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My Dail speech on financial crisis – 13th November 2013

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: First, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion.  I always welcome an opportunity to speak on a motion tabled by Fianna Fáil pertaining to the country’s economic situation, as it gives me a great opportunity to remind its members and the people of who precisely put us into the position in which we find ourselves today.  While some people quote literature, I love to quote banking reports and I have to hand the report of the Commission of Investigation into the Banking Sector in Ireland.  Its first sentence, which is indicative of what went on in Ireland at the time, states: “Systemic financial crises, like the recent Irish one, require a great number of institutions, enterprises and individuals to simultaneously follow unsound policies or practices.”  As stated earlier, I welcome the opportunity to speak in the Chamber to be able to remind people precisely who caused the crisis we currently face, as well as to be able to speak on aspects of the motion before Members this evening.  It galls me to see a sentence written that states Fianna Fáil calls for “improved regulation of licensed moneylenders to protect consumer interests”.  Had that party done this at any stage between 2000 to 2008, the country would not be in this mess.  While Fianna Fáil may mean specific moneylenders as being high street moneylenders, some Members recognise that a bank is also a moneylender, albeit one coming under a different category altogether.  Had Fianna Fáil done anything during that period, Members would not be obliged to listen to Deputies McHugh or Neville outlining to the House this evening the impact of the crisis on the ordinary man and woman in the street.  This is the reason I love to stand in the Chamber reminding people of exactly what Fianna Fáil’s legacy to this country has been.

The strange thing about it is that as a member of the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, I can see what the Government has done since coming into power.  I remind the Deputy opposite that on the day this Government came into power, no Irish bank could borrow money in the financial markets.  They were completely dependent for their cash on the cash given to them by the European Central Bank, ECB.  Only two weeks ago, Bank of Ireland was able to sell a bond worth €500 million that was five times oversubscribed at an interest rate of approximately 3.25% over a seven-year period.  AIB has also been in the market accessing credit through the sale of bonds and I reiterate that when this Government came into office, no banks, including Ulster Bank, which has been nationalised by the Government of the United Kingdom, could access credit in the financial markets.  Such things have changed.  The Government has also introduced a variety of schemes through which funding has been made available for SMEs.  If I have a single criticism of the Government, it is its failure to get out the message that so many schemes are available.  Representatives of Microfinance Ireland appeared before the aforementioned joint committee earlier this week and the numbers currently accessing those funds are very small at present. On their return to their constituencies at the weekend, I encourage Deputies to take this on board and to promulgate the message that funding of up to €25,000 is available for individuals in microfinance.  Moreover, funding is available for SMEs under the various initiatives and schemes that have been introduced by both the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan.  I need not list them all out at this point.  I reiterate that far better communications in this regard are required.

While it galls me to so do, I agree with Fianna Fáil in its reference in this motion to the increase in bank fees and charges on SMEs and customers.  This is having a detrimental effect on small businesses and something should be done in this regard.  The unfortunate point in this regard is that during the boom period marshalled by Fianna Fáil, no fees were charged and that was not sustainable either.  Again, the Government of the day should have stepped in through the Financial Regulator or the Central Bank to force banks to charge for products.  While they should not have done so at the levels they are charging at present, a fee certainly should have been levied because what was going on at the time was completely unsustainable.  Since coming into power, I believe the Government has ensured that a crisis that was mitigated and allowed to happen by the previous Administration, led by Fianna Fáil, will not happen again.  The Government has put in place strong regulation through a number of legislative items that have been passed since 2011 and this year.  In addition, to ensure that a watchful eye is kept, I welcome the choice by the Government of another outside person to replace the outgoing Financial Regulator.  I welcome that the person in question has no connections with any banking institution in Ireland and one must ensure that what is being put in place and what is being done at present does not allow the crisis that happened previously to happen again.