As I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself yesterday, there is context to this legislation. While referring to the Bill, I am keen to elaborate on the issue of social solidarity because the term was used a good deal in the context of bringing forward this emergency legislation between 2008 and 2011 and asking the people to make inordinate sacrifices to adjust the public finances. In the context of the adjustment of the public finances, another issue had to be addressed. This was the adjustment to and the repair of the balance sheets of our banks. That required the investment of vast sums of money into the banks by the taxpayers and the people.
When we discuss the difficulties and trauma this country has experienced, often we forget that many players were responsible for the downturn in the economy. There were many international circumstances and factors. Of course, these were always ignored in this House by some political parties. The difficulties we faced related to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the international credit squeeze, the locking out of access to international markets and the difficulties Irish banks had at the time in trying to access wholesale money markets on a short-term basis. Furthermore, there has been a move away from traditional banking practices in recent years. Previously, banks used to take in deposits, lend money out and charge a margin. That system was overtaken and we were into a situation where banks funded loans on the wholesale money markets. That is fine while there is a continual flow of funding but the moment it stops, banks are immediately impaired. That happened here in 2008 and the consequences were catastrophic. I refer here to the bank guarantee and all that flowed from it. There has been a continual discourse. The banking inquiry, which has held its meetings in the bowels of this Parliament for the past year or so, has investigated the matter in detail. I imagine it will make recommendations and finalise a report sometime in January.
Through all of this, members of the public have asked questions on a regular basis as to why certain individuals were asked to make major contributions to the readjustment in the public finances. They are probably wondering why it now seems to be a case of business as usual again. There is a good deal of justifiable anger because we have asked the people to carry a major burden. That burden has been lightened in recent times in terms of improvements in the economy, unemployment dropping, changes to the FEMPI legislation, the Lansdowne Road agreement, pension levies and the recent budget as well. However, there remains a concern that nothing has happened, that nothing has changed and that it is business as usual for many of the banks. For example, let us consider a person who took out a loan between 2005 and 2007 - the height of the property boom - and purchased a house. That person could have rightfully assumed that his income would be X for the foreseeable future, only to find that his income was no longer X but was in fact Y because the State had taken a substantial amount of that money in order to shove it into the banks. These same people were defaulting on their mortgages yet we find that the banks, which they had helped to save by extraordinary effort and sacrifice, are now penalising and punishing them on a continual basis. One need only visit any court in the land to see the number of repossessions being pursued. It is simply disgusting. Something has to be done to rectify this if we are to have genuine social solidarity and if we are to be a republic where everyone has a fair crack at the whip. In any event, the fact that these institutions, which were supported by this Parliament through legislation and funded by the people, are now viciously assaulting that social solidarity is repellent. Repossessions occur on a regular basis. The banks dismiss people's trials and tribulations with regard to the financial difficulties in which they find themselves. It is business as usual and that is simply wrong.
I recall occasions when a number of Labour Party Deputies who used to sit on this side of the House but who are now on the benches opposite consistently accused the then Government of not jailing bankers and not having them all locked up. The bottom line is that it is almost five years since the current Administration entered office but I do not see anyone being imprisoned in Mountjoy for mismanaging or damaging the economy or misappropriating funds. There seems to be little responsibility or culpability accepted. I have no difficulty in accepting my share of culpability. In fact, I have accepted it. That matter was adjudicated by the people in 2011. However, it is business as usual for many of the same people. They are back in business. Indeed, the institutions are back in business in a harsh way.
When we discuss FEMPI legislation and lightening the burden on people, we need to be mindful of the untold damage that is being done on a continual basis to ordinary people. All they wanted to do was buy a house, put a roof over their heads and those of their family members and go through life in the normal way with normal hopes, dreams and aspirations. They are callously being cut away every day by the same institutions that limply, lamely and deceitfully walked into Government Buildings and asked for a handout from the people. Indeed, those institutions got a very large handout.
We often discuss FEMPI, sacrifices and burden-sharing. However, I do not see much burden-sharing when I witness the daily carry-on in the courts in respect of repossessions. People are being dragged over the coals and their hopes and aspirations are being completely shattered while the lads are back in the corporate boxes again. That is simply not acceptable, particularly if we are to have a society in which everyone is to have a fair hope that their aspirations and general outlook on life can be accommodated. The people who bought homes at the height of the market were not buying for any reason other than that they wanted to put a roof over their heads. These were no investment properties, these were their homes. The thuggery going on in terms of repossessions is something that I find most distasteful. It is happening as we speak in this Chamber.
I welcome all the provisions in the Bill in terms of lightening the burden placed on people and the public service in the context of the FEMPI legislation and the very deep and harsh cuts that were made. It is a little raw for those in government to say they are lightening the load on people now when 300,000 individuals with variable mortgages are still being charged exorbitant interest rates and when the banks are inclined to ignore the pleas of the Minister and this Administration. These banks are literally extorting money from their customers at exorbitant interest rates and if those customers cannot pay up, then the banks will head down to the courts.
What is happening in this country in terms of repossessions is quite disgusting. Those in banks will provide all the figures about mortgage resolution mechanisms and everything that goes with it but, ultimately, it is they who decide who stays in the house and who does not. They are the people who decide whether an individual is entitled to his dreams and aspirations. These corporate entities should be brought to heel by the Government in terms of the way they are dealing with individuals on a daily basis.
When those in government start to lighten the burden, they should not applaud themselves and point out that people have been very good to take the medicine and that the Government is now helping them in their recuperation. The Government should be mindful of the fact that the public has not forgotten that they went through difficult times to bail out institutions.
Those institutions seem to be oblivious to the misery and suffering on a daily basis in this country, in terms of the repossessions and the extortionate variable rates charged for mortgages.
We may also accept that there are only two lending institutions in this country with regard to credit flows. I do not believe there is a proper competitive edge in the marketplace. The Minister for Finance will tell people to move mortgages, but it is very difficult for families, who are under major stress and pressure, to try to find other lending institution to move mortgages to. I meet families every day of the week in my clinics, and I am quite sure if the Minister of State holds clinics he meets families who are finding it exceptionally difficult to make progress in terms of resolutions.
The changes to FEMPI will be welcomed by the people, but we should also be conscious of the fact that many people who carry burdens are still suffering. While this might lighten their load to a certain extent, other corporate institutions in the country are crushing people on a daily basis. That shameful activity must stop.