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Banks given 'free pass' by this government, SF Ard Fheis told

The Sinn Féin Ard Fheis kicked off in Derry today.

Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty says his party will get the rot out of the core of Irish banking.
Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty says his party will get the rot out of the core of Irish banking.
Image: Niall Carson

WHY HAVE THE banks been given a free pass by this government to do as they please?

That was the question TD Pearse Doherty asked during his speech at the opening of his party’s Ard Fheis in Derry this evening. 

The party’s finance spokesperson said while some say arrogance in banking is reemerging in Irish financial institutions, in his opinion, it never left.

His comments come as group CEO of KBC bank Johan Thijs had to issue an apology for describing the Irish tracker mortgage scandal as “annoying”. 

Thijs made the comments yesterday during a conference call following the announcement of the bank’s third quarter results.

He had called on the Irish regulator to move on from the scandal and insisted the bank had learned from its mistakes, saying that the lender had set aside €14m for an expected fine from the Central Bank. 

“What is still an annoying thing is all tracker mortgage stuff. Honestly, I would recommend to [the] Central Bank of Ireland: come on, guys, turn the page,” Thijs said at the time.

This evening, he issued an apology.

“He described compensation for the more than forty thousand affected families – some of whom lost their homes – as an administrative burden.
 
“In those words he displayed the contempt banks have for customers,” he said, adding that the toxic culture within Irish banking hasn’t gone away.
 
“But why would they when the banks have been given a free pass by this government to do as they please?
 
“Only Sinn Féin will take on the banks, hold them to account and stamp out the rot at the core of our banking system. We will start by making sure they pay their fair share of tax,” said Doherty. 

Election pledges 

The Donegal TD used the speech to make some election pledges to its members, stating that his No Consent, No Sale Bill “would stop banks from selling family homes to vultures without the consent of mortgage holders”.

The Bill, which aims to ensure that a voluntary code that banks sign up to which states that customers must be asked and give consent before their loans are sold on to vulture funds is put into law. 

The proposed law has been opposed by government as well as the Central Bank.

“We would end the tax break for bailed out banks that was introduced by the Labour Party and Fine Gael in 2014 and which has been kept in place with the support of Fianna Fáil.
 
“This tax break has allowed AIB, Permanent TSB and Bank of Ireland to pay no corporation tax at all. At the same time, the public pay over one billion every year to service the massive debt these banks saddled us with, yet they enjoy a tax holiday while enjoying massive profits,” he added.

If in government, Sinn Féin would end the “insurance rip-off” by banning dual pricing, and would close tax loopholes, he said.

Sinn Féin would also increase the minimum wage by €2.50 an hour to €12.50 and abolish student fees.

Doherty also highlighted the issue of a long-time tax credit used by many workers is due to end next year. It caused some controversy earlier this year when Revenue first announced that the flat-rate expense claim was to end.

“Over six hundred thousand low and middle-income workers are on course to see their pay cut when flat-rate expenses to cover the cost of equipment are slashed in January. This is Leo’s Republic of Opportunity,” said Doherty.

Other election promises included the introduction of a wealth tax that would impact 0.25% of society as well as free transport for those under 18. 

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The Sinn Féin Ard Fheis continues tomorrow in Derry, where members are to debate issues such as Brexit, Irish unity as well as other matters like 5G coverage. 

The party membership will also vote on whether Michelle O’Neill should remain on as vice-president of the party. John O’Dowd has put himself up for election to take her seat, though it is widely expected that O’Neill will remain the deputy leader. 

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