Halloween horror as banks play wicked game of ‘Trick or Track’

It’s Swindlers’ List, and we’ve been Taken. Time for Liam Neeson’s particular set of skills?

Some of us have been here before.

More than once: tribunal chambers, Oireachtas inquiries, courthouses . . . We wouldn't be hugely confident about the banks changing their ways.

So another government is in a spin over the latest chapter from Swindlers’ List?

The Taoiseach and his Minister for Finance are promising swift action. No surprise there, as this is Ireland’s never-ending story. There will be expressions of regret and contrition and as many sorrys as it takes while an army of legal and financial experts work in the expensive shadows building a buffer between their banker bosses and anything approaching real liability and accountability.


In their world, familiarity breeds recidivism. Or to put it another way: the banks are at it again.

This time, for the season that’s in it, the scandal has a Halloween feel to it. That’s down to the people at the most senior level in our major banks who decided to play a wicked game of “Trick or Track!” on unsuspecting members of the public.

These shameless trick or tracksters went from house to house tricking people out of their legally negotiated tracker mortgages, and sometimes their homes. Their treat was really theft.

Starving shareholders

Oh, but they were under severe pressure to return to profit at the time. The shareholders were starving. What else could they do? It’s their culture.

When you think about it, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe perhaps wasn't the person to entertain the representatives of the bank over the last couple of days.

The Cabinet member under whose portfolio these creatures would seem most at home is Minister for Culture Heather Humphreys. But they have Paschal.

And this week, we are apparently seeing the tough, strong Donohoe, who was instructed by the Taoiseach to “admonish” the bankers who caused misery and upset to tens of thousands of people by callously and incorrectly upping their home repayments. He has taken to his task with what looks like, outwardly at least, an unswerving determination to seek results.

When he came into the Dáil for Finance Questions, his stated aim to bring the banks’ trick or tracksters to heel for once and for all was closely questioned by opposition counterparts.

If Paschal said the words once, he said them 20 times: “Unacceptable, disgraceful, unacceptable, disgraceful, unacceptable . . .”

When it came to the behaviour of the banks and their recidivist thieving ways, he couldn’t stress his opinion enough.

“It is my strong view that . . . the recent behaviour of the banks in the management of this issue is unacceptable. It shines a light, not only into the culture of our banking system at the time when this issue originated but also into the culture of our banking system now. Neither is acceptable to me.”

His comment followed a simple question from Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty: "Is there going to be individual accountability?"

Paschal, The Admonisher

So, Minister, what are you going to do about it?

“The main point I want to make now is that the time has arrived for banks to finally act in the best interest of their impacted mortgage customers.”

Paschal, The Admonisher is seeking atonement.

Some observers, cynicism born of bitter experience, fear that The Admonisher may yet become The Paschalator and end up with the banks walking all over him.

However, he has had the bigwigs in for a spot of admonishment over the last two days and, yesterday, he revealed that he wasn’t overly impressed by what he heard.

So he intends to meet the various bankers again and he will update the Dáil on the state of play. Depending on who you wanted to listen to last night, Varadkar and Donohoe have given the banks 24 hours to do the right thing by all the victims of their corporate greed or else face serious sanction.

This evening so, we will find out if The Admonisher really means business and if an Irish Government has found the gumption to stand up for the people and stand up to the banks.

If Mattie McGrath didn’t put steel into the Government’s spine yesterday, then nobody can. In an impassioned and occasionally unintelligible contribution during the Order of Business, the Independent TD for Tipperary went bald-headed for the banks and their latest example of “predatory behaviour” in respect of the trackers.

“It’s episodes like this that reveal where the real centre of power, unfortunately, lies in this country,” he bellowed. “We might like to think in here that the Oireachtas here is where the authority resides but, sadly . . . it doesn’t reside here at all, at all. When scandals like this happen, those who are really in control are fully revealed. Oh, I know who they are.”

‘Pretence of sorrow’

The banks’ attitude of “tough luck” towards families and ordinary people who are suffering stress by trying to meet repayments lies at the heart of our banking culture which “is rotten to the core”. They did nothing to disclose this latest fraud and only did so when rumbled, prompting them to “rush out with their pretence of sorrow”.

Mattie, for once very much on the same page as Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole, predicted that "soon the huffing and puffing of the Government, and the tough talk, will die down and it will be a return to business as usual".

The Irish people have been “taken for absolute fools by the shadowy cabal of bankers who seem to lack even the slightest element of social conscience”, he continued. They should be arrested and handcuffed and brought before the courts. Although “prison sentences would be too good for them”, he said.

"Well, look, em . . ." began Simon Coveney, standing in for Leo Varadakar at Leaders' Questions. He gave a very steady and calm answer about the Government doing the right thing.

Mattie let rip again. “It’s going on for years,” he raged. “And the Central Bank are toothless, useless and totally fruitless.”

He said government has always ignored the excesses of the bankers. “They’re your friends. They’re your supporters. You play golf with them. You can’t deny that and you won’t hurt them at all. Not at all.”

Rattling along, he pleaded for action. He recalled the night the Dáil voted to save the banks’ bacon. “But what did we get back? We got two fingers every time, every hour and to every customer.”

Coveney soothed that the Minister for Finance “will make his comprehensive statement” today and expects the banks will make detailed statements too.

(Leo and Paschal will probably have to sign up for internet access and obtain a PIN number before the banks sends them any statements.)

And will anyone be held accountable when the dust settles?

In the famous words of a former tribunal witness, will they f***.