Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

16.58 9 Jul 2020


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Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty has accused Leo Varadkar of having been 'asleep at the wheel' in his dealings with banks on the issue of mortgage payment breaks.

Deputy Doherty has called on the Tánaiste to to clarify what guarantees were given by the main banks over extra interest costs incurred by customers availing of payment breaks during the COVID-19 crisis.

Earlier, Leo Varadkar told the Dáil he would come down on the banks 'like a tonne of bricks' if they try to make extra profits as a result of the COVID-19 breaks.

He insisted he told the banks they should only at most be covering their own increased costs.

It comes after the Banking & Payments Federation yesterday "refuted false allegations that the industry deliberately misinformed the Taoiseach during a meeting on 11 May on the accrued interest issue".

BPFI chief executive Brian Hayes insisted the industry has been "clear and upfront" on the issue, and has followed regulatory advice.

Sinn Fein's finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty told The Hard Shoulder there needs to be clarity over what commitments were made.

Doherty: Varadkar was 'asleep at the wheel' when dealing with banks on payment breaks

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He said: "How come his recollection of that private meeting with the senior bankers is completely different from the official minutes taken by the Department of the Taoiseach... and also at odds with the comments of Brian Hayes, the spokesperson for the industry, yesterday?"

'COVID penalty'

Deputy Doherty claims customers who have taken mortgage breaks are now facing the prospect of a 'COVID penalty'.

He argued: "I'm not happy that the banks are ripping off their customers... I'm not happy that they misled the Government... I'm not happy that Leo Varadkar was asleep at the wheel and didn't know what was going on.

"I'm not happy that the former taoiseach and the CEOs of the five retail banks seem to be coming up with a cover story, that would allow for this practice to continue.

"It needs to end - there shouldn't be a 'COVID penalty' for mortgage holders who are looking for a payment break during this pandemic."

He claimed the bank's explanations of the situation are "pure nonsense".

Deputy Doherty said: "There's a European Banking Authority document which shows there's around 12 jurisdictions which have different types of break, but the cost of that is borne by the banks as opposed to the consumer.

"Here in Ireland, it's lumped completely onto the consumer - and this isn't just a couple of hundred euro, it's thousands of additional euro."

'Banks will be banks'

The Donegal TD suggested past evidence such as the tracker mortgage scandal indicates "banks will be banks".

He said: "We need the Government to call in the banks to say 'this game is over - you are not going to be allowed to profit on the back of pandemic'.

"I commend the Government for closing down the economy at the time to keep our citizens' safe. As a result of that, it meant that people couldn't pay their mortgage.

"Not only should the banks not be profiteering on this, but the banks also have to play their part - as everybody does".

Figures released today show that almost 160,000 payment breaks have been granted to borrowers during the COVID-19 crisis.

The new Central Bank data shows this represents more than €20 billion in mortgages, personal and business loans.

The regulator says it's focused on ensuring lenders support borrowers in distress and deliver sustainable solution to help them return to repaying their debt when they can.

Main image: File photo of Pearse Doherty. Photograph: Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie

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