We’re banking on you to do the decent thing

IRISH banks owe every citizen of this state big time and it’s time bank bosses started to think about reparations.

The unedifying row between the religious orders and the Government, on the failure of the religious to stump up their multi-million euro contribution to the abuse compensation fund, sets out how not to do things.

It has yet to fully sink in to the heads of those at the top of the banks that, number one the state is their single-biggest shareholder and secondly, but for the state they would be out of business.

We have to accept that it will take years for the banks to get back to making decent profits as they struggle to shore up capital deficits and write off bad loans.

So, this rules out any immediate worthwhile reparations. But there are other things they can do in the meantime and there is one thing in particular that Bank of Ireland can and should do immediately.

Relatively, small gestures can have big pay-offs in terms of goodwill. This is not a time for small mindedness but unfortunately small minds abound in the financial world.

When the banks came knocking at the doors of Government Buildings to ask then taoiseach Brian Cowen and finance minister Brian Lenihan to bail them out they were generously treated — despite being stingy with the facts. This is one element of the whole debacle that sticks in the craw. These bankers did not give the two Brians the full picture and effectively duped the state into bailing the banks out, in what was a big poker bluff that went spectacularly wrong.

Now Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Minister Jimmy Deenihan has gone knocking on the door of Bank of Ireland looking for a favour. It is one that could easily be delivered and if done with grace could improve the bank’s tattered image a little.

One of the finest public buildings ever constructed in Ireland was the Irish Houses of Parliament Building on Dublin’s College Green. Completed in 1739, it was the first purpose-built parliament in Europe. It served as Ireland’s parliament until the Act of Union in 1801. It is now Bank of Ireland’s iconic College Green Bank.

Jimmy wants it back for the people of Ireland, for use as a national cultural centre. It is proposed that it could hold a centre of world literature, a national genealogy centre, historic papers archive and a digital media lab for cultural materials.

The most surprising aspect of this is that Bank of Ireland chairman Pat Molloy and chief executive Richie Boucher met the minister and did not tell him to get stuffed.

The banking duo know they are on a sticky wicket when it comes to College Green and Deenihan will keep at them until they concede something. The bank does not want to give up this gem of a building in Dublin city centre, so it will offer a compromise of sorts.

Deenihan should tell them to get lost. Bank of Ireland should hand over the building, and do so with style, and not the begrudgery we have come to expect from our banking betters.

They have a foreign exchange right next door on Westmoreland Street that could be adapted to look after those customers that walked into College Green.

Bank of Ireland have been excellent custodians of the College Green building over the years and financed a massive revamp of its then deteriorating stone exterior in the 1970s. Thanks lads, but now it’s time to give us the keys.

Dublin’s designation as UNESCO City of Literature deserves a proper cultural hub. The Parliament Buildings would be the perfect home for this.

Molloy and Boucher should realise they have no real option but to accede to the minister’s request.

Think big lads, and for once — think of Ireland.

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