Banks and a culture of impunity

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Sir, – Ten years after the banks beggared the country, the Irish financial services regulatory system has still not been fixed to the point that it has the will or ability to hold the banks to account. The banking system has no fear of consequences following its tracking-rate fraud.

For reasons not explained, the head of the Central Bank is not seeking and does not seem to want the powers to hold the banks accountable, and the Government seems like a rabbit in the headlights, afraid to do its job to defend the rights of the banks’ customers and the taxpayer and hold the banks to account.

The fact of the matter is that it wasn’t any arm of the State that identified the banks’ tracker fraud, it was the bravery of a few people who risked everything to pursue costly and time-consuming legal actions.

Let’s not forget that when consumers brought their cases to the Financial Services Ombudsman, which is meant to be impartial, the outcome of those cases was decided by committees on which representatives of the banks sit. If it had not been for those brave people who brought legal action, then presumably the banks would have got away with it. Not for the first time were the banks able to call on their placements within a State organisation to act against the interests of the citizen. – Yours, etc,

DESMOND FITZGERALD,

London.

A chara, – What has been perpetrated in respect of tracker mortgages is nothing as innocent as a scam. It is fraud, possibly involving criminal conspiracy, and what the banks have done could not have happened without instruction from the top. A court order should immediately be put in place to prevent any bank records, whether written or electronic, being destroyed or mislaid. – Yours, etc,

JOHN F CRONIN,

Terenure,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Without wishing to disrespect those who suffered death and injury as a result of Storm Ophelia, please note that destruction to far more family homes and people was caused by the so-called “pillar banks” in their grasping, scrambling efforts to rescue themselves from the ill-conceived lending in which they engaged. Just as the storm did, they tore a wide and indiscriminate path through Irish society. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL KELLY,

Tralee,

Co Kerry.

Sir, – Surely the obvious course of action for defrauded bank customers is to sue. It would be decidedly more effective than waiting for lazy and ineffectual bank regulators to do anything.

And why do we not have class-action lawsuits in Ireland? Tens of thousands of aggrieved customers would make a formidable plaintiff. – Yours, etc,

ENDA COGAN,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – The Taoiseach is to call in bank chief executives, threatening to name the institutions that have caused such terrible anguish to tens of thousands of their customers over tracker mortgages; he has also threatened to fine the banks if they don’t compensate these victims of sharp practice quickly. Recent history teaches us that neither naming a bank nor imposing a fine of many millions on a company will act as a deterrent.

When Matthew Elderfield came to town in 2008 to restore public trust in the regulation of financial institutions, he said: “What is needed is invasive scrutiny and effective sanctions.”

Unless scrutiny and the sanctions are directed at individual senior managers and board members, the Taoiseach’s intervention will have no long-term impact on the culture that continues to spawn this kind of abhorrent behaviour.

Mr Elderfield also established criteria of “competence and probity” for anyone aspiring to occupy senior positions in the financial sector.

Whatever about competence, the tracker scandal surely calls into question the probity of managers and directors who colluded in this unethical behaviour.

The Taoiseach should instruct the governor of the Central Bank to form a judgment about the competence and probity of every individual involved, and act on foot of these assessments.

This case also proves once again the unequal struggle it is when an individual citizen has to fight for justice against the state or a large institution like a bank or the HSE who, as the Irish philosopher Philip Pettit noted, have endless patience, bottomless pockets and above all anonymity.

Prof Pettit would argue that when the citizen fails to secure justice in these situations, this ultimately represents a failure of the state.

Much tougher action than a rap on the knuckles down in Merrion Street is needed by Government to put an end to the culture of impunity that enables the guilty parties to “laugh all the way to the bank”, treating customers and this State with contempt. – Yours, etc,

EDDIE MOLLOY,

Rathgar,

Dublin 6.

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