Varadkar at odds with Alliance over tracker criminal inquiry

‘I wouldn’t like to live in a country where politicians could order in the police as some have suggested’

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy (left) with   Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Thursday morning. Photograph:  Orla Murray/SON

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy (left) with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Thursday morning. Photograph: Orla Murray/SON

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has drawn a strong distinction between Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance by refusing to say the Garda should be called in to investigate the tracker mortgage scandal.

On Wednesday, Fine Gael’s junior coalition partner called for a criminal investigation to be initiated into the practice where most major financial institutions took customers off the lower tracker interest rates and put them onto higher rates.

But speaking on Thursday Mr Varadkar insisted the Government has no authority to send in the Garda or its National Bureau of Fraud Investigation.

“I would not like to live in a country, quite frankly, where politicians could order in the police or the fraud squad in the way that some people have suggested.”

When it was put to him that his coalition partners were amongst those, he replied: “You have my answer on that.”

He also said he did not know if any criminal behaviour had occurred.

The Taoiseach was speaking at a sod-turning event for 19 housing units for elderly and vulnerable people in Donnybrook, Dublin. The scheme is being built by a housing association linked to the Royal Hospital in Donnybrook, Dublin 4.

Tens of thousands of homeowners have potentially been caught up in the scandal, which saw banks wrongly refuse customers access to tracker mortgages after the crash. Some of those who were overcharged went on to struggle to meet their repayments, and some lost their homes through repossession.

The Taoiseach gave a conditional assent to the invitation to appear before the Oireachtas Finance Committee on the trackers scandal. He said he had only heard of chairman John McGuinness’s invitation through the media and would consider it once he received it.

Mr Varadkar said he answered questions in the Dáil for more than four hours each week and was not sure what the specific intention of the committee was. He said if the committee had specific questions which he could help with he would be happy to attend.

Minister’s intervention

He agreed that the tracker mortgage crisis had been dragging on for too long but maintained that Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe’s intervention had already made a difference. He said that the vast majority of those affected would have their situation resolved by year’s end.

“Minister Donohoe’s intervention this week has already made a difference. It was already the case that people had their trackers restored to them and were being compensated but it was too slow.

“It was going on far too long and that was what required the Government intervention in the past week .

The is Government committed to put vast majority of people back on their trackers and be fully compensated before Christmas and in some cases into the first quarter of 2018.”

Mr Varadkar agreed that there was now a deficit of trust in relation to Irish banking institutions.

“Given what has happened over the past number of years, it’s going to take a long time for the Irish people to have trust in the banking system again.

“What’s happened with the mortgage tracker scandal coming on top of the banking crisis prior to that makes it very hard for anybody to trust the bank.

“We have to make a distinction between banks that do meet their obligations and those who don’t.

“I don’t believe collective punishment is the solution.”

He rejected claims the Government response had been toothless and said that measures would be taken against banks which dragged their heels, or did not respond. He pointed out there was a difference in the tools available to the government in respect of banks in which it held a shareholding, and those in which it did not.