Thursday, 18 February 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Tá scéal ann inniu go bhfuil sé le fógairt ag NatWest amárach nach mbeidh Ulster Bank ag trádáil níos mó sa mhargadh ina dhiaidh dó a bheith anseo ar feadh 160 bliain. Drochscéal a bheas ann d’oibrithe, don phobal, do ghnáthchustaiméirí agus don gheilleagar ar fud an Stáit. Tá Ulster Bank ar cheann de na hiasachtóirí is mó do mhorgáistí agus do chomhlachtaí beaga agus measartha sa Stát seo. Gan an banc, tá baol ann go mbeidh ardú ar rátaí úis agus go dtiocfaidh lagú ar an ngeilleagar. Má tá deireadh ag teacht le Ulster Bank sa Stát seo caithfimid cinnte a dhéanamh nach dtitfidh iasachtaí isteach i lámha na gcreach-chistí.
Tomorrow, NatWest will announce the future of Ulster Bank in this State. It has been reported that Ulster Bank is set to leave the market after more than 160 years. If that is to pass, it would be a major hammer blow for workers, communities, mortgage holders and small businesses. Ulster Bank plays a key role in our communities, providing jobs for more than 2,400 people across the State and with 88 branches serving very important communities and more than 1 million customers. It is a major player in our banking sector, responsible for 20% of all SME lending and with a 15% share in the mortgage market. In 2019 alone, it provided €3.1 billion of new lending into our economy. The Deputy Governor of the Central Bank wrote to me back in September and said that the Irish banking sector is already heavily concentrated, with five banks accounting for the majority of mortgage lending and only three banks accounting for the majority of SME lending. Ulster Bank is one of them. The Deputy Governor continued: "Ulster Bank's exit from the market could contribute to an upward pressure on interest rates and weaker credit availability." That is the reality before us.
There has been speculation for months that Cerberus, one of the most aggressive vulture funds in this State, is circling Ulster Bank's entire €20.5 billion loan book. This would be an unacceptable outcome for homeowners and borrowers and it must be avoided at all costs. I have always said that the best scenario is that Ulster Bank remains a part of our banking sector. I hope that is what will come to pass tomorrow. However, if it comes to pass that NatWest announces Ulster Bank's withdrawal, given its impact on the banking sector, communities, borrowers and, indeed, the economy, there is a responsibility on the Government to act to ensure that all that can be done is done to minimise the damage that would be caused. We could have a €20.5 billion loan book on the line. We cannot allow vulture funds with no interest in our communities, businesses or economy to rip up that loan book.
The State remains a key player in the Irish banking sector, with a 14% stake in Bank of Ireland and a majority shareholding in both AIB and Permanent TSB. The Government must now look at how those pillar banks and Permanent TSB could play a lead role, if the worst comes to pass tomorrow, by offering some degree of security to mortgage holders, businesses, personal customers and workers. Has the Tánaiste spoken to either of the pillar banks or Permanent TSB to track a path forward in the interest of Ulster Bank staff and customers? Does he agree that now is the time to create a third force in the banking sector to challenge AIB and Bank of Ireland? On my request, the finance committee wrote to the Minister for Finance and the Central Bank a number of weeks ago requesting that they take an active role in responding to the possible withdrawal of Ulster Bank from the market? Will the Tánaiste commit to that today?