on lying through their teeth to maximise personal gain beyond what anybody could possibly need. This resulted in thousands of people losing their homes, their jobs and pensions in the blink of an eye.

This kind of behaviour is as criminal as one might find oneself in prison for. However, these characters walk free, unpunished and are often back in positions of power in which they can continue to act dishonestly and unscrupulously in their unchecked, unlimited pursuit of personal wealth at all costs. How can we ever challenge this if to lie to the Central Bank is not a criminal offence without serious repercussions? This may be an issue of global concern, but it is one on which we must act locally. In Ireland, up to 33,000 people have been robbed by these criminals. Their criminal actions have resulted in years of extreme hardship and deprivation for many of our people. Children have gone hungry, cold and sick due to the actions of these people. Families have been broken up, people put out on the street and honestly earned pensions destroyed. How many people have died in this country because of these actions? How many breakdowns have been caused? How many lives have been destroyed? A price must be paid for this destruction and there must be measures to stop them from doing it again. This Bill is a small step in that direction. Again, I commend Deputy Doherty on introducing it.

Deputy Louise O'Reilly: Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly I join Deputies in commending my colleague, Deputy Doherty, on bringing forward this important Bill. Crime of any sort is a scourge but white-collar crime in particular is incredibly damaging and galling for a large number of reasons. The apathy shone by successive Governments and politicians towards tackling white-collar crime is somewhat breathtaking. A cursory look at the past ten years in the State reveals the remnants of the fallout from the criminal and negligent activities by bankers, watched on, and sometimes even encouraged, by culpable politicians.

What was the response? The bankers acted like they had the Ministers in their pockets. Many continued their web of lies to the Central Bank and to the public. Instead of lies and criminality being punished, the Government at the time decided to socialise the private banking debt racked up by property speculators. They also pushed the lie that we all partied. This was one of the most awful lies uttered at the time. I well remember hearing the phrase quoted back to me by hard-working, low-paid civil and public servants who were disgusted by the remark. It was somehow an effort to declare collective responsibility and link us all to the crime. If everyone was at it, then everyone was equally responsible. Then, of course, nothing can be done.

Rather than holding to account those who lied and operated recklessly, the then Government punished the people. The same has happened with the tracker mortgage crisis. While the Government watched on, up to 33,000 families have had money stolen from them by banks and up to 100 have lost their homes. Countless numbers have suffered hardships and lives have been wrecked because of it. However, no banker will ever be held responsible under the current system.

People are not vindictive. They want truth, justice and some fairness. That is what this Bill is about. It is about tackling white-collar crime and, specifically, putting in place jail sentences for bankers and others who lied to the Central Bank. Individuals should be held responsible for their actions. There is a reckless culture in our banking sector which can and must be reined in.

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Teachta Doherty faoin mBille luachmhar agus tábhachtach seo. Tá ceart agus cóir ag baint leis.

This State has never taken white-collar crime seriously enough. This Bill is a step in the right direction and a significant addition to the law. There is much more we need to do, however. What we need in particular is a shift in culture and attitude. People who are responsible for white-collar crimes need to be held criminally responsible. The Bill’s two major provisions will ensure the Central Bank can take action against an individual if the whole institution has not been found guilty of deception. Too often individuals, not only in the Central Bank but in other institutions, have hidden behind the institution. We need to tackle that. We must also ensure those who lie to the Central Bank are guilty of potentially a criminal offence with a penalty of up to five years in jail or a fine of up to €250,000.

One reason we do not take white-collar crime seriously enough is there is a view it is a victimless crime.

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