Leaders' Questions

The new Central Bank code on mortgage arrears favours banks, and the balance of power still lies with the banks in regard to repossessions. This new code leaves families all over the country who are currently in arrears in huge difficulty. It is a charter for home repossessions. It favours the banks and there is no independent oversight. Will the Minister agree that banks, because of their impaired balance sheets and the pressures they are under in trying to address their mortgage loan books, will become very aggressive in repossessing homes? There is no independent oversight with regard to sustainable solutions and if there is an appeals process, it is within the bank. Will the Minister agree that for the 90,000 families who are in arrears of 90 days or more on their mortgages, this code of conduct holds no hope? Many of them are outside the protection of the code because they are outside the moratorium on repossessions. Banks will begin to get very aggressive from 1 October this year because of this new code of conduct. We said that independent oversight was needed. We believe this code offers nothing other than favouritism to the banks with regard to repossessions.

David Hall of the Irish Mortgage Holders' Organisation said it was reprehensible that the Central Bank was rolling over and giving the banks everything they wanted. FLAC has also said that it is disappointed with the new code, as it favours bankers. Everybody would like to see a situation in which there was independence, oversight and monitoring of fair and sustainable solutions. It has been said that families are still watching Sky and not paying their mortgages. We have situations in which families are now on the basic levels of sustenance with regard to food, shelter and heating. They cannot partake in society and they cannot provide for their families in a sustainable way. This code offers no solution and certainly no hope to the 90,000 families who are struggling on a daily basis to pay their mortgages and live with some decency and dignity.

I call the Minister to reply.

The Deputy's party did not leave them with their dignity.

Deputy Byrne was elected to give it to them.

Deputies, I have called the Minister.

As we listen to the Anglo Irish Bank tapes, they sound more and more like the vampire tapes. I am not going to go into all of the history of the Deputy's party, but the issue is that those people sucked the lifeblood out of the country, and those in the Deputy's party had a large element of responsibility for that.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

What is the Minister trying to say? What is she implying?

They could come in and tell us exactly what they knew and when they knew it, but let us move on to the code of conduct on mortgage arrears. It is important to remember first the steps the Government has taken since coming to office to address the situation. It started off in a situation in which we had an extended period of forbearance, and that has been extremely important in keeping roofs over the heads of families. Second, the banks were initially in a set-up in which they were going to kick the can down the road indefinitely. This is not possible if we are to sort out the finances of the country and get the country back to work and to some level of economic prosperity. The actions by the Government, including the code on mortgage arrears, have been to continue to protect families while setting up mechanisms and measures that allow for sustainable debt resolution for the very families about whom the Deputy speaks. I and every other Deputy in the House understand that they are suffering and are in great difficulty.

The targets that have been set with regard to the principal banks and the covered institutions are to provide sustainable mortgage solutions for 30% of distressed borrowers by the end of September and for 50% of distressed borrowers by the end of 2013.

The targets will become progressively more demanding such that the vast majority of distressed borrowers will have been offered solutions by the end of 2014. The Dáil and the Seanad spent a considerable amount of time examining legislation on the Insolvency Service of Ireland in order to provide options for certain borrowers who had debts that were not sustainable in the long term. The Deputy referred to Mr. David Hall who stated on "Morning Ireland" that there was no immediate risk to borrowers. This is a process which must be pursued in the interests of recovery for the country and the families concerned to the point where debts will be sustainable. I thought that was the policy of Deputy Billy Kelleher's party.

The Minister has said the banks sucked the lifeblood out of the country. She is now setting out a code of conduct for the banks to suck the lifeblood out of families. There is no independent oversight. She spoke about sustainable solutions and resolution mechanisms, but the banks will be deciding what is sustainable. Families will have no role in defending or arguing their case. The bank will present the borrower with what it views as a sustainable solution. It is unacceptable that we will not have independent evaluation or oversight of what banks offer with regard to sustainable solutions. Of course, we want the banks to provide sustainable solutions, but they must be sustainable for the families concerned. That is my difficulty with the code of practice. It does not cater for families in significant distress and under huge pressure, both financially and psychologically-----

Your policies hugely inflated house prices.

You put them in distress.

Please, Deputy Billy Kelleher's time is nearly up.

