Friday, 19 February 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I agree with the Order of Business. This morning we heard the confirmed news that Ulster Bank is to wind down its operation in the Republic of Ireland after 160 years of banking in the State. My sympathy and my heart go out to all of the 2,800 staff who work in the 88 branches and to the more than 1 million customers who bank with Ulster Bank. It is a worrying development for the banking sector in Ireland. Effectively, it means that we have a duopoly in commercial business loans. We now have a situation whereby a bank that has 15% of the mortgage market in the State and a loan book worth €20 billion is now to begin the process of winding down and selling off all of that business. There is a huge body of work on the part of the State to do what it can to protect the jobs, the staff and the customers who bank with Ulster Bank.I read reports this morning that AIB is seeking to buy what has been termed the crown jewels, the commercial loan book, from Ulster Bank, but what about those loans that are not performing at 100%? My colleague, Deputy McGuinness, raised this issue on the radio this morning. What about those loans that are on the margins? More and more people will be in that situation because of the pandemic. What are we, as a State, as a Government and as a country, going to do to protect those who have already fallen or are about to fall on hard times? We urgently need a plan for the banking sector in this country. I request that a debate with the Minister of Finance, Deputy Donohoe, on the future of the banking sector be arranged as a matter of urgency. How do we protect those customers who are at risk right now and must be feeling anxiety and pressure at home? I cannot imagine what it must feel like to sit at home and wonder whether one's mortgage is going to be sold to a vulture fund and what that might mean for one and one's family home.
It is also important that we have a conversation about how to inject more competition into the banking sector. How do we ensure fair prices for consumers and reasonable mortgage and loan rates for people? We know that ours are some of the most expensive in Europe. This requires extensive debate and consideration. We need a plan of action.
I have used most of my time to address this particular issue because it is of such importance to the country. The cracks are showing and we really need to move on this. We urgently need to hear from the Minister for Finance as to what we can do collectively, as a parliament, to protect those customers and future customers from the very fragile banking sector in this country.