In the banks Enda still seems to trust

Taoiseach assures women nobody would have to give up a job for a mortgage write-down

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Minister for Transport	Leo Varadkar is “Anti-woman, anti-family and anti-employment.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar is “Anti-woman, anti-family and anti-employment.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Thu, Mar 28, 2013, 06:00

An excellent day for effective Opposition.

Not.

Enda breezed through a very tough topic yesterday morning. He got off lightly, though.

The Fianna Fáil leader arrived ready to skewer him. Micheál Martin had good ammunition – splashed across the newspapers, with Leo Varadkar’s big squishy pawprints all over the story.

Ladies! Give up your little jobs and get back to minding the children.

Shelling out for expensive fripperies like childminders so you can remain a working woman and get a bit of pin money. Why employ a dog when you can bark yourselves?

It might seem like common sense to the pinstriped blokes who specialise in assessing the financial bottom line for a bank’s balance sheet.

Which brings us neatly to poor Leo. For a politician he suffers from a terrible affliction – he can’t help giving an honest answer to a straight question. That’ll never do.

He was asked on Tuesday if draft guidelines for banks striking insolvency deals with householders will allow them, as a condition of the agreement, to force clients to give up work should their childcare bills exceed their earnings.

In the general scheme of things – although there are many women who earn more than their partners – this would mean mothers having to chuck in their jobs while the kids are very young, with all this entails for future employment prospects.

And Leo, honest eejit that he is, said this could very well turn out to be the case.

“Anti-woman, anti-family and anti-employment!” thundered Micheál in the Dáil, echoing the sentiments of horrified women contemplating crushing career setbacks in short-term return for saving the family home.

He asked Enda to confirm that this course of action, as outlined in the draft guidelines, will not be in the final document.

“I will so confirm,” replied the Taoiseach.

He wanted to be clear about this, and to assure women, in particular, that nobody would be forced to give up a job in return for a mortgage write-down deal. This would not be a mandatory condition.

Micheál was glad to hear this. Because, you know, the banks “cannot be trusted to deal properly and in a reasonable manner with those in mortgage arrears”.


Enda’s opportunity
As his backbenchers guffawed, Enda saw his opening.

“I want to award Deputy Martin first prize for the hindsight statement of the century – ‘you cannot trust the banks’. Well done, Deputy Martin.”

It went downhill from there. The bickering and heckling started.

As the Taoiseach saw it, the Fianna Fáil leader was trying to stir up a non-existent difficulty by creating “a phantom debate.”

So is Leo a phantom, then?

He ignored that question.

Having to give up your job will not be part of the resolution process (even if the draft guidelines, and his Minster for Transport, beg to differ.) “It does not apply. It will not apply and it cannot apply in any circumstance.”

So Willie O’Dea asked him if he was going to change the guidelines.

Enda didn’t give an answer.


The insolvency drill
What will happen is that a couple will go to the personal insolvency agency. They will sit down “with the practitioners” and work out what their living expenses should be “but it is entirely a matter for the married couple, as the case might be, to decide what it is that they wish to do.”

When presented with a list drawn up by the bank.

And after all that, said the Taoiseach comfortingly, there’s always the courts...

Herself and himself will meet the suits behind closed doors and the bean counters will make suggestions, but nothing mandatory, mind. And in the heel of the hunt, a deal will be offered if the bank is happy with it.

The nice bankers will, of course, remember that Enda asked them politely not to force anybody to give up work. They might suggest it, though. But it won’t be mandatory, in a take it or leave sort of way. All very satisfactory, at least from the Taoiseach’s viewpoint.

While Micheál muttered grumpily about the banks – not the people – having the final say, Enda continued to insist he will never be in favour of anyone being forced from work.

And Enda seems to trust the banks. He demonstrated this on Monday when frogmarching a woman into the AIB after she told him she was trying to get a mortgage and instructing the gobsmacked teller to give her one.

He was asked in the Dáil on Tuesday if this woman had, in fact, secured a mortgage following his surprise intervention. Enda said he didn’t know, but (and he said this with no small amount of pride) the woman “got an introduction”.

An introduction from the Taoiseach himself. Sure she probably got enough money to buy herself a distressed estate.

Because as everybody knows, the banks always do what the Government tells them.