Government 'ignores interests of consumers' in bank Bill
THE Government was accused yesterday of dismissing the views of consumers in the new Central Bank Commission, despite the fact that consumers are bearing the brunt of the financial crisis.
The accusation came on foot of the Department of Finance's confirmation of plans to abolish the statutory position of consumer director, and disband the consumer consultative panel as well as the industry panel.
The consumer panel was part of the 2004 legislation establishing the Financial Regulator and was designed to monitor the performance of the regulator and advise it on consumer protection.
But the new Central Bank Bill will get rid of the statutory panel, whose members were appointed by the Finance Minister, and the consumer director, also appointed by the minister.
Member of the consumer panel and chairman of the Consumers' Association of Ireland (CAI) James Doorley said the move to scrap the panel and replace it with ad hoc, or temporary, panels would dilute consumer protection.
"Under the legislation, as currently drafted, the permanent consumer panel is being abolished and would be replaced by a temporary advisory group on consumer issues," Mr Doorley said.
"This group would lose its statutory powers and status and would only function if, and when, the new Central Bank Commission decides it is relevant. That would be a retrograde step."
The CAI believes that "those who pay should have a say and that the consumer voice should be at the heart of our new system of financial regulation, as it is consumers who are largely bearing the brunt of the financial crisis".
Mr Doorley said the bill must be amended to ensure meaningful input into the system of financial regulation.
The consumer panel has been a thorn in the side of the Financial Regulator. Under the chair of consumer campaigner Brendan Burgess, the panel stated in its 2006 annual report that the regulator was slow to respond to consumer issues and "appears to seek complexity and obstacles rather than to seek consumer-oriented solutions to current and emerging problems".
And it warned that this approach could undermine consumer confidence in the "efficacy of the regulatory process".
A Department of Finance spokeswoman yesterday confirmed that the post of consumer director and the statutory consultative consumer panel would be both abolished.
But she insisted the consumer function would be integral to the Central Bank Commission itself.
"Both the consultative consumer panel and the consultative industry panel are being abolished and replaced by new and more appropriate arrangements through which the Bank will have the power to establish expert groups to advise it on the exercise of its functions," she added.