I remind the Deputies opposite that the election took place two and a half years ago.

The problems are still there.

We are coming here everyday to clean up Fianna Fáil's mess.

The solutions-----

Will Deputies, please, speak through the Chair?

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin will not have to come for here much longer.

We still have no solutions.

The Deputy should not respond to the interruptions.

He is not allowed to speak.

If Deputies do not stay quiet, I will suspend the sitting. This is nonsense. I ask Deputy Billy Kelleher to make his point. He should not make speeches; he should just ask a question.

That is not his fault.

The Minister does not get it.

Approximately 145,000 families are in mortgage distress. Looking for scapegoats or pointing fingers is not a solution for those families who are watching this debate and hoping a solution will be found. Even at this stage, is it possible to include something in the code of conduct that would, at least, allow independent oversight and evaluation of proposals for sustainable solutions? It is completely on the side of the banks and anyone with common sense will realise that they will become aggressive in repairing their distressed mortgage books.

I am concerned that the Deputy is attempting to unduly distress families who are already worried enough and want a solution to the difficulties which have been ongoing for four years or more in many cases. If he is seeking to help families in distress, he should have the courtesy to speak about facts and what the code of conduct provides for. It provides for a structured system over this year and next for families to engage with their lenders in finding a sustainable solution to their debt problem.

For the banks.

When the Deputy's party was in government, its solution was simply to kick the can down the road. Kicking the can is understandable in the early stages of a crisis-----

The Government is kicking the can into borrowers' faces.

-----but it is not sustainable if the families are so indebted that they cannot sustain where they are living. The code of conduct, the Insolvency Service of Ireland and the mortgage advice and information telephone line-----

It is a code for the bankers.

Stay quiet, please.

-----provide a series of mechanisms to help people in terrible distress about their debts to find a solution. Deputy Billy Kelleher suggests the Central Bank should not engage in such a process. Fianna Fáil's way with the banks is, basically, any old way.

The Government's way is to support the banks.

This process will help the country by helping distressed borrowers and families to keep a roof over their heads.

This is a process for evictions.

What does that involve?

For a small number of families, it may involve the resolution offered by the Insolvency Service of Ireland. I suggest to the people who may be alarmed by what Deputy Billy Kelleher has said this morning that they contact the mortgage and arrears advice telephone service run by the Department. We also provide an independent accounting advice service for families who are approaching the stage of resolution and have to make a decision. This process is like buying a house in that it involves important financial decisions. Through the mortgage arrears resolution process of the Central Bank, the Insolvency Service of Ireland and the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, we have put in place a series of measures to allow families to seek advice and guidance before they make their critical decisions for their futures and family homes.

The banks will decide at the end of the day.

Whether vampires exist in reality, the characters we heard on the now infamous tapes are not fictional. All of us can appreciate the disgust, although not the shock, people felt at hearing the macho diatribes between these individuals. The disgust felt by the tens of thousands of families across the State who are in mortgage distress is all the deeper. To listen to Mr. David Drumm describe how he planned to go to the Central Bank with his arms swinging to demand "the moolah" for his bankrupt bank is revealing. We know there will be no option for struggling families to refuse to pay the moolah or to pluck the figures from their posteriors.

It is all the more shocking to be confronted with the details of a new code of conduct for mortgage arrears on the same morning that we hear these revelations. The Minister has indicated this is part of a supportive process, but I challenge her on that claim. It abolishes the previous limit of three contacts per month from banks to customers in arrears. In other words, it allows opportunities for the harassment of families already under pressure. It introduces a three month notice period before a bank can move to seek a repossession order, or eight months in the case of new arrears cases. Whatever about kicking the can down the road, this appears to be a case of acting with indecent haste. The code of conduct is best understood as part of a wider, co-ordinated attack on struggling homeowners. The Government has already passed legislation to make it easier to repossess family homes and tax the family home. At the behest of the troika, it has now introduced the new code of conduct which ignores much of the advice given by organisations that work with struggling homeowners.

I ask the Minister to explain to those families with whom she has sympathised this morning the difference in treatment between the macho men of the banking world and the struggling householder.

The Deputy's party voted for the guarantee.

