Friday 20 September 2019

Mark Keenan: 'We can't moan now we finally have someone to pull reins'


The Central Bank building
The Central Bank building
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

When a cavalier Central Bank let the banks party to excess and the crash resulted, we vowed it would never do so again.

We demanded a change of the guard that would usher in an ever-vigilant crew of hardcore steely enforcers, who would keep the banks forever under the cosh. And that's exactly what we got.

It was never more in evidence than yesterday, when the dour guardians of Irish mortgage lending issued a snippy "No" to what seemed to be a reasonable request from the banking and brokerage sectors.

They weren't asking to lend more money. They didn't want the powers to grant more than the 20pc rule exceptions already permitted. They were just asking for an ability to distribute the exceptions more evenly to avoid chaos.

The process of applying for an exception to the point of drawdown can take seven months, so it is extremely difficult to judge how many exceptions to promise in any year; and then to ensure they are all ticked off and paid within the 12-month period.

Some banks who oversubscribed exceptions are even said to have offered customers 'bribes' of up to €5,000 to hold off closing until new year.

For banks and brokers, it means administrative bedlam. For punters, it means exceptions are front-loaded in the year and timely borrowers get them when more deserving ones don't. To the property market, it means a flat second half to the year in Dublin, in which vendors often struggle to sell.

Yesterday, the stern parent appeared to be giving little in the way of explanation as to why there is to be no flexibility. Many in the sector think it is simply because the Central Bank fears unexpected fallouts from loosening the reins. And the banks have proven over the past few years that their stern parent is right: they can't be trusted.

The Central Bank's attitude now seems so much like an addled and weary custodian who has had to reprimand their misbehaving children so often that they are just not prepared to take any chances at all, even when requests seem reasonable. "No you can't go out to play. No, not even if it's just in the back garden." Because maybe the buggers will get out over the back wall or something. Best take no chances.

Meantime, the Central Bank's long-enforced mortgage lending regime has certainly favoured richer buyers and it has led to young people paying rents higher than the mortgage repayments they no longer qualify for. But the big picture is that the regime protects us from far worse.

The real problem is with housing policy overall. 'Affordable' homes should not cost what they do. That's down to a flawed land management system, high construction standards, red tape, local authority drag and inept Government policies. Only more houses make for cheaper houses and rents.

And if we want roundheads in charge of lending, expect the odd bloody nose.

Irish Independent

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