Monday 19 February 2018

A mere slap on the wrist won't force bankers into line

Power imbalance between politics and big finance is clear to see and we're left to depend on the kindness of bankers, says Eilis O'Hanlon

The headline looked good for the Government: "AIB forced into U-turn on interest rate cut." It made it sound as if Enda Kenny, having summoned the representatives of three banks to a meeting of the National Economic Council last week, donned a black hood, got out the thumbscrews, dusted down the rack and did his best Spanish Inquisition act on their shameless, moneygrubbing, corporate ass.

It didn't happen quite that way. The Government called in representatives of the three main banks that had refused to pass on the European Central Bank's most recent interest rate cut of a quarter of one per cent to holders of variable-rate mortgages, asked them to do the decent thing, and were flatly turned down. Later, Allied Irish Banks executives met privately and decided to pass the rate cut on anyway. They weren't forced into anything. They just decided on this occasion that it would make for a quiet life.

The Government in this scenario is less Grand Inquisitor, and more like the political equivalent of Blanche Dubois, the heroine of Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire. "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," Blanche says as she's led away to a mental institution, still nursing her delusions of grandeur.

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