Sunday 20 October 2019

Union boss stands over Nazi slur on AIB chief

SIPTU president Jack O’Connor at the Philip Ross ‘pop up’ art exhibition in McDevitt's old wool factory in Glenties after his address to the MacGill Summer School
SIPTU president Jack O’Connor at the Philip Ross ‘pop up’ art exhibition in McDevitt's old wool factory in Glenties after his address to the MacGill Summer School

John Mulligan, Donal O'Donovan and Fiach Kelly

THE head of the country's biggest trade union is standing by his comments comparing AIB chief executive David Duffy to the head of the Nazi propaganda machine.

SIPTU president Jack O'Connor made the controversial link between Mr Duffy and Joseph Goebbels, who was Hitler's minister of propaganda. "If Goebbels had that man (David Duffy), Hitler would have won the war," Mr O'Connor claimed.

He made the comments after Mr Duffy had claimed that one in five homeowners in arrears was "strategically defaulting". The bitterness is set to intensify as one of the Central Bank's most senior figures warned of a "turbulent" few months ahead as the banks increase the number of home repossessions.

Fiona Muldoon, head of banking supervision at the Central Bank, also said lenders had to watch out for people

who may be "trying it on" in seeking debt deals. She said the Central Bank had set "ambitious" targets for the banks to deal with troubled homeowners in order to "force the issue".

Ms Muldoon added that it was "inevitable" there would be some reaction and repercussions from home repossessions.

The heads of the other main banks weighed into the debate. Ulster Bank chief executive Jim Brown backed Mr Duffy's view on "strategic defaults" but Bank of Ireland's Richie Boucher voiced his doubt that large numbers of people in arrears were "cynically" defaulting in the hope of securing a debt deal.

However, it was Mr O'Connor's linking of the head of a state-owned bank and the Nazi Party that really caused shockwaves. The SIPTU chief was speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal.

Mr O'Connor said he had heard the AIB boss speaking on the radio this week regarding the bank's first-half results.

Last night he told the Irish Independent that he stood by his comparison with Goebbels but distanced himself from suggesting any links with fascism.

"I'm not in any way suggesting that David Duffy is in any way remotely aligned with Nazism," said Mr O'Connor.

"If the man was offended or if he interpreted it in any way other than the way I meant it, I don't wish to imply anything other than what I meant."

He stressed that he was deeply concerned that the level of evictions looked set to rise.

"We all as a society have an obligation to support those at risk of losing their family home," said Mr O'Connor. And he accused AIB of trying to stigmatise people who genuinely could not make ends meet.

A spokeswoman for Mr Duffy said he would not be responding to Mr O'Connor's comments.

The controversy erupted after Mr Duffy had claimed that as many as one in five homeowners in deep debt arrears was a so-called "strategic defaulter" – meaning they earn enough to repay their home loan but are using it to cover other expenses, such as credit card debt.

His bank said it had sent letters to thousands of defaulting borrowers threatening legal action, including repossession.

And Ulster Bank chief executive Jim Brown told the Irish Independent that he "shares a similar view" to Mr Duffy about the level of so-called strategic default and that his bank was also planning an "uptick in legal activity".

However Bank of Ireland's chief executive Richie Boucher said it was impossible to know the level of strategic versus more genuine defaulters.

"It's not possible to break it down scientifically," Mr Boucher said. "Is it (a case of default) absolutely deliberate? I can't sit here in my bunker and put myself in someone else's mind."

Irish Independent

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