Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018

Vol. 965 No. 5

Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It is important to put this Bill into context. It is incredible that, as we speak, thousands of families across the State are paying over the odds on their mortgages, not just because of high variable interest rates, but because of the tracker mortgage scandal. We know this because the banks brazenly and openly told us at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. They accept they did wrong but they will fix it in their own time. They know they are a protected species. Banks and bankers destroyed the finances of the State through arrogance and what I believe is criminality, yet they still act as if they are unaccountable to anybody.

Why do they do so? It is because the State has let them away with it for decades. We kneel down to bankers and worship them. One of the first things I noticed in the Members' Bar was a picture of one of the most notorious bankers along with a group of Deputies in a celebrated little cubbyhole surrounded by all the different trophies Members would have won at the Galway races and elsewhere. That is a symbol of how the State has dealt with bankers in the past.

However, things must change. The days of bankers breaking the rules, lying and getting away scot-free must end. Today must mark the start of that process in some small way. I am glad to bring this Bill before the Dáil today on behalf of Sinn Féin. It is a short but important Bill.

Section 1 makes providing false or misleading information to the Central Bank a "prescribed contravention" under the Central Bank Act. It specifies the people to whom this applies and, for the first time, allows the Central Bank to sanction an individual even if the financial service provider as a whole has not committed a contravention. In summary, it is about the individual accountability of bankers and those in financial institutions.

Section 2 makes it a criminal offence to lie to the Central Bank. Moreover it makes it punishable by a custodial sentence. Bankers or anybody else, such as those in the insurance industry, found guilty of this offence could face up to five years' imprisonment.

Section 3 is required to implement section 2 fully. It amends Schedule 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 2011 so that the new offence introduced in section 2 of the Bill is a relevant offence in the Criminal Justice Act. Section 4 specifies the Short Title of the Bill and provides for its commencement on the day after being signed into law by the President - a day I look forward to.

In 2015, nearly three years ago, the then Central Bank Governor, Professor Patrick Honohan, wrote to the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, arguing that this law needed to be brought in. However, two and a half years later nothing has appeared on the legislative programme from the Government. Were it not for the Freedom of Information Act, who knows if this recommendation from the main person, the Governor of the Central Bank, would have ever seen the light of day? Why is that? It is not as if bankers have not been in the limelight for all the wrong reason in the meantime.

When I initially submitted a freedom of information request to get the correspondence between the then Governor, Professor Honohan, and the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, the letter was provided but the Governor's comments regarding financial institutions lying to the Central Bank were redacted. It was only later when The Times, Ireland edition journalist, Peter O'Dwyer, received the information unredacted through a subsequent freedom of information request that the public became fully aware that the Governor of the Central Bank had written to the Minister telling him that the Central Bank knew that bankers and those in financial institutions were lying to it and that it had no powers to hold them to account and that it wanted something done about it.

The letter from the former Governor, Professor Honohan, states, "There have been instances where the Central Bank has been given false... information by regulated entities or by individuals in regulated entities." He went on to state that this was done to cover up inadequacies or failings within the institutions. All this is shocking. Why did the Minister not immediately order his staff to close this loophole or, as the then Governor called it, this lacuna in the law?

Although the Government will, I hope, support the Bill, it is my firm belief that it does not want too much light shone on this area. Individual accountability is not something this State has ever done well except in the case of the poor or vulnerable. In those cases the State, as we all know, will come down on them like a ton of bricks. However, for the bankers and politicians, the protected circle at the top, there is no individual accountability.

Earlier this week a banker from Irish Nationwide Building Society was fined €20,000 for his part in bringing down a building society for which the taxpayers are still paying the price. As one journalist put it, ten years, millions of euro, thousands of hours of investigations later - what a joke. Ten years later after the individual retired, he has been disqualified for three years. That is a sick joke. What about the next generation of bankers? They have overseen the theft of €1 billion of the money of hard-working families as a result of the tracker scandal. Does anybody believe that anyone will ever be fired? Will any of them see a day behind bars? Sadly, the answer is "No".

Two and a half years after the Governor of the Central Bank suggested this modest law, why has no finger been lifted from within Government Buildings or the Departments of Finance and Justice and Equality? It has been left to Sinn Féin to bring forward this change and we do not shirk from doing so.

Níl an dara suí sa bhuaile ag Sinn Féin ach an t-athrú seo a chur i bhfeidhm, ach ní dhéanfaidh muid faillí inár gcuid dualgais. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le hOifig an Chomhairleora Dlí Parlaiminte as ucht a gcuid tacaíochta agus an Bhille seo á dhréachtú againn.

It raises the question as to what could be achieved if the services the Minister has available to him were made available to me or my party. If we had access to the Civil Service, the Attorney General, the Central Bank and all the other arms of the State, there would be a suite of legislation that would come down on bankers to ensure they would not be able to act as they have done in the past and in my view are still doing at this point in time. If the people in power had the passion to take a zero-tolerance approach to white-collar crime, we would be in a different situation. My party will continue to drive this agenda, tackle and root out corruption and ensure the individuals responsible for so much hurt face due process and, if convicted, are sentenced to terms of imprisonment.

The days of trusting banks and bankers must end. I recently helped a constituent with a passport application. That person had to register in the register of foreign births and had to get the application signed. When it comes to this most important piece of identification - a passport indicating Irish citizenship - who does the State allow to sign it? It is the banker. The banker who robbed the country is still seen as the person we put up on the pedestal. We accept the word of a banker when it comes to a person's identity and all the rest of it. That indicates where Government is at in all this.

As lawmakers, we need to put in place a system where they are held accountable for breaking the rules and stealing money as would happen with any other criminal. This goes way beyond banking. Following the Mahon tribunal and the Moriarty tribunal, is there a single person behind bars? The only people who went to prison as a result of those tribunals were people who were found guilty of contempt of court. Despite the corruption those tribunals highlighted, nobody served terms of imprisonment as a result of that. There is no culture of individual accountability in this State.

The last line of the Governor's lengthy letter to the Minister, Deputy Noonan, stated that the structure "effectively allows individuals to act without responsibility for their actions of lying or misleading".

One might wonder of how many other situations in this State that sentence could be true, but the job before us is to act. The names of the bankers who did so much damage are well-known. It is a sign of how notorious these bankers are that they are household names. Their job was supposed to be to hold on to the money that people entrusted them with. Instead, many squandered that money through pure greed. Thousands of people signed up to a basic contract with their banks, including the right to a tracker mortgage. It was a plain, simple, black-and-white contract. Now we have learned that 30,000 of those contracts meant nothing because it did not suit the bank any longer. State-owned banks like Permanent TSB dragged their victims all the way to the steps of the Supreme Court before dropping their appeals. The arrogance did not end on that day, it did not end when the Central Bank started an examination and it still has not ended today after so many brave victims stood up to them publicly and called them out for the thieves they are. They still overcharge today, argue the toss over rates and fight tooth and nail against victims whose homes were stolen from them. They do this because they know there are no individual consequences for them. The bank might be fined but Johnny or Gilly Banker know they will not go to jail. They know that they are above the law.

Today, we send out a signal that we stand with the people, the victims of the tracker scandal or any other scandal which banks have created and walked away from, and say that today is the day that it will change. Sinn Féin is determined that the law will be changed, not just today in this small way in this legislation but in a wider way so that a crook in a suit is treated no differently from a crook in a tracksuit. Why is it up to us? There have been seven years with Fine Gael and various others and nothing has been done to hold individuals accountable for wrecking the country, with no new laws to tackle white-collar crime. Why not? Ideologically this is not a battle that Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil have the nerve for. Sinn Féin abolished the six-year rule and allowed thousands of victims of the tracker mortgage scandal to seek justice through the Financial Services Ombudsman. Sinn Féin had to take forward the legislation to allow for class action suits to allow those victims to come together and take on the bank. That Bill is progressing on Committee Stage despite Government opposition. We have to do this without the resources that Ministers have to bring forward legislation for what then Governor Patrick Honohan called for nearly three years ago, namely, to make it a crime to lie to or deliberately mislead the Central Bank.

I urge all parties to support this Bill, not only today but over the coming months, so that, for once and for all, everybody is equal before the law with no exceptions or get-out-of-jail cards for bankers or others in high offices.

Many decent people work in the banks and do a good job every day, providing decent service for the public that needs those services. As Deputy Doherty has said, it is blindingly clear to anybody that the banks have done radical damage in this country. We only have to look back to 2008 and to the fact that the banks precipitated one of the biggest financial crises that the western world has ever seen. Our generation is paying dearly for that, and future generations in this country will also pay dearly for it. One would imagine, after such a crisis, that banking institutions would seek to keep their noses clean and their heads down and ensure that they did not get into more trouble. Within the same decade as the previous banking crisis, we have a situation where the banks are front and centre within a crisis-ridden Government. As the Government goes from crisis to crisis, the banks are front and centre. Up to 33,000 families have had their money stolen from them by the banks. Up to 100 of those have had their homes taken from them and countless others have had serious hardship in their own relationships. Much of this is impossible to quantify. The truth of the matter is that these people are the little people in society. These are the people who generally have to take it on the chin and accept the damage that they are given.

What makes my head spin in all of this is the absolute lack of accountability in society. There is no accountability and if there is no accountability, one can be guaranteed that reckless behaviour will continue without stopping. Having no accountability is a recipe for the whole facade to come crashing down again in the future. That is the problem in this country. There is no accountability in the Irish political system. A crisis happens. It consumes us all. It costs us dearly. Then the media cycle moves on and the political establishment forgets about it. This is not an accident. The truth of the matter is that it suits the establishment of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to allow this cycle to move on because the people at the top of these banks are from the same closely knit social circles that the establishment of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael come from. They are the big people in this country. Deputy Doherty's Bill seeks to tackle these individuals, to hold them to account and to ensure that this does not happen again.

