Bankers have been likened to troublesome teenagers by one of the country’s most senior financial regulation officials.
Fiona Muldoon, a director at the Central Bank, told a conference of leading banking figures that they appeared to be in denial, paying lip service to solving the debt crisis.
“The economic milk spilt in poor lending, the losses already incurred, have not even begun to be cleaned up,” she said.
In a straight-talking address to the Irish Banking Federation conference in Dublin, Ms Muldoon warned of a lack of leadership in the sector as she revealed that 167,000 loans worth a total of €35bn are in arrears.
“A culture of leadership is missing in Irish banking: many of you may dislike me for saying this but, arguably, if it was also missing in the creation of the credit bubble then it is still missing,” she told the bankers.
Ms Muldoon’s criticisms were compounded when Secretary General of the Department of Finance John Moran broke from standard civil service practice to urge a shift in direction over debt.
The Government official called for special relief for households which suffer sudden shocks such as a job loss and a more dramatic debt write-off programme for people certified unable to pay.
The Central Bank used the conference to announce further debt figures, with 51,000 loans worth €9bn now restructured and classed as “treading water”.
In the investor world, it revealed that 48,000 buy-to-let mortgages are classed as either in arrears or restructured.
Ms Muldoon compared her experience working in the insurance industry and also outside of Ireland for the last decade and said she felt the banking sector had “not necessarily been humbled” by the crash.
“In any event, when I deal with the banks, I have not found humility. If the industry is grieving for the death of the economy, the mistakes of the past, I know which stage of grief it looks like to me,” she said.
Ms Muldoon, director of credit institutions and insurance supervision, told bankers that her experience with the mortgage arrears resolution strategy (Mars) was too often characterised by reluctance.
“My experience of Mars so far might be considered by anyone who parents or ever has parented a teenager,” she said.
Ms Muldoon said banks wait to be told what to do, they do not like it and then they criticise.
“The relationship between banking and the regulator has too often felt like a parent/child dialogue and you know what, this will not move banking out of its current difficulties,” she said.
The bankers were told they have been acting like they are “stuck in stasis but at least hunting with the pack”.
“I see too much lip service to ’progress’ and ’meaningful resolution’ and not enough to ’reality’,” she said.
“I see too much ’give the Central Bank exactly, literally, what they asked for’ and not enough true dialogue and meaningful engagement to find a solution.”
Chief Executive of the Irish Banking Federation Pat Farrel insisted that that banks are making progress when it comes to dealing with the economic crisis, however.
Mr Farrell said that they will heed the comments from the Department of Finance and the Central Bank at the conference, but it is a difficult process.
“It is not easy to turn around a ship, literally, which banking is, and go from a situation where you're very focused on lending and to try and go back to a situation where you're focused on collections and recoveries and supporting customers that are in distress,” he said.
“I think banks are making progress, I think we obviously need to do more, and we'll certainly take away the messages we hear today.”
Other official figures released at the conference showed Ireland’s household saving rate has reached 14% – well above the pre-crisis rate of 8.25% and now one of the highest in Europe.
Elsewhere, at the end of June 16.2% of residential mortgages were either in arrears of more than 90 days or have been restructured and are performing. It has been estimated that arrears will stabilise at the end of this year.