Government to ‘ruthlessly pursue’ banks on tracker mortgages

Strong criticism in Dáil and Seanad: ‘Scandal happened on a continuous basis’

Richard Bruton recalled that he had warned the then Fianna Fáil government in 2004 that its Central Bank Bill was defective.  Photograph : Matt Kavanagh

Richard Bruton recalled that he had warned the then Fianna Fáil government in 2004 that its Central Bank Bill was defective. Photograph : Matt Kavanagh

 

The Government believes any failures by the banks in dealing with the tracker mortgage scandal should be “ruthlessly pursued’’, Minister for Education Richard Bruton has said.

“We have no truck with the sort of behaviour that has seen people brought to the state of frustration and dismay,’’ he told the Dáil.

Mr Bruton said the Taoiseach had made it clear any powers required by the Central Bank would be provided and the Government would not be afraid to take any other measures, including enhancing the bank levy.

The Minister was replying to Fianna Fáil public expenditure spokesman Dara Calleary who said the banks had “slithered and slided away’’ from their legal, financial and moral responsibilities.

“I do not know if the Minister has had a chance to hear it, but it would stop him in his tracks to listen to the impact this has had on people’s health, on that of their families, on their household incomes and on their ability to live their lives,’’ Mr Calleary said.

He added banks had caused enough stress, having brought the country to its knees.

Overcharged

Mr Calleary said one customer had been overcharged on their mortgage for more than four years. “In May 2016, they were put on the correct rate by the bank but, 17 months on, the customer is still to be repaid the €20,000 that was overcharged and the bank has yet to make an offer of redress or compensation,’’ he said.

Mr Bruton said Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe would call in the banks and address the issues raised by Mr Calleary.

“The Government takes this extremely seriously,’’ he added.

Mr Bruton recalled he had warned the then Fianna Fáil government in 2004 that its Central Bank Bill was defective. “It lacked the teeth for prudential regulation and consumer protection, but that was the legislation that prevailed for much of the time this happened,’’ he said.

Mr Calleary said everybody agreed the way the banks had treated those with tracker mortgages was abominable to say the least.

He said the Government’s last-minute attempts to threaten banks with a “fix it or face a levy’’ approach would allow them and the Central Bank to get away without anybody being held accountable.

“This scandal has happened on a continuous basis over a large number of years,’’ he added.

Shameful

In the Seanad, Fianna Fáil Senator Aidan Davitt said the treatment of those with tracker mortgages was one of the most shameful examples of wanton greed and arrogance since the State’s foundation.

“None of us expect charity from banks but to inflict misery and pain needlessly on the coping classes is not acceptable, either in 1917 or 2017,’’ he said.

“This was not the work of middle-ranking bank managers or clerks but a systemic attempt by senior managers to rob and evict their own customers.’’

Mr Davitt said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “must do us a favour, get down off the ESB man’s ladder’’ and tackle the problem.

“He must turn his pearly white teeth on the banks and their self-assured board members,’’ he added.

Fine Gael Seanad leader Jerry Buttimer said: “They are very personal and intemperate remarks.’’

Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell asked why somebody was not taken out of the banks in handcuffs.

“Why is nobody in jail?,’’ he asked. “What the banks did is outright fraud and they knew what they were doing.’’

Mr Craughwell said having been caught out, nobody in the banks had been man or woman enough to actually repay what they had taken.

He said the Garda Commissioner should find out exactly what happened.