For too long now, velvet touch regulation has been the practice upon which Central Bank oversight and accountability has been determined, at the cost of both fiscal probity and ethics. This past decade has seen the stripping of the State's resources to pay for the sharp practice and duplicity of financial institutions. Regrettably, we now know that public anger, outrage and suffering are not enough to bring either institutions or individuals to account and this can only be achieved by criminalising reckless misconduct. It is critical that the Central Bank has at its disposal legal instruments which compel ethical compliance by both firms and individuals.

"White-collar crime" is a convenient term for people of respectability and high social status to hide behind while acting dishonourably in the course of their occupation. White-collar criminals played fast and loose and it cost the citizens of this country €64 billion. White-collar criminals acted deceptively by extorting money from customers on tracker mortgages and, as we speak, white-collar criminals are intimidating distressed mortgage holders into voluntarily surrendering their homes. I have seen too many of those distressed customers in my own offices in Tullamore and Edenderry in Offaly. Those customers are absolutely broken, disheartened and distressed by harassment from banks. We were all elected to serve citizens, not banks or corporations. It is about time that we started to do that. Despite this cycle of crisis and scandal, banks are subject to little more than a rap on the knuckles, a pledge to clean up their act, and payment of a fine which in most instances represents little more than a couple of weeks' profit for the institution.

Warren Buffett once famously said, "You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out." When the tide went out in 2008 and 2009, we discovered a lot of skinny dippers but we had no law against naked bankers. It is incomprehensible that the action of any professional, which has potential to cast every citizen of the State into penury, is above legal accountability. It is also incomprehensible that the individuals of any profession whose actions are financially underwritten by the people are immune from criminal charges when they recklessly gamble with the savings and future earnings of citizens. For these reasons, it is imperative that all officials, CEOs, board members and insurers of financial institutions are legally beyond immunity from prosecution either through acts of commission or acts of omission. They should be held to the highest possible standard of fiscal probity and legally bound by an oath of trust which affirms truthfulness, honour and ethical restraint, and which serves the interests of the State with equal regard to the interests of the institution. Let us never again expose the citizens of this country to the reckless brinkmanship of unaccountable individuals and corporations.

Just over one in four customers who face these higher mortgage charges have received compensation. As a result of the decision of these banks, we know that more than 100 families have lost their homes and in excess of 30,000 will be directly impacted by this scandal. The Taoiseach said before that this behaviour was scandalous and he said there should be a timeframe for redress and compensation, but nothing has happened. Is it not the same old story, that nobody is never held to account for white-collar crime in this State? A person can be arrested for being homeless in this State, but if a person makes somebody homeless, he or she can be given a big cheque and a tax break. These people are also exempt from any sort of accountability or responsibility despite that they have stolen more than €1 billion from thousands of families.

The banks were bailed out by the taxpayer to the tune of €64 billion, which is five times the HSE's funding. We all know about people who have been pushed to the edge, and over it, while the faceless bank officials walked away scot-free. The Government will never hold them to account. It is too weak to do so.

I have no control over that. The Deputy must conclude.

This Bill is long overdue. I look forward to the day when it becomes law.

It is easy to make statements but not back them up.

We are talking about people's lives not statistics.

The Minister, without interruption, please.

Deputy Nolan said nothing has been done on white collar crime. I refute that. The Government has published a package of measures aimed at tackling white collar crime, co-ordinated by the Departments of Finance; Justice and Equality; and Business, Enterprise and Innovation. Many of these actions have either been completed or are under way, including the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Bill. As everybody in this House knows, the Government is not in charge of the legislative process. If Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Independents are willing to work with the Government that legislation can be prioritised. It is a matter for everybody to agree.

I thank Deputy Doherty for bringing forward the Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2018. The Government supports the overall principle of the Bill and as such it is not opposing it. However, as currently drafted, it raises a number of serious concerns. The Government is undertaking detailed analysis of how best to enhance the regulatory and enforcement powers of the Central Bank. Last year, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and I asked Department officials to work with the Central Bank to identify additional powers to increase the accountability of senior individuals within the banking system. This work is ongoing and it will take full account of the Central Bank's response to the Law Reform Commission's consultation on regulatory enforcement and corporate offences and the section 6A report requested by the Minister from the Central Bank on the current cultures and behaviours, and the associated risks, in the retail banks today, and the actions that may be taken to ensure that banks prioritise customer interests in the future. I expect the proposals flowing from these detailed reports to be broader than those proposed in this Private Members' Bill. This more holistic approach will be effective in holding senior managers accountable for their actions, and inactions, than will the targeted proposals in this Bill. The Law Reform Commission and Central Bank reports are expected to be completed in the second quarter of this year and I expect the Department of Finance will then be in a position to bring forward legislative proposals in the second half of this year.

Since the publication of this Bill, my Department has engaged with a range of stakeholders, including the Central Bank, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Attorney General's office to review its proposed amendments and to focus on a number of key areas. One of the main concerns raised is in regard to the new criminal liability which the Bill seeks to impose. This presents a legal difficulty as there is a lack of clarity around the scope of the new offences which does not appear to be in keeping with the principle of legal certainty in criminal matters. In regard to the civil sanctions regime, the proposal to extend the application of the administrative sanctions procedure to all persons who are under some duty to furnish information to the Central Bank, to co-operate in providing that information or to procure the provision of that information may bring into scope any employee of a regulated financial service provider, including those not involved in management or decision making, and this has wide-reaching implications. The administrative sanctions procedure is constitutionally justified and proportionate because it applies only to a limited number of persons who are employed in regulated financial service providers. It does not apply to the public at large and it is required to protect wider public concerns of financial stability. Any expansion of the scope of persons to which the procedure applies needs to be considered carefully to ensure that it remains within the scope of what is constitutionally permissible. These are just a couple of reasons why the legal drafting of the Bill requires amendment. The Bill also requires further consideration in regard to the proposed extension of sanctions that are already covered by existing statute. It is important that the House is reassured that the Central Bank already has significant powers to sanction regulated financial service providers and their senior managers for the provision of false or misleading information. Therefore, I suggest that the pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill should examine what are the specific gaps in the Central Bank’s powers to sanction senior managers. In addition, pre-legislative scrutiny should also consider whether it is constitutional, legal, or good policy making to extend the administrative sanctions regime beyond those involved in the management of regulated financial service providers.

Given the significant amendments proposed in regard to those that could be subject to the administrative sanctions procedure contained in Part IIIC of the Central Bank Act, it is important to set out its key features and its importance as a regulatory tool to the Central Bank. The administrative sanctions procedure has proven to be a robust regulatory tool, as evidenced by the conclusion of 112 cases with over €60 million in fines imposed under its provisions. The procedure allows the Central Bank to investigate if it suspects that a regulated firm has committed a breach of the financial services legislation, or if it suspects that a person concerned in the management of a regulated firm has participated in the commission of the breach. If the Central Bank has reasonable grounds to suspect that a breach has occurred, it may refer the matter to a specialised body, the inquiry, or it can settle the case and sanctions may be imposed through either process.

This Bill raises other specific technical issues, including the scope and meaning of the new sections 33ANG and 33BG. At first sight it appears that the proposed amendment to the Criminal Justice Act 2011 could potentially have a significant impact on the rights of an individual in the case of a relatively minor offence. Furthermore, I am concerned that the proposed amendment of Part IIIC of the Central Bank Act 1942 to extend the administrative sanctions procedure at this time may lead to further legal challenges in relation to administrative sanctions procedures currently under way. I urge real caution in this regard, as I am sure that Deputy Doherty does not want to propose legislative changes that could lead to legal uncertainty in the Central Bank's powers to undertake enforcement actions. This is particularly important given the Central Bank has publicly stated that it intends to take enforcement actions in response to the tracker mortgage examination against all of the main lenders and related key individuals.

I stated at the outset that I have sought the Central Bank's initial views on the Bill, as it is appropriate and necessary to take its views into account given it would be utilising the proposed extension of powers. The Central Bank welcomes the spirit of reforms proposed in the Bill but it has expressed concerns about the way in which the reforms as currently drafted would fit into the existing enforcement framework and recommends a more holistic approach to legislative reform in the context I outlined earlier. The Government’s commitment to bring forward a considered and holistic legislative response is evidenced by its instigation and support of the reports from the Central Bank and Law Reform Commission to which I referred earlier. Previous Governments and all Members of this House have been proactive in radically reforming the Central Bank's statutory basis, as evidenced by the Central Bank Reform Act 2010, which enhanced the Central Bank's accountability and oversight mechanisms. This Act provided for the Central Bank's fitness and probity regime, which was rolled out in 2011. The regime provided for new powers to be exercised by the Central Bank to ensure the fitness and probity of nominees to key positions within financial service providers and of key officeholders within those providers.

The Central Bank’s powers under the administrative sanctions procedure to impose sanctions in response to breaches by regulated financial service providers and persons concerned in the management of such regulated firms were significantly enhanced by the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act 2013. Under that Act, the Central Bank acquired extensive powers to make regulations, including areas identified as weak points in the post crisis analysis such as risk management, consumer protection, audit processes and lending. Nobody wants to let bankers who engage in underhand practices or lie to the Central Bank off the hook. However, it is crucial that any changes to the legislation governing the Central Bank's powers are well reasoned and robust to withstand potential legal challenge.

