Purging the banks - Bankers must be held to account

THE bankers, auditors and credit committee members Fine Gael’s Michael Noonan has in his crosshairs would be very foolish to imagine that his clear-your-desk ultimatum would not have the whole-hearted support of virtually everyone in this bruised and beggared country.

Though there seems to be a growing determination to look forward, those who held senior banking or supervisory positions during the wild west years, and are still in place, delude themselves if they imagine their betrayals have been forgotten.

Mr Noonan is right to say that it is “untenable” that so many of those at the centre of the banking lunacy remain in office. He might have added that it is untenable too that the bank chiefs who did step down were invariably replaced by colleagues sometimes compromised by their proximity to the behaviour that destroyed our economy.

The latest consequence is the prospect of 4,000 jobs being lost at the country’s two biggest banks. Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland have made 3,000 workers redundant in the last two years. It is feared that in the next few weeks AIB might cut as many as another 3,000 jobs. There are concerns too about the possibility of four-figure job losses at eircom.

There must be consequences for this kind of mass failure. Mr Noonan is right when he says that there needs to be a “total clean-out” of banks’ senior management because it is impossible to have confidence in the very people who led us to this sorry pass.

Those who saw their life savings destroyed when bank shares became virtually worthless would not shed a tear. Neither would the tens of thousands who watched pension funds built up over decades evaporate.

There is too the unsurprising realisation that NAMA might lose several hundred million euro. This reality check comes after Government suggested NAMA would deliver a €4.8 billion profit. Only about 20% of the loans controlled by NAMA are generating income. The vast majority – around 80% – are not generating returns of any kind. NAMA was established on the anticipation that 40% of the loans would be income-producing. The targets of Mr Noonan’s declaration are largely responsible for this mess too.

Anger may not be a policy but at least it is honest. A society which cannot hold those who threaten it to account cannot expect to be successful or even secure. A society that does not insist on accountability is destined to repeat mistakes time and time again. It has been almost two years since our banks almost collapsed and, as yet, no one has been charged with breaking banking rules or certifying inaccurate accounts.

Last week it was suggested that it might be another two years before any conclusions are reached by investigators. It is incomprehensible and unacceptable that it should take four years to reach that point.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan should have insisted on a purge like that suggested by Mr Noonan quite some time ago for two simple reasons: our senior bankers have shown that they cannot be trusted and they have shown nothing but contempt for any idea of social responsibility.

And unless we insist on accountability, as Mr Noonan is suggesting, they will continue to do so.


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