Deputy Emmet Stagg's party voted to extend it twice.

I find Deputy Mary Lou McDonald's comments interesting. I recall discussing at length with her predecessor as finance spokesperson in this House the reasons the Labour Party was voting against the bank guarantee and advising him to consider doing the same. I do not know why he did not or would not do so. All I can say about the impact of banking issues on the lives of families who are worried about holding onto their houses is that Deputy Mary Lou McDonald needs to think a little about the structures the Government has put in place. I agree with her that the country should never have been brought to this point, but I remind her that her party, among others, voted for the guarantee.

The Minister's party has voted to extend it twice.

It has resiled from that position ever since. The record of the House shows what happened.

The Minister thinks she is still in opposition.

We have to deal with the catastrophe visited on the country and its people. Those who voted for the bank guarantee, including Sinn Féin, handed us the responsibility, as citizens and as a country, to deal with the awful and irresponsible actions about which we hear on the tapes. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald referred to those involved as the men after the moolah. If there is responsibility to be taken, it must be taken by everybody who voted for the guarantee.

Is the Minister blaming Fine Gael now also?

The representatives of Sinn Féin are among those who have to take responsibility because they were leading lights in agreeing to the guarantee.

Fine Gael supported the guarantee also.

The Minister is taking cynicism to a whole new depth.

Can I comment on what we have set out in relation to families?

The Minister is the queen of cynicism.

Sinn Féin did not know what it was doing. It was supporting Fianna Fáil.

The Minister is the queen of spin.

Do the Deputies have any idea how they sound on radio and television? I ask them to, please, allow the Minister to respond without their smart remarks.

I would not mind if they were smart.

We have set up a process. Anyone who has ever been involved in debt resolution - I am speaking as an accountant - will appreciate that it is necessary to get the borrower and the lender to come together to reach an agreement that allows the borrower to recover and get back on his or her feet and also allows the lender to recover proportionate amounts of money that are recoverable. If one examines the detail of the Central Bank code of conduct, one will find that it refers to contact that "is proportionate and not excessive". Anyone who has ever been owed money, even at a domestic level, will know that people who owe money get so stressed that they turn away and fail to engage. We are providing for an engagement process that will allow families to reach a sustainable solution. If Sinn Féin is holding out the prospect of anything else, or suggesting there should not be an actual resolution between the borrower and the lender, it is making a false promise that cannot be delivered on, even if it does not intend to do so. We must help families to sort out their difficulties, slowly but surely. The structures are now in place to facilitate this. The Department of Social Protection provides support for 12,000 families, in terms of their mortgage interest payments, on a monthly basis. It also provides a telephone advice line that is run through the Citizens Information Board and funds the Money Advice and Budgeting Service. The Government and the Dáil recently established the Insolvency Service of Ireland. We now have the structures in place to allow families to come to sustainable solutions. That is what I want for families. I hope it is what Sinn Féin wants also.

The Minister is an accountant and that was an accountant's answer, if I ever heard one. We all know that there has to be a resolution process for families in debt.

I thank the Deputy.

That has never been contested. The Government is proposing a process that will give the banks a veto.

The Government is not providing for a level playing pitch for the struggling household and the macho men, many of whom are still in place in the financial system.

Perhaps the Deputy might ask a question.

It is neither even-handed nor fair to pit the moolah boys against the struggling householder.

Did the Deputy's party appreciate that when it voted for the bank guarantee?

I ask the Minister to revisit her accountant's mindset and perhaps factor this in. She and her colleagues are always telling us how right they were on the banks.

If that is the case, why did they leave the Anglo Irish Bank boys who treated the State with such contempt in place for five years after the guarantee on salaries of €175,000 and more?

Where is Anglo Irish Bank now?

They are presiding over circumstances in which none of these moolah men has been brought to account.

May we have a question, please?

Not one of them has faced time in jail.

The Deputy should ask the man sitting beside her about that.

The Government certainly does not have a charter for harassing them. There is one law for the rich and another for the poor.

Where is Anglo Irish Bank now?

The Deputy should go to Clontarf Garda station and make a complaint.

The Minister is polishing her halo with regard to the banks.

Will the Deputy, please, put her question? She is over time.