To that end, I propose that we continue with the current approach which involves a wide range of stakeholders to ensure we achieve the best solution. I assure the House that Deputy Pearse Doherty's Bill will be fully taken into account in the Government's forthcoming proposals which I outlined.

Tracker mortgages have been mentioned here frequently. The actions of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, were strong. I refer to when he brought in the main lenders on this matter. It is owing to his actions that the institutions are bringing this matter to a conclusion in the manner they are, for which the Minister should be complimented. Nobody wants to be soft on white collar or blue collar crime or any type of crime. That is not what anybody in this House wants.

I am sharing time with Deputies John Brassil and Jack Chambers.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on Second Stage of the Bill which we will be supporting. I raise with the Minister of State a current issue that is relevant to Central Bank regulation, namely, the proposed sale by Permanent TSB of a portfolio of loans. Yesterday the institution made a statement that it was going to proceed with the sale of the Project Glas portfolio, giving no details of its composition, the number of loans, the book value or whether the loans were mortgage loans, loans to SMEs or other types of loan. It has been reported on independent.ie this afternoon that Permanent TSB plans to sell non-performing loans worth €4.5 billion and that close to €3 billion worth of these loans are family home mortgages. Close to €1 billion relates to buy-to-let properties. As the Minister of State well knows, if such a sale proceeds, the loans will inevitably be bought by vulture funds. Owing to the decision made by the previous Government, vulture funds are not fully regulated in Ireland. We have credit servicing legislation, under which the intermediary has to be regulated, but the fund does not need to be. The sale must not proceed. It is completely unacceptable that family home mortgages would be sold from under people's feet in this manner to a vulture fund. This issue needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. I have called on Permanent TSB to clarify its intentions and call on the Minister for Finance to do likewise.

We are all aware that the ECB is placing pressure on Irish banks, particularly Permanent TSB, to reduce the value of their non-performing loan books. However, doing so in the manner I have described is not acceptable. There is no reason Permanent TSB cannot work its way through its loan book, engage with customers, restructure loans and write off debts, as necessary. However, it is taking the easy option and outsourcing its dirty work. That is exactly what will occur if the sale proceeds.

The Minister of State will be aware that the Oireachtas finance committee invited representatives of all of the vulture funds before it. Tanager, Capita Asset Services, Blackstone, CarVal Investors, Cerberus, Lone Star Funds, Mars Capital and Oaktree Capital declined its invitation. Starwood Capital and Apollo gave no response. That is what one is dealing with. These bodies are unregulated and unaccountable. It is not acceptable that loans belonging to Irish businesses and family home mortgages may be sold in this manner. I want the Minister of State to take this message back to the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, to whom I wrote yesterday on the broader issue of loan portfolio sales. I look forward to an early response.

We welcome the Bill. We support its thrust in that it provides for the Central Bank to conduct inquiries into the suspected provision of false and misleading information and to impose sanctions where such information is provided. Much has been said so far about the tracker mortgage scandal. With other members of the finance committee, including Deputy Pearse Doherty, I have devoted considerable time to this issue, particularly in recent months. It is worth reflecting, however, on the backdrop to it which very much feeds into the spirit of the Bill. It was on 28 November 2009 that Charlie Weston of the Irish Independent wrote an article in which he stated the then "Financial Services Ombudsman Joe Meade has demanded all mortgage lenders be probed to ensure they are honouring agreements allowing people to retain their tracker mortgages". In the following years, 2010 and 2011, some mortgages were dealt with on an individual lender basis. In the case of Bank of Ireland, for example, 2,100 were dealt with, but there was no industry-wide probe until 2015. In October 2015 it was announced by the Central Bank that there would be an industry-wide tracker mortgage examination. It sent out the full details in December 2015. Over two years later, there are still thousands of mortgage holders on the wrong rate. Even today they are being denied their contractual entitlement to be on a tracker mortgage rate. Information from the banks suggests that by June this year all of the customers will be on the correct rate. I am not convinced of this, based on the banks' performance so far. In September 2017 we were told that there were approximately 13,000 mortgage accounts affected. The number has increased dramatically, to under 27,000 in this Central Bank examination. A further 7,000 or so predate that examination.

The evidence is very clear. Throughout the process, the banks have been dragging their feet on this issue. It has been an horrendous battle for individual customers who are not equipped to take on the might of the financial institutions, which is why they rely on the State authorities to perform their functions. Ordinary people lead busy lives. They are busy going to work, rearing their families and going about their day-to-day duties. It is incredible that the denial of trackage mortgages to those who were entitled to them was raised with the regulator in a formal way by the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman in 2009 but that clearly there was no adequate response. There was not an adequate response for years.

What the Minister of State said in complimenting the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, was incomplete. To be fair, the Oireachtas finance committee has led the way on this issue. The principal credit has to go to the mortgage holders who are directly affected and were brave enough to come, bare their souls and tell their personal, human stories in a public forum and to the media. They are the ones who deserve the most credit for what has been done, but the journey is not over. The battle is not over; it continues, but we will stay with the customers every step of the way until they get justice and all of their entitlements.

There is absolutely a need for greater accountability. It is demoralising to trace the history of recent years and examine how the most recent tracker mortgage scandal has evolved. I have long arrived at the conclusion that until those who were directly involved and consciously made decisions to deny people their contractual rights are held to account, this scandal will arise again. It is just a cycle. It might go quiet for a while, but there will be another financial scandal.

We had a payment protection insurance scandal. Some €67 million was paid out by lenders to people who had wrongly been sold payment protection insurance policies. Probably multiples of that figure were not refunded because of the Statute of Limitations, to which Deputy Pearse Doherty referred. Anyone who bought before the middle of 2007, for example, falls into this category. It leads to the tracker mortgage issue.

We need accountability not only at the level of the institution but also at the level of the individual and it needs to be evidence based. The enforcement investigations need to be thorough. Investigators need to go through the minutes of meetings, email correspondence and records of telephone calls to establish whether conscious, deliberate decisions were made to deny people their contractual rights. That is the key issue. Fining banks is not enough. We all know what happens when banks are fined; they pass on the cost to their customers. In particular, they pass it on to variable-rate mortgage and SME customers. Those in both categories are already paying well over the odds for credit by comparison with customers in other eurozone countries. That is the point. Therefore, fines are not the answer. There has to be individual accountability.

We read last month about the proposals made by the Central Bank in response to the Law Reform Commission's consultation paper. It begs the question whether the proposals from the Central Bank come as a surprise to the Government. The Government has always said that if the Central Bank wants more powers, it would give it more powers. The Central Bank has now called for more powers. It made a formal submission to the Law Reform Commission seeking more powers and published its submission to the consultation phase. The call came on foot of what the Central Bank termed the egregious recklessness by heads of banks, insurers and other financial firms and for that to become a criminal offence in the event of a company's failure. Was that news to the Government?

I will hand over to my colleagues now. The response of the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, refers to quarter 3, quarter 4 and the fact that legislative proposals will come. It does not fill me with any confidence that there will be actual, tangible action to deal with these issues. This is a priority. The public, rightly, does not believe that white-collar crime is dealt with in the same way as other forms of crime. That needs to change. The Minister of State will find support from my party in respect of changes that are brought forward and we will support this Bill right the way through to enactment.

As Deputy McGrath said, we support the Bill. He has been at the forefront of defending the rights of mortgage holders in this country. He introduced a Mortgage Resolution Bill, which is before the Dáil, that will go a long way towards trying to right some of the wrongs that have been done.

Deputy McGrath referred to the sale by Permanent TSB of €4.5 billion worth of loans, €3 billion of which involve mortgages for family homes. We have had enough of that. It cannot be allowed to happen again. When Deputy Noonan was Minister for Finance, he said that vulture funds picking over the carcass of a recession was the natural order of things. We are fed up with the vulture funds picking on and intimidating ordinary individuals and mortgage holders. That must stop. People must be helped to stay in their family homes either by writing off a portion of their mortgage or extending the term of their loan, as has been proposed in the Mortgage Resolution Bill. That must be done and the banks should be given no choice in the matter. People who are making a reasonable attempt to pay their mortgage must be protected and evictions and repossessions must stop.

Comments were made by the Central Bank last week to the effect that people purposely went into arrears because they saw an opportunity to stop paying their mortgage. Such comments from an official in the Central Bank were foolhardy at best and it was very sinister. It was done to try to change public opinion. The banks want to offload those loans because they do not want to be associated with further wholesale repossessions. They do not want their already tarnished image further diminished. By abandoning their customers to the vulture funds and comments such as we have heard from the Central Bank, the hope is that public opinion can be turned against mortgage holders. The banks believe they will be free in one leap from their bad loan book. When one views the entirety of the current position of mortgage arrears, it puts the comments of the Central Bank into context. The impact of what was said was to try to turn public opinion against mortgage holders who are in arrears. It would have the effect of a neighbour feeling resentment towards another neighbour if there were a perception that someone was being let off the hook with his or her mortgage arrears. The banks are not happy that they are being held to account for their role in the mortgage arrears crisis. They are not happy that public opinion is against them because their actions have been less than energetic in resolving this problem.

The scandal of tracker mortgages is further evidence of the callous attitude of the banks to their customers. As has been said, thousands of people are still not on the correct rate. Many people managed to pay their mortgages even though they were not on the correct rate, but their families suffered hardship and financial pressure. One could never put an economic value on that. I believe the banks are very happy to see the Central Bank lecture the mortgage holder and take the light away from where the real problem lies, that is, with the banks. Therefore, I believe the Central Bank should clarify its position and apportion blame where it firmly belongs, namely, with the banks.

