Friday 18 January 2019

Tracker scandal could open door to laws allowing for class actions

Borrowers 'treated disgracefully' - Donohoe

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: PA
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: PA

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

New laws to allow for 'class actions' are under consideration on the back of the tracker mortgage scandal.

Fianna Fáil is examining what it has described as a "sea change" for the legal system.

It comes ahead of a much-hyped statement from Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe in the Dáil tonight.

Mr Donohoe yesterday said the Government was "not satisfied with the progress lenders have made to date".

Speaking after his meetings with Bank of Ireland, KBC, Ulster Bank, AIB and Permanent TSB, the minister said he believed tracker mortgage borrowers had been "treated disgracefully".

"We should be clear that it was the mortgage lenders that caused this harm to their customers and that the primary responsibility for rectifying the problem rests with them.

"Therefore, all lenders need to bring the Central Bank examination to a conclusion without any further delay, and to do so to the satisfaction of the Central Bank and more particularly to the satisfaction of their impacted customers," he said.

The minister stopped short of saying what sanctions he would apply if the banks do not cede to his demands for immediate action.

The Dáil will tonight debate a lengthy Fianna Fáil motion which highlights major flaws in how the tracker mortgage debacle was handled by the banks and regulators.

As part of the 'next steps', the party argues it is time to seriously consider allowing a group of people to collectively sue banks or other bodies.

The idea is not being opposed by the Government. Ireland's justice system makes no provision for multi-party litigation, thereby forcing individuals to take on cases that can cost hundreds of thousands of euro.

As far back as 2003, the Law Reform Commission recommended the introduction of a class action under the jurisdiction of the High Court and Circuit Court.


Fianna Fáil's finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the dead end faced by people caught up in the tracker mortgage scandal showed the need for group litigation.

"The motivation behind raising that issue is that if a customer is not satisfied with the outcome of their case with the bank, the next step they can take is the Financial Ombudsman.

"If again they are still not satisfied that their case has not been handled properly, then the only recourse that they have is through the courts," he said.

"We all know that taking a High Court case is very expensive. It can be in excess of €100,000 in many cases."

Mr McGrath said his party was examining the possibility of bringing forward legislation to allow for class actions.

"It would be a sea change in terms of our legal system. There are pros and cons but we believe it's something that has to be examined and in principle we're in favour of moving in that direction," he said.

The CEO of the Free Legal Advice Centre (Flac), Eilis Barry, told the Irish Independent it would support the move. She said it would "increase access to justice" for people but would have to be backed up with funding for legal aid supports.

In Paris, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he had faith in the Central Bank despite the mortgage fiasco. Asked whether he believed there was collusion on the part of the banks, Mr Varadkar said there was "a divergence among the banks" in terms of their responses to Mr Donohoe.

"Some people endured enormous stress and I want them to know that the Government is very much on their side. This has gone on too long and we're going to make sure that it's sorted out," he said.

Irish Independent

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