Bankers look to be untouchable, unteachable, impregnable

To those who played a role and were responsible for this scandal, you are probably unmoved by my outrage, writes Daniel McConnell.

Bankers look to be untouchable, unteachable, impregnable

THIS is a letter of hate. It is for you, my countrymen. I mean those men of my country who have defiled it. The men with manic fingers leading the sightless, feeble, betrayed body of my country to its death. You are its murderers, and there’s little left in my own brain but the thoughts of murder for you.

Those are not my words, but the words of the polemicist and playwright John Osborne in 1961 from his defining book Damn you, England in protest at the post-war state of his country.

In light of what we have had to stomach this week with respect to our illustrious financial institutions and their maltreatment of their own customers, I feel Osborne’s words are apt once more.

My anger, my outrage is directed not just at the scumbags in the banks who as a matter of policy moved people off their supposedly legally-binding tracker mortgages.

Those crooks should be hung, drawn and quartered for what they did, but my ire and that of thousands of people across the land is also directed at the toothless, spineless state officials and politicians who enabled them to do so.

All week, since the publication of the Central Bank’s report into the tracker mortgage scandal, we have had much hand-wringing and expressions of outrage from across the political spectrum, from the Taoiseach down.

That report informed us that the number of mortgage accounts affected by the tracker scandal has risen by 3,100 to 13,000 since March.

The regulator has so far identified 23 mortgage holders who lost their family homes as a result of being improperly moved from their low-rate tracker product to a higher rate loan. A further 79 buy-to-let customers affected have also had properties repossessed. The Central Bank said it expects both of these figures to rise.

Under questioning from Labour leader, Brendan Howlin, in the Dáil on Wednesday, Varadkar cried foul and promised to unleash the dogs of war.

Speaking to me, Varadkar said: “The slow response of lenders has undermined the Government’s efforts to restore trust in the banking system. They need to fess up and fix it. We do not rule out new regulations and new taxes if we don’t see a step change in their response.”

Varadkar said the Government has “lost patience” with the banks over their maltreatment of 13,000 tracker mortgage customers who were adversely affected, in what Labour leader Brendan Howlin called a “gross betrayal”.

Varadkar said: “We do need a clear timeline for redress and compensation. The two banks who have been found wanting are likely to be named by end of October. The Government believes the behaviour of the banks in regard to removing people from tracker mortgages was scandalous.”

The bank CEOs are to be hauled in to be “admonished” by Paschal Donohoe, the finance minister, this coming week but there is little hope this will deliver anything by way of justice for those affected.

Much credit is due to John McGuinness and the Oireachtas finance committee for driving the tracker mortgage issue into centre stage politically, and their recent hearings have been a stark reminder as to the devastating impact banking policy can have on the lives of people.

The visceral and shocking testimony last week from affected customers — Helen Grogan, Hazel Melbourne, Padraic Kissane, Thomas Ryan and Niamh Byrne — revealed in stark terms to us all just how the banks do their business.

“I myself suffered a stroke in 2013 with lasting consequences to my life family and work. My wife Claire suffered a nervous breakdown in 2015, losing her ability to speak and being hospitalised,” Ryan told committee members.

Senator Kevin Humphreys correctly described the behaviour of the banks under privilege as “fraud” because that is what they have done.

What is even more galling is the context of the past 15 years, when they were let run amok by a complicit Fianna Fáil and they brought this country to ruin in 2008, forcing the people of this country to bail them out to the tune of €64bn.

But since the morning of September 30 when the late Brian Lenihan announced the controversial Bank Guarantee, the banks under our control have shown outright contempt for the very people who saved them.

Such attitudes were typified by the conversations exposed by the so-called Anglo Tapes, which surfaced in 2013.

All the way through that crisis, Lenihan took far too timid a line with the bankers, allowing many to remain at their posts when they should have been sacked or charged.

Noonan, having talked a great game in opposition, went native when he succeeded Lenihan in 2011 and took a similarly timid line with the bankers.

Both Lenihan and Noonan repeatedly refused to issue diktats to the banks as to their lending practices.

Year after year, businesses were starved of lending and many went to the wall because of the banks’ refusal to lend money.

Aspirant homeowners were refused mortgages on tenuous grounds all because the banks were trying to shrink their loan books.

In essence, the banks choked the life out of this country while at the same time relentlessly targeting their own customers, no matter what the human cost.

As for the Central Bank, their role in all of this is highly questionable.

The politicians have devolved power over to it to ensure things are done properly on the State’s behalf. But we are told they have no power to compel the banks to get their act together and end the torture for the now estimated 20,000 people affected.

The failure of the Central Bank to take a tougher stance on the banks has come into focus as the Irish Examiner has also obtained copies of 2014 correspondence sent by former Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan to then Fine Gael backbencher and current minister, Jim Daly, which said the bank felt that the number of customers affected was “zero”.

Separate correspondence sent by current governor, Philip Lane, to Mr Daly this year said the problem was limited to “a small number of isolated cases”.

Lane’s capacity to handle this crisis has now been questioned, with some saying he is “out of his depth”.

So we have had Governments hoping that someone else will do their work for them; a Central Bank willing only to do the bare minimum; and bank executives more than happy to exploit that ambiguity.

At the same time, we are told that on foot of a rule change brought in by Michael Noonan in 2013, these same banks will not pay any corporation tax for the next 20 years.

You simply could not make it up.

To those who played a role and were responsible for this scandal, you are probably unmoved by my outrage.

“You will be untouched by that, for you are untouchable. Untouchable, unteachable, impregnable,” as Osborne said those 56 years ago. We now wait to see if our Government actually has the stomach for the fight and show a willingness to deliver some form of justice.

I am not holding my breath.

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