Fianna Fáil's Mortgage Resolution Bill requires a money message from the Government to proceed. It is a fair Bill that can be a final solution to the mortgage arrears crisis. It will ensure that a fair and reasonable deal will be put in place for all parties. The banks will get their money and, most important, families will stay in their homes. The State will not have the future cost of providing housing for those thrown out of their homes. Therefore, there is an urgency in getting the Government to give a money message so that families in search of a resolution can finally have peace of mind and security of tenure in their family home. Imposing fines on the banks is not enough. We want a resolution and the family home must be protected.

I welcome Deputy Doherty's Bill. I also recognise the great work my colleague, Deputy McGrath, has done as finance spokesperson but also on the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach with my colleagues in the Dáil.

At the heart of the issue is the thread of lies over the past ten years. We have had a decade of lies from banks from when they initially had what they referred to as a liquidity crisis, which turned out to be a solvency crisis. The banks lied at every turn to Government, officials, and the Central Bank, and that has been repeated over and over again. Both the Honohan and Nyberg reports referred to accountability and a degree of responsibility. While we have restructured the Central Bank in terms of the split between the Financial Regulator and the Central Bank and empowered staff in a greater way, we still have the same cultural issues in banks. While there might not be the same solvency issues as was the case previously, the State took control of the banks at a huge loss to the citizens of this country. The flip side of that has been State-owned banks robbing people of their homes, as Deputy Doherty said. Thousands of people have been harassed and have suffered serious mental health difficulties as a result of the conduct of officials and senior members of banks. One could ask what the outcome has been for them. It has probably been bonuses and share options in the banks. Where is the accountability from the State looking back at the thread of lies we have seen in the past decade?

It is shameful that the Oireachtas has allowed this to occur. We seem to have a contradictory State policy. While we have words of sympathy from the Government and Ministers, at the same time there is a clear policy, whether in regard to NAMA or the pillar banks, to extract each value added element out of the banks. At one level we are talking about potential value for privatisation and sales while the flip side of that is the Government expressing sympathy for the people who have lost their homes, illegally, and who have been taken off tracker mortgages, illegally. There was a clear decision among senior members of the banks to do that en masse. As Deputy McGrath said, we must put an accountability framework in place.

One could ask what has changed from what was highlighted in the various reports, for example, the soft touch approach that was mentioned in the Nyberg report. The banks have not had solvency issues because of the European regulatory framework, but there has been a soft touch from the Central Bank in addressing the banks. That goes for the Governor and all the senior members of the Central Bank. They have allowed the banks to operate as they wish and they have taken a soft touch, slow, snail-like pace in terms of flipping the balance in favour of vulnerable people with mortgages who in many cases have had their homes taken from them. That is a terrible state of affairs when one looks at the thread of lies we have seen in recent years.

The Nyberg report referred to the development of herding and groupthink which led to widespread risk. It said there was a willingness indirectly to let other banks dictate their actions. When one looks at what happened here, it is evident that we have had a cultural phenomenon of most banks driving customers from their tracker mortgages and illegally taking them off mortgages with little or no accountability.

That is why this Bill is welcome. It is important that bankers know the consequences at every level if they commit a criminal offence or lie to the Central Bank. If the bankers do not provide accurate information and continue a culture of lying to the benefit of their balance sheets over the customers, who subscribed to them in good faith and with goodwill many years ago, then there should be an accountability framework and criminal consequences.

As I said, we have contradictory State policy at every level. At one level, the Government is trying to sell the banks to pay off the banking debts. At another level, we are throwing people out of their homes and making them homeless. What type of country or government would stand over those practices?

I welcome the fact the Government is facilitating the Bill and allowing it to go to Committee. I am keen to see this legislation brought through the Oireachtas quickly so that we can finally end the cultural component in our banks in the past decade that amounts to a thread of lies. The Bill will at least initiate some reforms in order that we can see bankers tell the truth for once. We can then rebalance things in favour of ordinary householders and people with vulnerable mortgages.

How long do I have?

You have eight minutes, Deputy.

The Central Bank now has in legal terms a comprehensive regulatory and supervision framework. Yet, we hear all the time from our constituents and people in broader society about how difficult their lives are as a consequence of issues related to tracker mortgages, commercial loans and buy-to-let loans. The banks were offering all of these with abandon when the financial boom was under way. Of course, being bankers, when the rainy day arrived, they immediately pulled away the umbrella and left people facing years of serious uncertainty. In many cases people were uncertain about whether they would be able to continue to hold on to their family home or buy-to-let, which they were encouraged to buy by the bank at the height of the boom. People were uncertain about where this would leave them.

The Central Bank now has a comprehensive regulatory and supervision framework. The Central Bank supervises all the regulated entities, banks and other financial institutions and they must comply in detail with Irish and EU rules. The Central Bank is charged with ongoing supervision of those banks. More information is now being given to the Central Bank on a regular basis in respect of the banks and their lending profiles, borrowing, balance sheets and so on.

We have a framework of rules, many of which derive from European Central Bank regulations. The Central Bank has a process for the orderly resolution of credit institutions where problems arise. The bank also has an enforcement function.

There has been a significant increase in the number of staff now employed in the Central Bank. The figure is approximately 1,600 at the moment in the new "golden bank", as it is called, on the quays. That expression is used because the outside of the building has a gold-coloured mesh. I know many children call the building the gold building because if a person is walking down the quays, from a distance that is what it looks like. Anyway, the consumer experience of services from individual financial institutions and the way the Central Bank responds to problems is far from adequate. For that reason, the Labour Party is happy to support the Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2018, as initiated.

The jury is out on whether the Bill will substantially change the current scenario. This is because bankers tend to be robust when it comes to their rights and even more robust about the responsibilities of others when problems arise for products that they have sold to people, including loan and investment products.

The Central Bank is meant to have responsibility to ensure that consumers are protected when it comes to financial products. I am referring to consumers in the broadest sense of the term, not only individual consumers but businesses as well. Anything that provides for greater levels of responsibility in that respect, which the Bill is seeking to do, or that involves potential penalties where regulations are breached or where institutions fail to honour the legal rights of consumers is to be welcomed.

News unfolded yesterday that Permanent TSB is likely to sell a large portfolio of loans, potentially to private equity vulture funds. We do not know yet where the bank will target the sale. Anyway, that bank is identifying non-performing loans and planning to bundle them and sell them.

I imagine the experience with loans has been difficult for many businesses. We are in an economy where property values have recovered for reasons we are all aware of. Many businesses and individuals are back on their feet. It should be possible, therefore, to find resolution to many of the loans in question. I am aware that there have been some attempts by Permanent TSB to identify some of those cases. Nonetheless, it is an extraordinary risk for consumers and small businesses in particular if another significant bundle of loans appears to be about to be auctioned off.

Previously, the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach issued an invitation to representatives of various financial institutions to discuss issues before the committee. Representatives of the banks, by and large, were prepared to appear, respond and discuss issues with the committee. However, those from the vulture funds all declined. There is a serious issue here. There is in effect no mechanism of accountability that I am aware of for these institutions. The powers of the Central Bank in respect of such institutions have not been absolutely clarified. Again, I am unsure whether this legislation will be able to address that issue.

The Minister has been critical of the Central Bank for not allowing new institutions to Ireland fast enough where they may be coming in the context of Brexit. In that context, I believe the Central Bank is being careful to ensure people have the right credentials to set up a financial institution here and comply with European regulations. However, it is not clear what can be done by the Central Bank where banks treat customers in an appalling way. There is a need to have a clear structure for how these issues are dealt with. There should be penalties where the banks fail to deal properly and fairly with customers, whether individual domestic customers or commercial customers. That is important.

The Labour Party will support the legislation. We welcome the fact the Government is going to accept the legislation. Certainly, if the Minister has identified ways in which the legislation can be improved, then I would like him to return to the Dáil and give us the details.

This issue says something about the culture of light touch regulation pursued by this Government and previous Governments. The deficiency in the law identified and rectified by Deputy Doherty's Bill effectively allowed senior management in finance companies to lie, evade the truth, peddle mistruths and incomplete information to the Central Bank of Ireland and avoid personal criminal responsibility. If one were to be generous, one could perhaps forgive this Government and previous Governments if they had not been aware of this issue and this was an unforeseen loophole. However, the matter was flagged by the Governor of the Central Bank in 2015 and the Government did nothing about it. This approach has allowed scandals with tracker mortgages and insurance to drag on. At every turn, we have been given figures on the number of people involved which were grossly underestimated. We were consistently told the matter would be resolved quickly and all those affected would be given redress within months. In autumn 2016, for example, we were told, like soldiers on their way to the First World War, that everything would be done by Christmas. It is clear the banks hid the full truth, deliberately evaded proper scrutiny and dragged their feet at all stages.

These matters have consequences. How many people have been forced to pay thousands or tens of thousands of euro in additional mortgage repayments or insurance as a result of these scandals? How many lost their homes? What has been the impact on families across the country? How many more financial scandals have not been unearthed because of the culture of secrecy and evasion?

