Leo Varadkar: Still time to block sale of distressed PTSB loans

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted there is still time to prevent Permanent TSB from selling 20,000 distressed mortgages to vulture funds despite claiming the Government has no legal right to block the deal.

Leo Varadkar: Still time to block sale of distressed PTSB loans

He said the Government “very much stands on the side of people trying to pay their debts” amid cross-party opposition calls for him to order Nama and banks to “do the right thing” and protect those at risk.

Mr Varadkar came under concerted pressure in the Dáil from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, and Labour over the escalating PTSB crisis.

In the first of a series of calls to immediately address the matter, Micheál Martin said it was critical that banks which have been bailed out by the public and in which the State had significant shares must not protect their balance sheets “at the expense of ordinary people”.

Mary Lou McDonald was similarly critical, urging Mr Varadkar to “pick up the phone” and tell both Nama and Irish banks they cannot allow the sale of distressed mortgages to vulture funds under any circumstances.

The same view was expressed by Labour’s Brendan Howlin, who said the 20,000 customers at risk of the sale will feel as if they have been “betrayed” by those in power.

However, despite the concerted criticism from all opposition parties, Mr Varadkar said there was still time to prevent any potential vulture fund sale, despite admitting the Government was not legally able to do so.

“PTSB has not yet sold any of these loans,” he said.

“It has not yet put them on the market and it has not found a buyer. There is an assumption the buyer will be a so-called vulture fund but that may not turn out to be the case. PTSB has not yet consulted the minister for finance on the sale, but it is required to do so when the sale is at a more advanced stage.

“We do have time, some weeks or perhaps some months, to put in place any new additional protections that might be required.

“The Government very much stands on the side of people and families who are making an honest attempt to settle their debts, to pay their mortgages, or to pay down their personal or business loans,” the Taoiseach said.

“It is very much the job of Government and of this Oireachtas to ensure that people and businesses have the protections they need. If additional protections are required we are certainly open to considering them.

“It is speculation to suggest the buyer may be a so-called vulture fund. It has not yet formally consulted with the minister for finance but it is required to do so before any sale is made.”

Asked what action he will specifically take to block any sale, the Taoiseach said under current legislation the State is not allowed to interfere with a sales process.

However, he added that as the State has shares in PTSB, it has a right to express concerns over any potential vulture fund sale and will emphasise the issue in the coming weeks.

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