Sinn Féin's finance spokesman, Pearse Doherty, has accused Fianna Fáil of a U-turn in its stance on the regulation of so-called vulture funds, which have acquired billions of euro worth of mortgages and commercial loans from Irish banks and the National Asset Management Agency in recent years.
This follows a statement on Monday by Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman, Michael McGrath, to the effect that the current system of regulation – the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Act 2015 – was “half-baked and unsatisfactory”.
“The legislation that was passed last year was entirely inadequate as it focused on those who are servicing debts on behalf of vulture funds . . . who outsource the administration of loans [but] still control key decisions – such as initiating action for repossession, foreclosing on a going-concern business or raising the interest rate that applies to the loan – without actually being subject to regulation,” Mr McGrath said.
This followed the release of a letter from the Central Bank's director of consumer protection, Bernard Sheridan, to Mr McGrath earlier this month stating that the regulator had wanted the loan owners to be regulated.
Instead, the Government decided that the loan-servicing firms would be regulated.
Mr Doherty said Fianna Fáil’s support of regulation of the vulture funds was both “disingenuous and very late in the day”.
He said the original Department of Finance proposal was to regulate the mortgage owner not just the middle man but this was dropped after lobbying by the vulture funds.
Sinn Féin's amendment to that Bill, which reintroduced regulation of the owners, was not passed by the Oireachtas finance committee and he claims Fianna Fáil was not present for the vote, he added.
“It is a bit late in the day for Fianna Fáil to notice that there is a gap in the legislation,” Mr Doherty said. “Last year, Fianna Fáil had the opportunity to support the Sinn Féin amendment to bridge this gap and regulate vulture funds who have bought up mortgages and not just the middle man.
“They chose not to vote on the issue. Fianna Fáil once more are talking from both sides of their mouths.”
In response, Mr McGrath said: “Sinn Féin’s is in so much trouble because of their shenanigans in the Northern [Ireland] Assembly that they are firing political bullets in every direction to deflect attention.
“Fianna Fáil consistently made the point during the debate on the credit-servicing legislation last year that the actual owner of the loan should be regulated and this is on the record for all to see.
"We have pressed the Central Bank on this point and they have confirmed in writing it is their preferred approach. If Sinn Féin were less obsessed with attacking Fianna Fáil they might find the route to some relevance in the new Dáil."