Tom Wolfe, in his novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, described financiers on Wall Street in the 1980s as regarding themselves as masters of the universe. It seems those at the top of the finance industry in this country took a similar view of themselves and adopted the same contemptuous approach to customers, those who found themselves in financial difficulty and members of the public at large with a sense of complete impunity. Over the years, we saw glimpses of this rotten culture in the DIRT scandal, the Ansbacher accounts, the scandal of Anglo Irish Bank's hidden loans, the Anglo tapes, Irish Nationwide Building Society, Quinn Insurance, Setanta Insurance, the culture of misselling financial products and the tracker mortgages scandal. For as long as banks continue to be run as they are now, this list will continue to grow. The Bill is to be welcomed, therefore, as it will make it more difficult for banks to behave in this way and impose individual responsibility on senior managers who lie to the Central Bank of Ireland.

Speaking some months ago at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Philip Lane, made an unintentionally striking comment on the culture of the banks, which has been the subject of much discussion. Professor Lane spoke about the problem with the culture of the banks and went a little further in explaining it by describing it as a culture of seeking profitability to the detriment of the banks' customers. I concur with Professor Lane on that point but that is capitalism. Banks are run on the basis of capitalism and to maximise profits. Even when they were nationalised, they continued to be run on a for-profit basis, despite Deputies on this side and others arguing they should be run differently. The solution is to have a completely different model of banking, a democratically controlled public banking utility to run banks and use them in the service of society and the economy at large, as opposed to doing what we currently do, namely, run society and the economy in the interests of the banks and those at their head.

I commend Sinn Féin on introducing the Bill. I fully agree with the proposed measure to establish that it would be a criminal offence for banks to lie or give misleading information to the Central Bank of Ireland and to impose sanctions of up to €250,000 in fines and-or five-year prison sentences. This is welcome legislation because people are fed up to the back teeth of there being one law for the bankers and the rich and another for the rest of us. The utter failure and unwillingness of the political establishment to rein in the greed of the banks, their mistreatment of customers and their reckless behaviour, which crashed the entire economy as they financed a wild speculative bubble that presaged the economic crisis and resulted in the imposition of a decade of austerity and misery.

We must go much further than the measures proposed in the Bill. As Deputy Paul Murphy stated, not only is the State unwilling to control the greed of the banks but there is no way of doing so, as was evident in the years leading up to the economic collapse and has been evident in the years since. Even when the then Government was forced to nationalise the banks, it refused to exercise any control over their behaviour, including how they treated people in mortgage distress. The tracker scandal is the most recent example of this behaviour. Everything this Government and its predecessors did was focused on nursing the banks back to their position prior to the crisis. The disgraceful decision to privatise them again and allow them to flog off mortgages to vulture funds freed them to do it all over again. Today, The Irish Times reports that further mortgages with a value of €11 billion are to be flogged off to vulture funds by Allied Irish Banks, Permanent TSB and Lloyds Bank. The decision of the National Asset Management Agency to flog to the vulture funds loans valued at €40 billion led directly to the current housing emergency. There has been no willingness on the part of the Government to exercise control over the banks. Instead, it has chosen to nurse them back to health to do what they did all over again.

In the few moments remaining to me, I will highlight one issue about which I asked Deputy Doherty. While the Bill refers to section 33AT of the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland Act, it does not amend or delete the section. The section establishes in legislation that there is one law for the bankers and another for the rest of us. It states as follows:

If the Regulatory Authority imposes a monetary penalty in accordance with section 33AQ or 33AR and the prescribed contravention in respect of which the sanction is imposed is an offence under a law of the State, the financial service provider or other person concerned is not liable to be prosecuted or punished for the offence under that law.

This express provision means that if a small fine is imposed on bankers for misbehaviour, they cannot be prosecuted. The bankers have avoided going to jail because we have, written in the relevant Act, a different law for bankers who engage in criminal activity from the law that applies to other citizens.

I, too, welcome the Bill introduced by Deputy Pearse Doherty and Sinn Féin, which proposes to provide powers to the Central Bank of Ireland to conduct inquiries into the suspected provision to it of false or misleading information and to provide that sanctions may be imposed by the Central Bank on bodies that provide false information. While I agree with the spirit of the Bill and understand what Deputy Doherty is trying to do, I have concerns that the additional powers provided would not be put to use as the Central Bank would not be under any obligation to use them.

The Bill is directly linked to the tracker mortgage scandal. It has taken the Central Bank a long time to get a handle on this issue and there are other areas in which it has also let down consumers. For example, its response to Ulster Bank and the Global Restructuring Group, GRG, has been highly disappointing. As Deputies are aware, Bank of Scotland in the United Kingdom and Ulster Bank in Ireland purposely drove small and medium business owners out of business in order that the banks could take over the companies. The Financial Conduct Authority, FCA, in the UK conducted a review of Bank of Scotland and the GRG but has, to date, refused to release the unredacted version of its report. Thankfully, an unredacted version was leaked on Monday last and it makes for frightening reading. The FCA has been correctly pilloried for not publishing the unredacted version. However, if we compare its response with that of the Central Bank of Ireland, we find that the matter has not even been investigated in this country. I wrote to the Central Bank of Ireland about its response to the GRG last summer and it informed me that it was engaging with Ulster Bank on the matter and would continue to monitor the matter and oversee complaints received by Ulster Bank for any issues arising, particularly in the context of compliance with the code.

The Central Bank also told me it engaged with the Financial Conduct Authority, FCA, in its report on the Global Restructuring Group, GRG. Has the Central Bank seen a copy of the final version of the FCA report? I assume it has been shared with it, and this makes it all the more worrying that it has failed to act. Instead, it allowed Ulster Bank in Ireland to deal with the matter itself. It stood idly by as Ulster Bank commissioned a report by Mason, Hayes and Curran into its role in GRG, and the report cleared it of any wrongdoing; it was a whitewash. The law firm in question had a clear conflict of interest as it previously represented Cerberus, the infamous vulture fund, with its purchase of a loan portfolio called Project Aran, which contained assets from the Irish element of Ulster Bank and GRG loans. I have a copy of it but it has never been published officially, just selectively leaked to the media. The full FCA report, leaked on Monday, has shown the Mason, Hayes and Curran review as a farce.

The legislation is available to the Central Bank but it has failed to use it. Small and medium businesses are supposed to be protected under the code of conduct for business lending to small and medium enterprises for 2009 and the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act 2013. Instead, the Central Bank tells us it is engaging and monitoring the issue. The Central Bank is supposed to be an oversight body and it states on its website that the protection of SME customers is a priority. This legislation will provide powers to the Central Bank but will it use them? Perhaps it is time for a complete change in the direction of the Central Bank's operations. It must be a proper oversight body that acts quickly and sanctions banks for wrongdoing, not one which allows banks to investigate matters themselves. Until this happens, we will continue to see a Central Bank that is a soft touch and almost afraid to upset the commercial banks in Ireland.

Reckless and criminal misbehaviour in the financial sector destroyed the Irish people's pension fund, exploded our national debt by a factor of eight and inflicted untold suffering on the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens. Like the Greeks and Portuguese, we have had a lost decade of cuts and suffering. It is particularly galling to citizens that only a tiny number of bankers have been held to account. We have had very few high profile cases, such as the actions taken against Anglo Irish Bank executives Willie McAteer, John Bowe and Sean FitzPatrick, as well as Denis Casey, former chief executive officer of Irish Life and Permanent. As in the UK, the scale of the financial disaster was not remotely matched by prosecutions of those with responsibility. By contrast, over the same last decade, in Iceland the total number of senior Icelandic bankers sentenced for fiduciary and market manipulation crimes now stands at 29. Only last summer, the UK brought the first criminal case against a global bank chief executive when charges were brought against John Varley and three other Barclays executives.

The experience of Jonathan Sugarman, the risk manager at Unicredit Bank Ireland in 2007, and other banking whistleblowers clearly indicates we need fundamental reform of the Central Bank Act 1942 and all subsequent banking regulation. I know the Ceann Comhairle is familiar with the matters raised by Mr. Sugarman and the extraordinary way in which neither the Central Bank, the Garda nor any other authorities investigated his complaint.

I warmly welcome the Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2018 and commend Deputy Pearse Doherty and Sinn Féin for bringing it forward. The Bill significantly expands the powers of the Central Bank to conduct inquiries into the suspected provision of false and misleading information either deliberately or by omission to the Central Bank by bankers and officials in the financial sector. It also provides for administrative sanctions and creates an offence of providing false or misleading information to the national banking authority. Section 2 of the Bill inserts a new Part III D into the Central Bank Act 1942, which rightly provides for a summary conviction sanction of a class A fine and imprisonment for up to 12 months, and for a conviction on indictment for a fine of up to €250,000 and imprisonment up to five years. These are very welcome provisions in response to the tracker mortgage fraud and the litany of banking and financial scandals over many decades.

Since 2008 in particular, citizens have been astonished at the apparent immunity for criminal misbehaviour in the banking and financial sector. For example, people were first startled by the settlement agreement between the then financial regulator and Quinn Insurance in October 2008, when the regulator found serious breaches and contraventions by Quinn Insurance under the Insurance Acts, including failure to notify the financial regulator prior to providing loans to related companies. Of course, there were fines but constituents were surprised that no court prosecutions followed with such a serious financial case. They drew our attention again to Part III C of the 1942 Central Bank Act. Section 33AT(1) of Part III C of course lays down that when the regulatory authority imposes a monetary penalty, "the financial service provider or other person concerned is not liable to be prosecuted or punished for the offence under that law." As a result, citizens have complained that Ireland continues to have a separate legal system for bankers administered in secret.