That only makes what the Government is doing at this time all the worse. It has protected these people.

The Deputy did not hear me. Would she, please, put her question?

She does not have a question.

The Government has allowed them to stay in highly paid positions. At the same time, its response to the plight of struggling homeowners has been heartless.

I again ask the Deputy to put her question.

She should set aside the script.

According to figures released last week, the number of people in arrears has increased for the 14th quarter in a row since September 2009.

We are not here to make speeches.

She is nearly at the end of the script.

This has happened on the Government's watch.

I ask the Deputy to resume her seat and the Minister to respond to her.

Is there a question?

Excuse me, a Cheann Comhairle-----

The Deputy is now one minute over her time.

-----you gave the Minister considerable latitude.

I did not. Will the Deputy, please, resume her seat?

I would like to be afforded the same courtesy.

I also gave the Deputy latitude.

I wish to put my question.

Put the question, please.

Stop interrupting her.

Where did it all go so horribly wrong?

It went wrong on the night of the bank guarantee.

Since when does the Labour Party back the big bankers and punish families?

Will the Deputy, please, adhere to the Chair?

Is that now the way of the Labour Party and its accountant Minister?

I doubt that any accountant in Ireland knows as much about banks and banking as certain elements of Sinn Féin.

There the Minister goes again. She is just the same as the Taoiseach. They always resort to the low blow.

The knowledge any of the rest of us has pales by comparison with Sinn Féin's relationship with the banks and their moolah.

They know where the safes are.

It is unbecoming to let something that is so important to families degenerate-----

(Interruptions).

It is unworthy of Deputy Mary Lou McDonald.

The Minister has no consideration for families whatsoever.

It is not her normal standard to make such comments.

Of course, the Minister's comments are entirely worthy.

The Minister is on the side of the bankers.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked where it had all gone wrong. Unfortunately for the country, it went wrong on the night of the bank guarantee-----

It went wrong long before then.

The Government has extended it on a number of occasions.

-----when Sinn Féin and others decided to transfer the debt to the backs of the people.

The Government has extended it.

That is why it is so tragic and sad to listen to the tapes.

Where are the tapes of the promises the Labour Party made before the election?

In the three years after the bank guarantee, the country lost 250,000 jobs. The connection between this and Deputy Mary Lou McDonald's question is that many of the families in question are now struggling to meet their mortgage payments. What have we done as a Government?

The Government has penalised the people in question.

We have set up a procedure to find a resolution between the borrower and the lender.

It voted to extend the guarantee repeatedly. The Government extended the guarantee again and again, even when it knew the full facts.

Hindsight is great.

All we get from the Minister is spin and cynicism. The Sunday Independent devotes its front page to it every weekend.

I am sure the Minister appreciates how sickened people are by what are called "the vampire tapes". Does she appreciate that the questions people are asking do not really relate to who said what to whom, or to whether politicians were just incompetent or incompetent and corrupt? They are asking what the Government intends to do about it. To be honest, slagging Fianna Fáil and waffling on as the Taoiseach did here for the past two days does not really cut it.

The Minister might be interested to know that 26 members of the Czech Republic Parliament are in custody at the moment for crimes of a less serious character than what went on in Ireland five years ago. Five years ago, the banking crime of the century - the theft of billions from men, women and children in this country - took place, and nothing has been done.

The Taoiseach told us yesterday that it takes time and that we are preparing a book of evidence, the exact same line that was given two years after the crisis. It is utter nonsense. What other crime would be treated in this way? Where is the fraud squad? Where is the Criminal Assets Bureau? This is what they were set up for. Any other crime scene would have been surrounded and the evidence taken. It was six months before the Garda made a visit to Anglo Irish Bank and two years before it even got the passwords to its computers.

The reason it is different is that there is a different attitude to crimes committed by people in suits. They are not considered to be real crimes. Also, of course, there was a fear that if the Garda had gone in, a connection to the political establishment might have been revealed. Now, we are expected to believe that a newspaper whose owner this time last year took Seán Fitzpatrick to the European Championships and then quashed the printing of those photographs is at the forefront of investigative journalism. We are expected to believe that the Garda Commissioner, who we know has a legal responsibility under the Garda Síochána Act to inform the Minister of serious matters of public interest, did not inform the Minister about these very serious tapes, yet they ended up in the hands of one of the Garda's favourite sources of information.

