Tuesday 18 December 2018

Varadkar pours cold water on call for criminal investigation into banks over tracker mortgage scandal

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government has lost patience with banks
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government has lost patience with banks
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has poured cold water on the call by his government partners, the Independent Alliance, for a full criminal investigation into the banks at the centre of the tracker mortgage scandal.

He said the government doesn't have the authority to instruct the Gardaí  to conduct investigations, adding that he wouldn't like to live in a country where it did have that power.

His remarks come a day after the Independent Alliance issued a statement saying they believe what happened to 20,000 bank customers - who were wrongly taken off tracker mortgages and lost money as a result - should be subject to a criminal investigation.

Mr Varadkar said that if people believe a crime has been committed or if they have evidence, it should be reported to the Gardaí.

"That's how we deal with crimes in this country.

"The government doesn't have the authority to send in the Gardaí or the fraud squad and I wouldn't like to live in a country, quite frankly, where politicians could order in the police or the fraud squad in the way that some people have suggested."

Put to him that it is Fine Gael's coalition partners who want a criminal investigation launched, Mr Varadkar said: "You have my answer on that.

"If people believe a crime has been committed, if they have evidence a crime has been committed well then they should report that to the Gardaí."

He added that part of the Central Bank's probe of the matter is to examine whether there has been collusion or fraud.

Mr Varadkar said: "There's a difference between breach of contract and criminal fraud.

"There is a difference in our law between civil matters and criminal matters but there is a way to deal with both of them."

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe met the banks earlier this week and it was agreed that most people whose tracker mortgages were taken away will be repaid and compensated by the banks before Christmas.

Mr Varadkar didn't accept criticism arguing that the government has effectively taken no action against the banks.

He said: "I think Minister Donohoe's intervention this week has made a difference.

"It's already the case that people were having their trackers restored to them and that people were being compensated but it was happening far too slow.

"It was going on far too long and far too slow.

"And that's really what required the government intervention in the past  week.

"What the banks have committed to is ensuring that the vast majority of people are put back on their trackers and are fully compensated by Christmas and in some cases into the first quarter of next year."

Mr Varadkar pledged that the government "will hold the banks to account if they don't' do that".

He added: "This is a timeline that they've set and if they don't live up to the timeline that they've set we'll be within our rights to take action then."

The Taoiseach was speaking after he turned the sod at at the site of 19 planned social housing units in Donnybrook on Dublin's southside.

Meanwhile, Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said banks will have to regain the trust of the public and the Government after the “sorry saga” over the tracker mortgage scandal.

Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party claimed Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe had not gone far enough during his discussions with the banks earlier this week.

Mr Donohoe agreed a series of deadlines with AIB, Ulster, Bank of Ireland, KBC and Permanent TSB for the payment of redress, with the majority of affected customers to receive compensation by Christmas.

If those deadlines aren’t met the Minister has threatened to take action including changes to tax policies.

However, Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan told the Dáil that banks were acting as if they were above the law.

He noted that the tracker mortgage issue has been in the public domain for seven years. He said the majority of banks were engaged in fraudulent behaviour.

“The response of the State to date has been pathetic,” he said.

“Do you trust the banks or share my cynicism about them,” Mr O’Callaghan asked.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin criticised the Minister for refusing to outline any potential sanctions.

“You have to wonder what it is about the banks in Ireland that allows them behave so disgracefully so often,” he said.

In response Ms Fitzgerald said the Government is taking action – but the priority is that people who “suffered endlessly” would get redress and compensation.

“What we need now is to reassure those families that Government is determined to find a solution for each of those families,” she said.

“He [Mr Donohoe] has set down clear deadlines for action so that those families can have at the very least the money that is owed to them repaid.”

She added: “The Government are absolutely determined that people get a speedy resolution.”

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