New Central Bank governor finds swamped in-tray on first day

Cantillon: Gabriel Makhlouf’s agenda includes mortgage restrictions and budget leak

Central Bank of Ireland governor Gabriel Makhlouf: has inherited  enforcement investigations against the banks.

Central Bank of Ireland governor Gabriel Makhlouf: has inherited enforcement investigations against the banks.

 

As Gabriel Makhlouf settled into his second-floor office in Dublin’s north docklands on Monday, the new Central Bank governor found a deep in-tray waiting.

First and foremost, he must prepare for a key European Central Bank (ECB) governing council meeting on September 12th that will consider whether to ease rates or launch a new bond-buying programme – or both – to shore up the euro zone economy.

Back at home, the main item on the agenda over the coming months will be the bank’s annual review of mortgage restrictions.

Already pressure is rising, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar saying at the end of July that he hoped the Central Bank would loosen the rules, saying it was “very tough” for many would-be home buyers to build up a deposit for a mortgage while paying up to €2,000 a month in rent. Observers will be keen to see how doggedly Makhlouf guards the bank’s independence.

Tracker-mortgage crisis

The Egyptian-born governor has also inherited a number of enforcement investigations against the banks involved in the tracker-mortgage crisis. The Central Bank, under his predecessor Philip Lane, signalled it was taking a tough line on the issue, imposing a record €21 million penalty in May on Permanent TSB, the first of the banks to reach a settlement over its failings.

Meanwhile, the new governor will also be responsible for introducing a new regime next year that will make it easier to hold senior bankers accountable for failings and wrongdoing under their watch.

More pressingly, however, Makhlouf will need to draw a line under his controversial handling of a budget leak in New Zealand, where he was head of the treasury department, shortly after his Irish nomination was announced in May.

It is understood the new Central Bank governor is aware the issue continues to cast a cloud over his appointment and is considering ways to address the issue publicly in the coming weeks. He needs to deal with this issue promptly if he is to hit the ground running.

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