The greatest challenge is that we are expected to believe there is something unusual here. There is nothing unusual here.

Will you put your question, please, Deputy?

The only thing that is unusual is the scale of the arrogance, the scale of the delays and the scale of the inaction. I want to ask the Minister two questions. These are crimes. Why are the people who committed them not in jail? If the Minister, who is in power, says our laws are inadequate, what is she doing about them?

We have heard a lot from the Labour Party about how it did not vote for the bank guarantee. It voted for every other cut to pay for it. There is €25 billion in bonds in the Central Bank-----

Deputy, will you please resume your seat?

-----to cover the promissory notes on behalf of the Government. We know that once they are issued, this becomes sovereign debt. Given that-----

Deputy, please.

-----it has been revealed that this decision was made on misinformation, will the Government now commit to cancelling and not paying those bonds? It should not make the Irish people pay for the crimes of others.

I want to be quite clear. We have now got into a habit. It is nearly 11.05 a.m. There are two minutes to ask a question and three minutes to answer, with one minute for a supplementary question. I am going to start sticking to that rigidly. I will switch off the microphones if Members do not adhere to the rules.

Deputies

On both sides.

On both sides, yes.

Tell the Taoiseach that.

Will you please adhere to the rules? The Minister has three minutes to reply.

The Labour Party is heckling.

I will chair the House, if Deputy McGrath does not mind.

First, in view of what happened on a previous occasion, we all have to be very circumspect in what we say here in regard to matters that are due, I understand and I hope, to come before the courts early next year. It is right and proper that people who have been involved in what has happened to this country - this major disaster - should come before our courts. However, I do not think anything should be said here that would jeopardise the courts' ability to deal in the proper way with these matters.

Second, in regard to the tapes that have now been released, we have legislation before the Dáil as we speak which concerns the powers of the Oireachtas to carry out investigations. We have had no less than four scoping inquiries. The first was by Klaus Regling, the second was by Governor Patrick Honohan and the third was by Peter Nyberg, and we also had a fourth inquiry into the functioning of the upper echelons of the public service in the context of the events that took place, which was carried out by experts from Canada. We have had a great deal of inquiry and investigation into what happened. What is important is that we should be able, with all of the material that is available, to proceed to an appropriate inquiry.

With regard to arraignments before the courts, obviously, the operation of the justice system and the prosecutorial system in Ireland is properly independent of the Government of the day. However, I can say to the Deputy that the Garda and the prosecution authorities have, via the Attorney General and the Minister for Justice and Equality, indicated that it is expected that the prosecutions will be under way in court in the new year.

The Minister's point about due process or the system being potentially tainted is utter nonsense. There are facts here. Laws were broken, this criminal activity happened and those who were responsible for it have not been brought to book. I do not believe the people out there are interested in Oireachtas inquiries. The critical thing they are interested in is that those responsible be brought to account, and, more important, that everybody else who is paying the price for their crimes be released from that life sentence.

Will you put your question, please, Deputy?

The Minister, unlike in the past when she was in opposition, has an opportunity to do that now. Why is she asking - forcing - the Irish people to pay for the crimes of these bankers while they walk free? The Government has the power to the cancel the bonds that are under the Central Bank. Let the ECB take a hit rather than special needs assistants, parents and mortgage holders. The choice is now with the Government. Harking back to the past will not cover it on this one.

For the record, there have been a number of occasions on which comments were made in the House by previous officeholders which seriously jeopardised, if not totally prevented, prosecutions that might otherwise have been undertaken. It is important that the Deputy acknowledge that there is an independent justice system, an independent Judiciary and an independent prosecution system.

With regard to what I said in opposition, because I am very clear about what I said in opposition, I said that the arrangements that were made would have to be renegotiated. I specifically set out how the promissory note and the other arrangements could be renegotiated. Unfortunately, once a guarantee is given by a sovereign, unless the sovereign totally defaults, there is no way of repudiating a guarantee.

Is Deputy Daly suggesting that this country should have defaulted and been plunged into totally penury? If that is her solution, it is not an opinion I share.