ON December 20, 2016, the governor of the Irish Central Bank told the finance committee of Dáil Éireann that as many as 15,000 Irish borrowers may have been overcharged by their banks.
Apparently, this occurred when these borrowers — almost all of them probably citizens of this Republic — were wrongly denied access to the tracker mortgage interest rates to which they were entitled.
It was disclosed that as many as 15 banks may have been behaving in a similar manner.
It seems most unlikely that all of these 15,000 customers were deprived of access to tracker mortgages either innocently or by mistake, or due to some minor oversight by one errant bank official in each of the banks.
It seems much more likely that they were deprived of tracker mortgages and consequently overcharged for years as a result of decisions which were carefully and deliberately made.
These decisions would not have been made by ordinary staff members at local branch level but would have been made at senior management level in the banks.
As such, there should be an extensive paper trail, electronic or otherwise if someone wants to look for it and follow it.
Apart from the low standards and poor ethics involved, it may be much more serious than that.
Section 6 of the Theft and Fraud Offences Act 2001 provides that:
“A person who dishonestly, with the intention of making a gain for himself, or another, or of causing loss to another, by any deception induces another to do or refrain from doing an act, is guilty of an offence. “
A person found guilty of such an offence is liable to a fine or to imprisonment for up to five years.
Clearly, the legislature intended that offending of this nature be treated as a very serious matter.
There are only seven staff members of the Central Bank allocated to the tracker investigation which involves some 15 banks. Has it occurred to the governor of the Central Bank that at least some of these cases might actually warrant criminal investigation?
Some of the borrowers who have been so grievously wronged may well feel that not only have they been overcharged but that they have also been victims of crime.
Somehow, two lines of a song by Woody Guthrie come to mind:
“Some men rob you with a six gun And others with a fountain pen. “
Mostly it’s the armed robbers who end up being prosecuted. We seem slower to investigate and prosecute what we quite wrongly call white collar crime.
(If proven) dishonestly taking money from ordinary decent working people, impoverishing them, and their families and extended families for years is as serious as any armed robbery.
More so because it is so insidious and so deliberate, so harmful to the victims and done repeatedly for such a prolonged period of time by people who were educated and privileged.
Credible reports of crime must be investigated by An Garda Síochána, once a formal complaint has been made.
It only takes one complaint.
Or conscientious whistleblowers.
James McNulty is a judge of the district court in West Cork. This article is written by him in a personal capacity as a citizen of the Republic.