I thank the Chair for facilitating this brief debate because it is a matter of the utmost gravity on which the public spotlight should be focused. What is emerging is the fact of secret negotiations and a lack of accountability and transparency in a matter of direct concern to the taxpayer.
The Trustee Savings Bank is the subject of the Trustee Savings Banks Act, 1989 which provided that if the bank were ever sold out of its present ownership structure the proceeds would fall due to the Exchequer. It is reckoned, on last year's accounts, to have assets of £1.2 billion, an annual profit last year of £15 million and about 1,000 employees. There have been reports in the last few days that the dismissal of a chief executive of one of the top five banks was in some way connected with National Irish Bank acquiring the Trustee Savings Bank. A statement from the Trustee Savings Bank board did not deny that discussions have been taking place. I am now told that these discussions have advanced to a stage where Mr. Lacey is to be replaced by Mr. Harry Lorton, the boss of Trustee Savings Bank, and that a provisional agreement has been reached. Last Thursday I questioned the Minister in the Dáil about the future of the three State banks, ACC, ICC and Trustee Savings Bank and got no indication whatever of this move. It is stretching credibility to suggest that the Minister did not know what was going on. He should have known.
It has been suggested that in the context of any proposal by the Trustee Savings Bank board to sell it, the Government's position is that unless a purchaser takes the ICC as well, such sale will not be approved. Is this Government policy? That is a most serious development which should be clarified because there would be clear implications for employment in ICC, which the Government has been trying to flog for many years.
We are dealing with something that is worth £200 million in the context of Trustee Savings Bank or ICC and it would be unfair if there were anything other than open tendering so that the taxpayer would get the highest price. It is unacceptable that those who bid in 1991 for the Dublin Trustee Savings Bank, namely, Woodchester Bank, Irish Life and Ulster Bank would not get a look in this time around. This smacks of a sweetheart deal done in secret. That is no way to conduct public affairs. Having checked the legislation of 1989 and the ICC Bank Act, 1992, I humbly submit that an order of this House would be required in regard to any sale of Trustee Savings Bank and, if a majority of the stake of ICC were to be sold, it would require new legislation — only a minority stake of ICC can be sold under the present legislation. This would, therefore, be in order on the Order of Business, although the Government would want to avoid those questions.
I want a commitment from the Government that the taxpayer will get top dollar if Trustee Savings Bank is sold. I have no ideological objection, but the Labour Party has been shafted on this. Its proposals in the Programme for Government to form a super State bank have been dropped. That is sensible. The proposal was daft from the outset. It is vital, however, that we have transparency and accountability, that the taxpayer gets the maximum amount of money and that everybody gets a fair crack of the whip so that the best strategic interests of the employees and this bank can be developed together.
As matters are developing, I am concerned that we will be faced with a fait accompli, a package deal which will not allow this House, the taxpayer or the employees of the Trustee Savings Bank or ICC adequate input into these important decisions.