Sunday 18 August 2019

Editorial: 'Human cost of the tracker scandal won't be forgotten'

It will take actions rather than words to restore confidence in the banks (stock picture)
It will take actions rather than words to restore confidence in the banks (stock picture)
Editorial

Editorial

After €64bn was swallowed up in the rescue of the banks, relationships between the public and lending institutions were always going to be strained. Expectations and perceptions shift when trust is trampled upon.

Perhaps the one thing most of us naively had hoped for was that the enormously expensive lifeline would at least buy us some insurance against further scandal. Surely our financial pillars could not buckle and betray us again?

We were of course wrong. Ten years ago the banks featured in another black chapter of financial shame, written once more by their own hand. This was when the tracker scandal broke.

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Yesterday, the Central Bank issued its final report revealing how 99 people lost their homes.

It will cost the State's lenders €1bn in fines and the price of restoring customers to tracker rates.

But of course the true toll was in the incalculable human cost. The banks and the regulator acknowledge 40,000 customers have been affected.

But there are a further 10,000 who for one reason or another failed to get their trackers back.

For them the story is not over yet, whatever their chances of redress may be.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said the report was a "searing insight into the misery caused to mortgage holders and their families because of how they were treated by the banks".

It must be noted the Central Bank was slow to act despite being the State's financial watchdog.

It took an Oireachtas Finance Committee, under the chairmanship of John McGuinness, to train its firepower on the banks to spur them on.

It began with a trickle of stories that soon became a torrent. But what turned the tide in driving the message home was the harrowing evidence of four brave homeowners wrongly taken off trackers.

They were subsequently forced to find tens of thousands of euro more than was necessary in repayments. The toll that the struggle and trauma took on their health and well-being was heart-rending. One man, Thomas Ryan, spoke of the horrendous impact it had on his family.

"I suffered a stroke in 2013 and my wife suffered a nervous breakdown into 2015." He added that the "conditions are medically attributable to enormous stress". He revealed how the "life-changing traumas are etched on our lives forever".

Ireland has never seen a consumer scandal on this scale before, and must never see one like it again. There can be zero tolerance for bad behaviour by banks and this includes lax standards in enforcement.

Commenting on official oversight and the price paid by ordinary people for its absence in the 18th century, Samuel Johnson wrote: "Governors being accustomed to hear of more crimes than they can punish, and more wrongs than they can redress, set themselves at ease by indiscriminate negligence, and presently forget the request when they lose sight of the petitioner."

Of course this is not the case today. But while the Central Bank pledges to be vigilant, 10 years since this scandal broke, it will take actions rather than mere words to restore confidence.

Irish Independent

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