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Health Minister Simon Harris says PTSB should appear before the Oireachtas Finance Committee next week. Oireachtas TV
Vulture funds

Harris on PTSB home loan sale: 'It's time to see a bit of humility from our banks'

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said the bank has been asked to appear before the Oireachtas Finance Committee next week.

“I THINK IT is time to see a little bit of humility from our banks,” said Health Minister Simon Harris when asked about the €4 billion mortgage sale by Permanent TSB today.

The statement from the minister comes a day after a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting in which members raised concerns that the government is coming across as the “spokespeople for the banks”.

PTSB, which is 75% State owned, has been defending its plan to sell off a book of non-performing loans known as Project Glas.

The proposed sell-off of 18,000 properties, including 14,000 private dwelling homes, has become the subject of a political battle in recent days.

Yesterday, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe conceded that even homeowners who engaged with the bank could find their mortgage arrangements with PTSB are not honoured by the buyer.

Speaking about the issue today, Harris said the government had to “find a balance” whereby they protect mortgage holders, but also ensure there is a stable banking system.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said PTSB has been invited to appear before the Oireachtas Finance Committee next Tuesday.

Doherty told the Dáil the bank has informed the committee that it has already entered into “confidentiality clauses” with interested parties and would be restricted in speaking about certain issues. A formal invitation has been issued to the bank today.

“The train has left the station – these are vulture funds,” he said, referring to the interested parties.

‘Time to see a bit of humility’ 

Harris said PTSB should appear before the Oireachtas Finance Committee:

I think PTSB should go before an Oireachtas committee. I think it is time to see a little bit of humility from our banks – banks that the taxpayers of this country have supported through very, very difficult times.
I think they could do an awful lot worse than show a little bit of humility and engage with the people’s representatives. I think that should happen, that is a matter for the bank, but that is my personal view.

Harris said Minister Donohoe had a “constructive” meeting with Fianna Fáil’s Finance spokesperson Michael McGrath about a new Bill, due to be introduced next week, which seeks to regulate the vulture funds.

He said the government wanted to work with all parties on the issue.

Minister says the loans have not been sold 

The health minister said there is time to tackle the issue as the loans have not been sold and the finance minister has not been consulted yet. “There will be time to engage,” he said.

However, Harris said people listening to the debate may get worried when they hear statements like: “The train has left the station.”

He maintained a decision on the sale has not been made nor has a decision been made about the potential buyer.

“Please don’t scare people,” he told Doherty.

pearse Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty says the selling of long-term loan products to vulture funds who have short-term interest should not be allowed. Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

The Sinn Féin spokesperson said that it was time to “insert some honesty” into the debate.

While he said he is in favour of regulating the vulture funds, it will not be the “magical solution”.

‘Vulture funds don’t do long-term solutions’

Even if vulture funds are regulated, long-term loans should not be sold to them under any circumstances, he insisted.

“They are only interested in the short-term turnaround and the quick turnaround,” said the Donegal TD, who said unlike banks they do not have a public persona or reputation to keep up.

Citing Central Bank figures, Doherty said 120,000 home mortgages were restructured by the end of September 2017 – with the vast majority (87%) of these accounts meeting the terms of the restructured arrangements.

However, he told the minister all of these deals done with customers were done by regular banks, not vulture funds.

He said vulture funds don’t offer the suite of options mentioned above, because they don’t have to.

“They [vulture funds] don’t do split mortgages, they don’t do interest only, they don’t do arrears capitalisation,” he said.

Doherty told Harris that families at home and renters in the buy-to-lets due to be sold “are hoping and praying that you will stand up to the vultures and stop this sale”.

The Sinn Féin TD said the government must tell PTSB that it is not allowed to sell long-term family products to vulture funds who only have a short-term interest.

If you sell long-term products to companies that have a three or five-year interest, it will only end in one way and that is repossessions, that is people being evicted, that is more homelessness and we cannot stand here as legislators and pretend that there is some sort of magic solution.
 You own 75% [of the bank]. Lift the phone, tell Jeremy Masding [PTSB CEO] the government refuse to stand idly by while you are about to throw your customers to the wolves just because you didn’t get your act in order over the last three years and work those mortgages down the way that you should have.

Harris said he is conscious that some homeowners are “concerned” and “worried”.

He said the government would work towards providing “maximum security, clarity and assurance” to mortgage holders.

Read: Minister concedes homeowners who engaged with PTSB may not have deals honoured>

‘Many have made no payments at all for years’: PTSB defends controversial €3.7 billion mortgage sell off>

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