I asked the former Minister, Deputy Noonan, if he would amend or remove section 33AT(1) of Part III C of the 1942 Act but he replied that it could not be removed because it upholds the principle of ne bis in idem, or double jeopardy, and that therefore no criminal prosecution may be brought against a financial service provider or person concerned in the management of a financial service provider if the prescribed contravention in question has already been the subject of an inquiry under the administrative sanctions procedure. The Ceann Comhairle might remember that when I was a spokesperson on marine issues, we were trying to bring forward administrative sanctions for workers in the fisheries industry but the Ceann Comhairle's former colleague, Noel Dempsey, ruthlessly opposed it. Nevertheless, we have that system for the bankers.

Last summer, as the tracker mortgage scandal became more and more outrageous, I asked our Oireachtas Library and Research Service to prepare a paper entitled, Legal Issues Relevant to a Proposal to Repeal Section 33AT of the Central Bank Act 1942. The paper, of course, identified the role of double jeopardy but this excellent study also refers to a recent decision of the High Court in Purcell v. Central Bank of Ireland, which suggests that a repeal of section 33AT would not cause Central Bank inquiries and criminal charges in respect of the same acts to breach the rule of double jeopardy or ne bis in idem. I commend Deputy Doherty again on this fine legislation.

I am happy to speak to this Bill and I thank my colleagues in Sinn Féin for bringing it forward. This Bill is necessary as it provides to the Central Bank of Ireland powers to conduct inquiries into suspected provision of false or misleading information and it creates an offence when such information is provided. White collar crime is something that must be addressed as a matter of urgency. It is high time we see the bankers who played a part in the economic crash prosecuted and it is necessary that we see more accountability in the area. Most recently, we have seen the tracker mortgage scandal but there are many cases of misinformation and injustice served on the normal and hard-working Irish people by banks.

As some of my colleagues noted earlier, it is important we do not just fine banks, as these fines are paid through the normal variable mortgage customers and small business owners through their loans. I meet such people in my clinics each week and they are most affected by this lack of accountability in banks. Young couples are constantly falling through the cracks when they are trying to get on the property ladder. They go to a local bank to try to take out a mortgage but are refused if their income is too low. If they go to a local authority to try to get a house, they are refused if their income is too high. What are these people supposed to do? It is totally unfair. Families have been affected by the tracker mortgage scandal, as it has caused stress and upset, and in some awful cases, even lives are lost due to the stress. It is high time we see more accountability from our banks. We must have a trail of who authorised what and why instead of continuing the game of passing the buck to somebody else. The consequences of these problems are far too high.

I give credit to our local credit unions and such financial institutions need more support from the Government. They are the only avenues of support for normal people living their daily lives. They are community-oriented and know how to deal with people. They have a clear understanding of customer needs. They need further support from the Government to allow them compete with larger banks and financial institutions. I am happy to see this Bill being brought forward and I support it.

I compliment Deputy Pearse Doherty and his colleagues in the Sinn Féin Party for bringing this very important legislation before us. Any Deputy or party that tries to bring accountability to our banks deserves to be supported by every person here, regardless of the side of the House on which that person sits. Ultimately, we represent real people, such as young couples, business people and farmers who have been subjected to very harsh treatment over the years by the people in our banking sector. We have seen some of the carry-on of the mainstream banks and I nearly go as far as saying that the only financial institutions left standing with honest-to-God credibility are post offices and credit unions.

They are the only ones we can say have treated the people fairly and honestly.

Given what has gone on in the banking sector, the introduction of accountability through legislation that will ensure wrongdoing is penalised deserves support and I consider anyone who would not support it as completely out of order. At the end of the day, our job is to work on behalf of those we meet at clinics. They come to us individually and in groups and tell us the horror stories of what they have put up with over the years. Our banks have kicked and screamed against what we want to do which is achieve fairness for their customers at the end of the day. In many instances they have treated their customers with contempt.

I too am happy to speak to the Bill. I salute Deputy Pearse Doherty for the excellent work he has done on the issue and the manner in which he has tried to hold financial institutions to account.

The Bill seeks to extend the application of Part 111C of the Central Bank Act 1942 to provide the Central Bank with the power to conduct inquiries into the suspected provision of false or misleading information. It also seeks to provide for administrative sanctions that may be imposed by the Central Bank for the provision of false or misleading information, also known as downright lies. Anyone who has followed the work of the finance committee in recent times will be under no illusion about the level of resistance by the banks and others to the provision of full and accurate information. We see the contempt in which they hold this House when they come before its committees with partial explanations and half-truths at best. It is therefore vital that we finally empower the Central Bank so that it stops being a useless, toothless and fruitless institution because it is in danger of becoming even more so. I am glad to note, however, that it seems in recent times to have finally found a bit of backbone and teeth when dealing with these financial institutions.

The recent performance of the chief executive officer of Permanent TSB, Mr. Masding, when he was before Deputy McGuinness's committee was absolutely appalling and clearly demonstrates the need for this type of legislation. Unless compelled otherwise, the banks and financial institutions will continue to do as they see fit. Families up and down the country have been terrorised. Some years before he became a Minister of State, I met a neighbour of the Minister of State's down in his county. That man was beaten within inches of his life one night by thugs who were sent out by Friends First. I call them "Friends Last" because they are no one's friend. They are a third force, and it is still going on.

Today we see that Permanent TSB will sell thousands of mortgages, as will AIB. Something needs to happen and this Bill is an effort in that regard. Unless the Government does not oppose it, however, the Bill will have to go into the lottery. What will happen then? There is absolutely no legislation. Our latest banking legislation dates to 1942. I have said it here before but it is no wonder the cabals and the gangsters have disdain for the House. They do not care about it because the real power in this country is in the boardrooms of these institutions. The bank robbers are not on the streets any more but in the boardrooms planning and plotting. These people are robbing from within, with impunity, and they are robbing all of us. They have their hands in our pockets. Then there is the way they treat the people.

A farmer friend of mine's case was listed in the High Court today. Another fella is coming up next week. The banks are nothing but legalised terrorists. We had Mr. O'Brien calling families who were worried about their sick children emotional terrorists. This is emotional terrorism, direct terrorism and institutional terrorism that is supported by the State and there is little solace or support below in the Four Courts. It is very little aside from the clocks ticking and the tab mounting to pay the barristers every day. We must do something because it has been going on for ten years and people are at their wits' end. We have had suicides, marriage break-ups, sickness and illness. When will the Government do something?

As the then Taoiseach called it at the time, the Government got a wallop from the electorate the last time. It will get a bigger wallop if it allows these marauding gangsters to go around terrorising our ordinary people. These people are trying to keep the roof over their heads. They are not asking the State for houses and causing all the trauma and everything else. The Government does not want to act, however. We can see the contempt. The Minister of State is here on his own. Not one Fine Gael backbencher or member of the Independent Alliance is present.

I plead with the Minister of State not to oppose the Bill. I plead with him to accept it and to bring forward more rigorous legislation to put some bit of manners and decorum on these people. People have been treated with total disrespect and it has been institutional from the top down. There are some good, ordinary front-of-house people in the banks who get the stick but there is a deep culture of robbery, theft and deceit inside the banks. The banks have no interest in ordinary people's lives or the trauma they suffer but what they can make for their shareholders and for themselves. They will then move onto some other business after it. It is time that the gloves were taken off and the Central Bank did something. It should also be made accountable to the House.

I too thank Deputy Pearse Doherty and Sinn Féin for proposing the Bill. I hope it receives support on all sides. It was five years ago last week that we stood here and had the infamous "Prom Night". We watched helplessly as billions of euro worth of promissory notes were turned into sovereign debt which was in turn placed on the shoulders of Irish citizens for decades to come. The game changer that we were promised evaporated. The burden is a direct result of the banking sector in the country being allowed and facilitated by the political establishment to act more or less with impunity. As citizens, we picked up the tab for the banking failures. The handling of the tracker mortgage scandal suggests that little has changed regarding how banks behave. Many lessons should have been learned from the catastrophic banking collapse but front and foremost among them is that these banks cannot be allowed to act with impunity and that the political establishment cannot turn the other cheek to the practices of the banking sector.

What the sector does has a direct impact not just on the economy but on society too. The horror stories of families who have lost their homes as a direct result of what is essentially fraudulent behaviour on the part of the banks in the tracker mortgages issue show first hand how society has been impacted. We have homeless families, families that have been forced to rely on State subsidies such as HAP and, tragically, families who have faced the trauma of suicide. This is all as a direct result of the behaviour of the banks. It seems ludicrous that, in 2018, the Opposition has to move a Bill to, in effect, make it illegal for the banks to lie to the Central Bank. That is the situation, however. Needless to say, the Social Democrats wholeheartedly support the Bill.

While there must be sanctions on the sector as a whole, it is also clear from the many banking scandals that there must be strict and enforceable sanctions and consequences for senior decision makers. The only way to have a culture of good behaviour is to challenge bad behaviour and reward good behaviour. In this country we have all too often failed to punish properly bad behaviour and the culture of impunity and a sense on the part of certain classes of people feel that they are above the law has pretty much become the norm. That attitude must be challenged.

I do not accept the narrative that the wholesale, widespread tracker mortgage scandal happened randomly. I do not accept the decisions of the institutions are a mere coincidence. I believe this was a strategic and orchestrated action by senior decision makers in the banking sector and those decision makers should be held accountable for their actions. I also believe that there was a terrible lack of oversight on the part of a range of different actors. At the same time, if it can be proved that a decision was deliberately detrimental to citizens and customers, it must be punished.

