FG warned Independent Alliance about statement on trackers

Varadkar refuses to say Garda should be called in to investigate mortgage scandal

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar drew a strong distinction between Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance by refusing to say the Garda should be called in to investigate the tracker mortgage scandal. Photograph: Aurore Belot/AFP/Getty Images

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar drew a strong distinction between Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance by refusing to say the Garda should be called in to investigate the tracker mortgage scandal. Photograph: Aurore Belot/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Independent Alliance was warned earlier this week about releasing a statement that Fine Gael believed would damage efforts to help people affected by the tracker mortgages controversy.

The group of Independent TDs called for a criminal investigation on the issue on Wednesday, hours before Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe gave a press conference on the controversy.

Some sources said the Independent Alliance wanted to freeze the assets of senior banking figures involved in the controversy.

However, it was suggested Fine Gael said this would lead to a run on the banks which would damage the whole financial sector.

It is understood that the Alliance members – Shane Ross, Finian McGrath, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, John Halligan and Seán Canney – were prepared to release their statement earlier but were warned against doing so.

Mr Donohoe had met with senior bank executives on Monday and on Tuesday before making his statement on Wednesday.

Inside Business on the tracker scandal

It is understood there was frustration among Fine Gael figures that the Alliance was preparing to release a statement that would pre-empt Mr Donohoe’s press conference after his meetings with the banks. “They were proposing stuff that would have made things worse for victims, which was not their intention,” said a source.

The Independents are understood to have been warned that such a statement would not be wise.

The controversy over tracker mortgages arose after it emerged tens of thousands of homeowners were potentially wrongly refused access to tracker mortgages by their banks after the economic crash. Some of those who were overcharged went on to struggle to meet their repayments, and some lost their homes through repossession.

Strong distinction

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Thursday drew a strong distinction between Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance by refusing to say the Garda should be called in to investigate the tracker mortgage scandal.

Fine Gael’s junior coalition partner called for a criminal investigation to be initiated into the practice where most major financial institutions took customers off the lower tracker interest rates and put them on to higher rates.

Mr Varadkar insisted the Government had no authority to send in the Garda or its National Bureau of Fraud Investigation. “I would not like to live in a country, quite frankly, where politicians could order in the police or the fraud squad in the way that some people have suggested.”

When it was put to him that his coalition partners were among those, he replied: “You have my answer on that.”

He also said he did not know if any criminal behaviour had occurred.

The Taoiseach was speaking at a sod-turning event in Donnybrook, Dublin, for 19 housing units for elderly and vulnerable people.

Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness said there was an urgent need to break the “disgusting culture” that exists in Irish banks and that the Central Bank was not fit for purpose.

Mr McGuinness called on the European Central Bank to send in people to introduce better practices.“The political system has abandoned these people since 2009,” he said.

“The situation needs outside focus. If this doesn’t happen then the Minister [for Finance] will get the same old story from the banks and the status quo will remain.”