Friday 17 November 2017

Ailish O’Hora: Five years since bank guarantee and it’s plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

LOSING PATIENCE: Finance Minister Michael Noonan and managing director of the IMF Christine Lagarde.
LOSING PATIENCE: Finance Minister Michael Noonan and managing director of the IMF Christine Lagarde.

OUR wily Finance Minister Michael Noonan is fond of quoting his friendship with International Monetary Fund boss Christine Lagarde in relation to ongoing discussions on our debt, among other things, with our European paymasters.

Friends/contacts in high places are generally a good thing, no arguments there.

But as the fifth anniversary of that fateful €440bn bank guarantee approaches, I’ll borrow a phrase from her native language–  plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

No, not an awful lot has changed – despite the fact that we practically own all of the banks and have done so for quite some time now.

In fact, they are still calling the shots, to a large extent.

This was recently evident in the display put on by most senior bankers at a Dail Committee on mortgage arrears.

Many of the banking executives simply did not give the information asked of them, to the visible frustration of politicians present.

As for banks lending to Irish businesses.

Despite protestations of the contrary, ask many firms and pressure groups like ISME and they will tell you banks are still not lending to Irish businesses.

The most recent survey from ISME indicated a 57pc lending refusal rate from banks – this is down 13 points from June and is the worst score since September 2011.

The state of inertia is not restricted to the High Street banks.

This week Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan was forced into an embarrassing u-turn after he said he will now pass on new information to Gardai following on from the controversial Anglo tapes.

He had previously said that the tapes did not reveal new evidence but has now admitted that the bank will hand over its analysis of the tapes which were exposed in reports by the Irish Independent/Sunday Independent/ earlier this year.

Having said that, there have been some pluses.

In the past year we’ve had a deal worth €1bn annually on the Anglo promissory notes.

We have managed to sell  off a chunk of Bank of Ireland – although the fate of State-owned Allied Irish Banks is not as clear.

And there is still talk about retrospective recapitalisations of the banks following the €60bn bailout by the taxpayer but it is just talk at this stage and our debts as a country are massive.

There have also been some improvements in the economy, namely stabilisations in both the property and labour markets and our image abroad has greatly improved.

But, we still do not know exactly what happened on that fateful night five years ago apart from the fact that at the time bank executives managed to bully the two Brians – Lenihan and Cowen – into the guarantee.

Despite plans for an inquiry into the banking crisis, that will not include the ill-fated Anglo –it is likely that we will never know.

As they say in France............

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