Where was the regulator in all of this? Even where cases were brought, the regulator found in favour of the banks. It has now been found that he was wrong. What about the accountants? Were the contingent liabilities recorded? If they were, why are there no consequences for these same firms that keep cropping up? The tracker mortgages were the least profitable mortgages and the banks were making decisions in the interests of their balance sheets and not their customers' interests.

The banks have repeatedly demonstrated that they will not act ethically when left to their own devices. For that reason, the Bill is most welcome. I look forward to its smooth and speedy passage through the legislative process.

I compliment Deputy Pearse Doherty and Sinn Féin on bringing forward the Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2018. I support its passage through the House. I support any measure which would help put manners on the banks. Light-touch regulation means no regulation, as we have seen through the years. Senior bankers have no moral compass and simply cannot be trusted. The banks have a 30-year history of scandal with deposit interest retention tax, DIRT, Ansbacher accounts, bogus non-resident accounts, and so on. They caused the destruction of this country during the boom and bust period, received a bailout of €64 billion from the citizens which resulted in significant austerity imposed on the same citizens. In more recent times, we have had the significant scandal of the tracker mortgage fraud.

The banks have shown they simply have no regard for ordinary, decent and respectable families who found themselves in difficulty during the recession and currently. They have hounded these families, creating fear, ill health and mental illness for them, as well as leading to suicide in some cases. They have done this by insisting on voluntary surrender, voluntary sale, repossession and eviction. The banks should be stopped from repossessing family homes. The Government could make a start on this as it does not need new legislation to do so. It can simply instruct the two main banks which we own, Allied Irish Banks and Permanent TSB, to stop repossessing family homes.

The banks were already bailed out to the tune of €64 billion. They are being bailed out for a second time by mortgage holders who are paying 2% over the European interest rate norm. This has been discussed in the House before and should be dealt with urgently. The tracker mortgage scandal and fraud is significant and has done damage to families and to the country. Up to 15 banks are involved with €1 billion in costs and 40,000 mortgage holders affected. We know there has been collusion between the banks on this. The Governor of the Central Bank told an Oireachtas committee last year, "There is no doubt there is a systemic and widespread aspect to this". The tracker mortgage scandal and fraud requires a criminal investigation. The Government should send the fraud squad into the banks, even at this late stage. What we really need to do is to nationalise the banks for the people.

Deputies Buckley, O'Reilly, Ó Laoghaire and Cullinane are sharing time.

I also congratulate my comrade, Deputy Pearse Doherty, on bringing forward this Bill. The actual idea that we need legislation to bring in sanctions for people engaged in misleading or telling lies to the Central Bank is quite amazing. It is not because anybody would be surprised that people at the top of the financial sector are capable of telling barefaced lies but we have been so foolish to never act on this before. This is especially surprising given the corporate culture of dishonesty which was laid bare in the aftermath of our recent economic collapse.

This Bill is about tackling white-collar crime with the seriousness it deserves. White-collar crime is capable of bringing just as much misery and pain to countless people as any other form of crime. As we saw with the sub-prime mortgage scandal, people were intent on lying through their teeth to maximise personal gain beyond what anybody could possibly need. This resulted in thousands of people losing their homes, their jobs and pensions in the blink of an eye.

This kind of behaviour is as criminal as one might find oneself in prison for. However, these characters walk free, unpunished and are often back in positions of power in which they can continue to act dishonestly and unscrupulously in their unchecked, unlimited pursuit of personal wealth at all costs. How can we ever challenge this if to lie to the Central Bank is not a criminal offence without serious repercussions? This may be an issue of global concern, but it is one on which we must act locally. In Ireland, up to 33,000 people have been robbed by these criminals. Their criminal actions have resulted in years of extreme hardship and deprivation for many of our people. Children have gone hungry, cold and sick due to the actions of these people. Families have been broken up, people put out on the street and honestly earned pensions destroyed. How many people have died in this country because of these actions? How many breakdowns have been caused? How many lives have been destroyed? A price must be paid for this destruction and there must be measures to stop them from doing it again. This Bill is a small step in that direction. Again, I commend Deputy Doherty on introducing it.

I join Deputies in commending my colleague, Deputy Doherty, on bringing forward this important Bill. Crime of any sort is a scourge but white-collar crime in particular is incredibly damaging and galling for a large number of reasons. The apathy shone by successive Governments and politicians towards tackling white-collar crime is somewhat breathtaking. A cursory look at the past ten years in the State reveals the remnants of the fallout from the criminal and negligent activities by bankers, watched on, and sometimes even encouraged, by culpable politicians.

What was the response? The bankers acted like they had the Ministers in their pockets. Many continued their web of lies to the Central Bank and to the public. Instead of lies and criminality being punished, the Government at the time decided to socialise the private banking debt racked up by property speculators. They also pushed the lie that we all partied. This was one of the most awful lies uttered at the time. I well remember hearing the phrase quoted back to me by hard-working, low-paid civil and public servants who were disgusted by the remark. It was somehow an effort to declare collective responsibility and link us all to the crime. If everyone was at it, then everyone was equally responsible. Then, of course, nothing can be done.

Rather than holding to account those who lied and operated recklessly, the then Government punished the people. The same has happened with the tracker mortgage crisis. While the Government watched on, up to 33,000 families have had money stolen from them by banks and up to 100 have lost their homes. Countless numbers have suffered hardships and lives have been wrecked because of it. However, no banker will ever be held responsible under the current system.

People are not vindictive. They want truth, justice and some fairness. That is what this Bill is about. It is about tackling white-collar crime and, specifically, putting in place jail sentences for bankers and others who lied to the Central Bank. Individuals should be held responsible for their actions. There is a reckless culture in our banking sector which can and must be reined in.

Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Teachta Doherty faoin mBille luachmhar agus tábhachtach seo. Tá ceart agus cóir ag baint leis.

This State has never taken white-collar crime seriously enough. This Bill is a step in the right direction and a significant addition to the law. There is much more we need to do, however. What we need in particular is a shift in culture and attitude. People who are responsible for white-collar crimes need to be held criminally responsible. The Bill’s two major provisions will ensure the Central Bank can take action against an individual if the whole institution has not been found guilty of deception. Too often individuals, not only in the Central Bank but in other institutions, have hidden behind the institution. We need to tackle that. We must also ensure those who lie to the Central Bank are guilty of potentially a criminal offence with a penalty of up to five years in jail or a fine of up to €250,000.

One reason we do not take white-collar crime seriously enough is there is a view it is a victimless crime.

If anyone on the street was asked today, however, no one would say that it was victimless. The implications, be they in terms of banking or insurance, for the whole population have been significant. People have lost their homes, we have had to give the banks money over recent years and 33,000 people have had money stolen through the tracker mortgage scandal. We are all paying for the misconduct and failure of the bankers. We must ensure that those who are responsible for wrongdoing on such a scale are held criminally accountable and face the prospect of jail time and significant penalties. This Bill is a step towards that.

We also need to give the victims of banks and similar institutions the tools to take action in a civil manner. I commend the Multi-Party Actions Bill 2017 in that regard. I hope that the Government will also take action. We must ensure that there are real and accessible options for people to take civil actions against banks and financial institutions that have done wrong.

On this special day, I join all of the Deputies who have already expressed their appreciation and love of Deputy Pearse Doherty for introducing this Bill. I wish to be associated with those remarks.

In 2015, the former chairman of the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, IFSRA, Mr. Brian Patterson, gave evidence to the banking inquiry. His answers on accountability and oversight were something to behold. Mr. Patterson stated that the Central Bank operated under the principle of what he called "moral suasion" as the preferred way to keep checks on the banks. When he was asked to explain what was meant by "moral suasion", he said that it referred "to the eyebrows of the Governor", in that, "if you were having a conversation with the Governor and he raised his eyebrows" at you, it was the Governor's way of showing that he was displeased with the answer. Imagine if a raised eyebrow was enough for you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, to keep Deputies in check. Is it any wonder that the banks spent decades laughing at the regulators when the worst that would happen to them was the Governor of the Central Bank raising an eyebrow?

People are irked that banks and people in senior positions therein can blatantly lie. We had light touch regulation. We often hear the expression "regulators were asleep at the wheel," but they were not asleep. They knew exactly what was happening. They supported the free market as they saw it. Politicians were told at the height of the Celtic tiger that the banks should be left alone, there should be no State intervention, the market should be allowed to sort itself out and everything would be okay. This approach was supported at Government and regulatory levels. It was not that people were asleep at the wheel. They knew exactly what was happening and they let it happen.

This is a simple Bill that should not have needed an Opposition party to introduce it. Unfortunately, however, that was required because this Government has consistently proven that it has no answers to the issue of a lack of accountability and transparency. It does not care about the elites and those in the State who believe that they can do what they want and act, not in the interests of citizens, but in their own interests and the interests of profit. It takes parties like Sinn Féin to introduce Bills like this one. We appreciate the support that we have received from Deputies and the Government, although the Government is only supporting this because it does not have the brass neck not to support it. Nonetheless, we will take that support. We hope that the Bill does not just pass Second Stage, but goes right through and becomes law.

I thank all of the Deputies opposite for their contributions on this Bill. I thank Deputy Pearse Doherty for tabling it for discussion. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, was present for that discussion.

The Government supports the overall principle of the Bill but has reservations about its current drafting. I will summarise the issues with which the Government has immediate concerns, starting with the proposed criminal liability that the Bill seeks to impose and the legal difficulty that this presents in terms of the lack of clarity around the scope of the new offences. This does not appear to be in keeping with the principle of legal certainty in criminal matters and is a serious matter of concern to the Government.

