FOUR years after the bank guarantee scheme was introduced as a panic response to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Government is looking at proposals to end the controversial bank scheme before it runs out in December, the Irish Independent has learned.
The Department of Finance has set up an inter-agency working group to discuss a roadmap for scrapping the scheme at some stage, and officials are now looking closely at ending the scheme much more quickly than previously thought.
Officials from the Department of Finance, the Central Bank and the National Treasury Management Agency are currently examining how the banks could be weaned off the eligible liabilities guarantee (ELG) scheme which covers customer deposits of more than €100,000.
There is no talk of removing a separate scheme that guarantees deposits of less than €100,000.
Former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan appointed the NTMA as the operator of the ELG scheme back in December 2009 and ordered that the scheme be reviewed every six months to determine whether the financial support is still necessary.
The ELG scheme costs Irish banks hundreds of millions of euros every year and is one of the reasons why the domestic banks have been slow to return to profitability.
Still, the scheme's introduction in 2010 stemmed a run on the banks as companies and wealthy individuals moved their money overseas. The scheme no longer covers the UK deposits of Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland.
Any move to end the ELG would be welcomed by the troika and the European Central Bank who have constantly campaigned for Irish banks to be slowly weaned off the expensive life-support system. The ECB funds the scheme through a convoluted system that also involves the Central Bank.
Scrapping the ELG scheme would be a blow to the Exchequer which got more than €1bn from the banks last year in fees. Despite this, the Government would welcome an end to the scheme because it would help banks to return to profit.
"The ending of the guarantee would mean the State would lose the money it receives in fees from the bank, but the normalisation of the banking sector is more important," one government source told the Irish Independent.
The ELG is the second of two guarantees issued by the late Mr Lenihan.
Four years ago this week, he moved to shore up the banks with the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Act 2008 which was conceived on September 29, 2008, and covered all liabilities of the main Irish banks apart from undated subordinated bonds. That left the State on the hook for €375bn.
The year-long guarantee meant banks could only sell bonds for a year and failed to prevent a run on deposits as investors became worried that the State was in no position to honour the guarantee if there was a major collapse.
In 2010, Mr Lenihan introduced a second guarantee which ran along the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Act which became known as ELG.
This allowed bonds to be issued with maturities of up to five years, with the bonds having the full backing of the Irish Government out to their maturity.
The ELG scheme was originally supposed to run out quickly but has been repeatedly prolonged and changed since then.