O'Keeffe summons bankers to demand more lending to SMEs

Enterprise and Innovation Minister Batt O'Keeffe is to meet top bankers to discuss lending to small and medium- sized businesses.

Enterprise and Innovation Minister Batt O'Keeffe is to meet top bankers to discuss lending to small and medium- sized businesses.

O'Keeffe is also to meet a number of business leaders as evidence continues to suggest that some banks are still refusing credit.

"Despite the taxpayer pumping billions of euro into the banks, the small business-owners I have met since becoming Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation tell me they are still being stone-walled when it comes to getting credit to keep going or to expand," said Minister O'Keeffe.

"My experience so far in this portfolio is that some bankers are showing scant regard for Irish taxpayers and the Government by not keeping their side of the bargain and lending to viable SMEs.

"It is not acceptable that lip service be paid to Government demands of banks to lend to viable businesses.

"Now is the time to show gratitude to Irish taxpayers for the massive sacrifices they have made in putting Ireland on the road to economic recovery after the arrogance, greed and reckless irresponsibility of our bankers that brought the country to her knees."

Minister O’Keeffe said that in return for recapitalisation, the banks were to start lending again.

"If that is not happening - and the evidence so far suggests to me that in some cases it is not - then I want to know why," said O'Keeffe.

"It is the least the Irish taxpayer deserves after the forbearance they have shown."

He said he will be closely examining proposals from Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland showing how they will meet lending targets the Government imposed on them after making €3bn available to each of them for new or increased credit facilities for SMEs this year and 2011.

"I have also invited the credit reviewer, John Trethowan, to the Department for a meeting to discuss credit access for small business-owners," he said.

"If our banking policy is not working for SMEs, then it is our responsibility as a Government to make sure that it does.

"If further action is required, we will act urgently and decisively."

In his speech on the financial crisis last night, the Taoiseach said he was aware of businesses being stone-walled when it came to getting credit.

Brian Cowen said it would not be tolerated and that he would make sure that banks did not show such scant regard for taxpayers, the Government and businesses.

In a similar statement, Batt O'Keefe uses identical language and says he plans to take urgent action.

The Minister is to meet businesses around the country in the coming weeks to hear their experiences of seeking credit first-hand.

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