Furthermore, the Bill's proposal to extend the application of the administrative sanctions procedure to all persons who are under some duty to furnish information to the Central Bank, co-operate in providing that information or procure the provision of that information may bring into scope any employee of a regulated financial service provider, including those not involved in management or decision making, and would have wide-reaching implications.

Other areas of concern lie in the technical amendments proposed by the Bill, but these can be considered during further Stages.

As the Minister of State laid out at the beginning of this debate, a range of legislation has been introduced over the past number of years to enhance the Central Bank's accountability and oversight mechanisms. The first of these changes was the Central Bank Reform Act 2010, which Deputies may recall. Following on from that, the Central Bank's powers under the administrative sanctions procedure to administer sanctions in response to regulatory breaches by regulated financial service providers and persons concerned in the management of such regulated firms were significantly enhanced by the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act 2013. Under that Act, the Central Bank acquired extensive powers to make regulations, including relating to areas identified as weak points in the post-crisis analysis, such as risk management, consumer protection, audit processes and lending.

As the Minister for Finance has stated numerous times, the Government is willing to consider any request from the Central Bank for additional powers, particularly in the context of the Central Bank's tracker mortgage examination. To underpin this commitment, the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, spoke of the engagement that is currently taking place between Department of Finance officials and the Central Bank to identify additional powers to increase the accountability of senior individuals within the banking system. This work takes account of the Central Bank's response to the Law Reform Commission's consultation on regulatory enforcement and corporate offences and will be in parallel with the Central Bank's drafting of the section 6A report requested by the Minister for Finance "on the current cultures and behaviours, and the associated risks, in the retail banks today, and the actions that may be taken to ensure that banks prioritise customer interests in the future". It is expected that the section 6A report will be furnished to the Minister in June 2018. The Government intends to use the outcomes of these work streams to introduce the statutory changes that are recommended.

A broader concern with the proposed amendments to Part IIIC of the Central Bank Act 1942 is that ill-considered extensions to the administrative sanctions procedure may lead to further legal challenges in respect of those procedures that are currently under way. Therefore, the Oireachtas must ensure detailed consideration of all of the provisions contained within the Bill to ensure they do not undermine the Central Bank's ongoing enforcement actions, particularly those relating to the tracker mortgage examination.

I am sure the Oireachtas will take account of Standing Orders that require the European Central Bank, ECB, to be consulted on legislative proposals that may impact on its competencies. Given that the ECB's single supervisory mechanism is responsible for enforcement actions for specific breaches of regulatory rules, I assume that consultation will occur with the ECB. I expect that the Government's forthcoming proposals will be broader and more effective in holding senior managers accountable for their actions and, importantly, inactions than the proposals set out in Deputy Pearse Doherty's Bill.

As the Minister of State said, Deputy Pearse Doherty's Bill will be taken into account in that process but, as I outlined, there are a number of areas of concern in the proposed amendments that will require further examination and consideration. The Government, in agreeing with the spirit of the Bill, will not oppose it on the basis that it will continue towards ensuring that any changes to the legislation governing the Central Bank's powers are well reasoned and robust enough to withstand challenge. I thank the Deputies opposite for bringing this forward. It was a robust and interesting debate and we do not oppose the spirit of the Bill. We believe there are further changes that can be made to it.

I welcome the Bill and I am delighted to see it before the House. Everybody recognises the importance of having in place tough legislation to deal with white-collar criminals. We see it too often. There is a huge gulf between the attitude of the State to criminals, such as thieves, and its attitude to those involved in white-collar crime. This attitude stems from a belief that white-collar crime has a less serious impact on victims. Tell that to the 33,000 families who have had their money stolen from them by the banks in the tracker mortgage scandal. These people suffered. It was not just a small increase in repayments on their homes. Many of these people saw their repayments reach such a level that they had to put their entire lives on hold. Many could not afford to put food on their tables. They were stretched to their limits. Imagine the huge stress this brought on them. Up to 100 of these families lost their homes as a result of what the banks did yet not a single person will be held criminally accountable for this disgraceful behaviour. It is about time bankers who blatantly lie to the Central Bank are held to account. It is totally outrageous. It makes my blood boil that many of these people are on enormous salaries and are working for institutions that are being bankrolled by the taxpayer, yet they have the sheer cheek to lie to the Central Bank. It is time to get tough with them once and for all and hopefully they will think twice about ever doing this again.

In what other area of life could an institution deliberately mislead its customers or clients? In what area could it calculatingly and deliberately mislead those whom it promised to offer the best possible and friendliest service, a service it promised would be a reliable one in which the product offered would be the best one suited to their requirements? As in the scandals in insurance and tracker mortgages, the statements and promises seem to have been built on sand. In addition, the banks that are directly to blame for the tracker mortgage scandals are metaphorically sending in the heavies when dealing with innocent clients they effectively scammed. Instead of showing shame and contrition they are strong-arming families. They are doing everything possible to prevent tracker mortgage holders getting proper redress and compensation. Through their lies and scams the banks have destroyed lives, families and communities. If the lies and scams of a person from Ballymun, Glasnevin, Finglas, Santry or Whitehall caused families to lose their homes, they would be down on them like a tonne of bricks. If someone from one of those areas blatantly stole money in the same arrogant and contemptuous way the banks did from their customers, they would soon find themselves before the courts being held accountable for their actions. It is no wonder the bankers display such arrogance and contempt for their clients and the Central Bank. They are not answerable for their actions. There is no sanction against the lies and the scams. This legislation will wipe the smiles form their faces. It will make them accountable for their actions, like any other citizen. It will right an anomaly that has allowed banks to feel invincible before the law. It will make bankers equal before the law just like any other citizen who engages in criminal actions. The message must be clear that white-collar crime does not pay and will be vigorously pursued like any other crime. No one is above the law.

Gabhaim mo bhuíochas d'achan duine a thug páirt sa díospóireacht inniu agus a léirigh tacaíocht don Bhille. Ní labhair aon duine inniu nach raibh sásta tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille agus tá mé iontach buíoch as an méid daoine a labhair agus a phléigh go mion an t-ábhar atá idir lámha againn inniu.

I welcome the contributions from all sides of the House. There is support from all sides of the House for the legislation. The Minister of State and the Government have qualified their support. They say they support the Bill in principle but they really do not want to see this legislation go any further because they talk about a more holistic approach. I have said there is a need for a suite of laws to be brought in. I accept this is part of the solution; it is not the total solution but it does not mean it is not worthwhile. I am determined to pursue this legislation through Committee and Report Stages and through the Seanad, as I did when we lifted the six-year rule in the legislation I drafted, in order that it will make a real difference to people's lives. We must move ahead with this Bill. Delay is not acceptable while thousands are being ripped off every day and bankers act with impunity. I do not have confidence that the Government will take the issue seriously. It talks about its seriousness and that it is considering two reports, one from the Central Bank and one from the Law Reform Commission. It is not serious about this issue and it cannot convince the House that it is.

The then Governor wrote on 18 August 2015 and told the Minister straight-up what was required. I will say exactly what he required. There was a lot of nitpicking at the legislation. I thank the parliamentary legal division for the support we got in drafting the legislation. The then Governor said in the last paragraph:

We propose that a general offending provision be implemented whereby across all regulated financial service sectors, not just insurance, senior personnel, directors and key office-holders, including the external auditor might be guilty of an offence where false and misleading information is provided to the Central Bank by a regulated entity which they represent where they knew or ought to have known that the information was false or misleading. In addition, this provision should be designated as a prescribed contravention pursuant to Part IIIC of the Central Bank Act 1942, as amended, so that there is a range of administrative sanctions available. In order to ensure the latter there needs to be made available administrative sanctions capable of being imposed on individuals for their actions. At the moment, a limitation exists whereby the contravention has to have been committed by the regulated entity. This structure effectively allows individuals to act without responsibility for their actions of lying or misleading.

That was a plea from the then Governor of the Central Bank in 2015 and we are asked to believe the Government is taking the issue seriously. We heard from the Minister when we previously raised this question that it considered it a number of times but it did diddly-squat about it. It is still not an offence to lie through one's teeth to the Central Bank, which is usually done, as the then Governor said, to cover up something else within the institution unless there was a specific request made for the information from the Central Bank. That is where the Minister and the Government are completely wrong.

They say they think it is important that the House is reassured that the Central Bank has significant powers to sanction regulated financial service providers and their senior managers for the provision of false and misleading information. That is not true. In the Governor's letter of two and a half years ago, he says this offence can only take place where the information is given in response specifically to a legally binding request. He goes on to say most of the interaction between the Central Bank and regulated entities and their staff was of a different nature and that for all other incidents of interaction, both formal and informal, there are at present no consequences for the individuals or entities where they provide false or misleading information. He says this lacuna should be corrected; why, therefore, does the Minister of State give false information on the floor of the Dáil? He is trying to pretend this is not a serious issue but they are lying to us. They have lied over and over again and the Governor says this in his letter, but the Minister of State says that, while he supports this legislation in principle, he does not want it to go any further.

The Government thinks our legislation goes too far and may impinge on the rights of the bankers who are lying through their teeth. The Government may avoid a vote but this will go to committee and it needs to go further as we need to get real. We need real action on behalf of all the victims. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider his position and not to put out wrong information to suggest the situation is not as serious as it is. There is a major lacuna in the law, but we found out about it not because the Government was upfront and told us, or because the Central Bank told us but because, after two different freedom of information requests, we found the secret correspondence between the former Minister and the former Governor. That correspondence pointed out that bankers were lying to them, but they could do nothing about it.

Question put and agreed to.