One of the more traumatic events in my life was the fire at Slane Castle in 1991. After it, I ended up in hospital in the Lourdes in Drogheda with smoke inhalation. My Bank Manager came to see me. He brought me a bottle of brandy because he thought I might need it because he knew more than anybody else that I would get no sympathy from the bank. He was right. They tried to screw me. Ever since I have held a deeply jaundiced view of the banks.
In the last week or so the Tracker Mortgage scandal has been all over our newspapers, the airwaves and on our television screens. It does not show the banks in a good light. Their behaviour is all the more incredible as they were in receipt of €62 billion from the taxpayer. It is no surprise to me that one of the worst offenders is Bank of Ireland. I can state categorically that I think it is offensive that the banks can avoid paying tax on current and future profits by using their historic losses. For heaven’s sake, were it not for the bail-out they would have ceased to exist. The Minister for Finance should take them on. They owe us and they owe us big.
I had a huge problem with the bail-out in the first place. The then government was strong-armed by the EU not to burn the bond-holders. We took one for the team, which translates into bailing out the French and German banks and, frankly, getting damn all thanks for it. Do you remember the fine people of Ballyhea ? For 5 years every Sunday they marched in protest against paying the bond-holders. To this day I salute them. Their courage stands in stark contrast to those of our leaders who failed to stand up against those who bullied us into submission.
There is much talk of changing the culture. In my view that is damn difficult. It is not to say that all people who work in the banking system are bad, but it is just that they seem to operate in an environment that is so far removed from what should be one of the guiding principles , serving the customer.
I have lost count of the tales I have heard over recent years where the banks are cast in a very bad light. They have thrown money at us when we don’t need it and made it difficult when we do. They have become impersonal and detached from those they seek to serve. They were saved by the nation but do not serve the nation. The Minister should use a stick.