Irish

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Permanent TSB public interest directors differ on mortgage help

Donal O'Donovan

Published 20/12/2012|05:00

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Government-appointed directors at the country's biggest mortgage lenders appear to disagree over forgiving mortgage debt.

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Former finance minister Ray MacSharry and former senior civil servant Margaret Hayes are public interest directors at Permanent TSB.

Appearing before the Joint Oireachtas Finance Committee, Mr MacSharry insisted that the bank would not forgive mortgage debt.

However, Ms Hayes said that in some instances unsustainable loans could be written off on a case-by-case basis.

Stephen Donnelly TD said he had been left in some confusion by different answers provided by the two directors in relation to writing off unsustainable debts.

One in five home loans and one in three buy-to-let investor mortgages are in arrears at Permanent TSB, among the worst situation of any lender.

The two public interest directors were accused of "going native" and "window dressing" in bruising encounters with politicians yesterday.

Mr MacSharry and Ms Hayes, have been public interest directors at the bank since it needed state support to survive in 2008.

Role

The role of public interest directors at bailed-out banks is increasingly controversial as details emerge of the high pensions and salaries still being paid to bankers at bailed out institutions, while at the same time lending remains subdued.

Permanent TSB loaned just €70m to homebuyers this year, Margaret Hayes said, enough to finance fewer than 300 typical mortgages.

She said the bank did intend to increase lending in the year ahead.

Despite being public interest directors, they have no duties beyond those of other board members, and do not report back to the Minister for Finance, the Dail or the Central Bank, Mr MacSharry told the politicians.

Committee chairman Ciaran Lynch said that the public believed their job was; "to be in there batting on their (the public's) behalf".

"Our role does not differ from any other director on the board," Mr MacSharry said.

The public interest directors were not given any particular instruction, remit or terms of reference when the appointments were made, he added.

He had not asked for the job, he said later in the session.

Under intense questioning the former finance minister and European Commissioner admitted that he had not pushed a single issue to a vote during his time at the bank.

"You have been captured by the board and are about as useful as paps on a bull," Fine Gael senator Paul Coughlan argued during the tense session yesterday. Mr MacSharry said that in his time on the board he had proposed a 25pc cut in fees paid to non-executive directors that was then supported by other board members.

Margaret Hayes said the norm at the board was for all directors to arrive at decisions by consensus.

Issues such as "interest rates, arrears management and assisting individuals" were of particular interest to the public interest directors, she said.

Mr Lynch said that it was clear to him that public interest directors had a role in relation to the State that takes priority over their role within the bank, despite the insistence by the directors themselves that their role is the same as other directors.

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