24 May 2013 One Comment by The Northern Standard

The banks, according to Fianna Fáil member of Monaghan Co Council Pádraig McNally this week, are getting away with murder.

Colr McNally’s comment, made during the course of a debate which called into question the interest rate increase practices of AIB and EBS, succinctly encompasses a great deal of current public disaffection with how our financial institutions are operating.

Banks have never had a particularly favourable popular image, and since the onset of the current economic downturn, the transient positive capital they might have built up before boom turned to bust was wiped away.

The black hat of the bad guy was fastened irremovably on the heads of the banks in the fallout of the fiscal collapse – in most people’s minds, a case of “if the cap fits…” if ever there was one.
While the broad geography of how this country’s economy was plunged into crisis is well established, much of its salient detail has remained clouded.

For this reason a motion put forward by FF councillor Robbie Gallagher and adopted by Monaghan Town Council on Monday night is an important one: it called for an inquiry into the circumstances of what happened, one that fulfils the obligation of accountability due to the people of the country who are being compelled to pay a heavy and long-lasting price for a disaster not of their direct making.

It may well be in the banks’ interest for such an inquiry to take place – a clearer picture of how reckless risk-taking and irresponsible lending practices were allowed to penetrate their culture, and the failings of the regulatory safeguards one would have assumed would have checked these excesses, might mitigate some of the culpability assigned them.

In the early days of the current economic crisis one sustaining thought for the public was the prospect that when the rubble of the disaster was cleared away, what would emerge would be a better banking system – one that was leaner, stripped down administratively, more transparent in its operation and, crucially, more responsive and accountable to the customer.

As the people have had to pay a large share of the bailout that has kept some banks afloat, and have been told that this translates into effective public ownership of some of the more wounded institutions, the expectation was that the institutions in question would now have to be a great deal more customer friendly and attuned to the needs of savers and borrowers.

Incredibly, the reverse seems to be the case in many instances.

Banks have reformed in ways which, very often, are making it much more difficult for people to interact satisfactorily with them.

There are sound reasons for financial institutions to encourage their customers to embrace electronic or direct banking practices – 24/7 accessibility to services, security and convenience are all strong features in its favour, but the management of this transition has been precipitate to say the least.

Serious problems are currently being experienced by businesses who require access to cash and coinage and the gradual withdrawal of the opportunities for direct engagement between customer and staff in bank branches is creating considerable frustration among the public that can be witnessed on a daily basis in the branches of those banks that still retain a physical presence in communities.

The major lending institutions are changing undoubtedly, but in ways that are designed to suit their own internal management and administrative imperatives rather than respond to the practical requirements of the people who have their money in them – and that is not a tolerable state of affairs given the burden being carried by the public for their rescue.

The cavalier attitude some banks adopt to the variable interest rates imposed on mortgage holders, as Colr Matt Carthy stated when moving Monday’s Co Council motion, is difficult to credit when one considers the desperate circumstances many families with mortgage debt are striving to contend with – and the promise that capital would be released for the needs of small and medium enterprises aspiring to create a little employment and much needed growth in local communities has yet to be matched by substantial delivery.

There is little evidence thus far that banks are committed to changing in ways commensurate with the moral obligation they owe the people of the country – where is the payback for the bailout?

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has presumably a role to play in ensuring that the banks make good on this debt of principle. Hopefully he will take close account of both the intent and the sentiments embodied in the motions passed by our local authorities this week and direct the banks towards more meaningful compliance with what are surely grave duties of accountability and responsibility towards their customers.

The rapid take-up of the new community facility developed by the Monaghan Allotment Society with the co-operation of Monaghan Town Council in the Killygoan area is worthy of commendation and comment.

It denotes an encouraging awareness in the Monaghan locality of the many benefits associated with the cultivation of fresh fruit and vegetables that we are confident is replicated in many other areas of our circulation area, creating a need which other local authorities should attune themselves to meeting by way of placing small tracts of available land that might otherwise go unused at the disposal of community groups for this purpose.

There are many health advantages to be gleaned from allotment activity, not all of those deriving from the natural produce that is its outcome.

Modern lifestyles often generate stress and distance us from nature – the sense of wellbeing and satisfaction that can be derived from “growing your own”, the opportunity to commune with the land and its yield, are powerful antidotes to these ills.

The educative benefits for young people to acquaint themselves with how the food on their tables comes into being are self-evident – and the presence of an allotment can enhance the environment of a locality, even a predominantly urbanised one, by creating a green haven and potential wildlife habitat.

We hope the allotment habit is one that can grow and flourish in our county with concerted community and local authority support.

One Comment »

  • Peter said:

    Fianna FAIL members condemning the banks…well that’s rich eh! Talking about the kettle calling the pot black, such unbelievable hypocrisy, it was under their watch that the present economic mess was fostered, nurtured and created.
    Fianna FAIL are a disgrace, I am quite certain that their previous leadership should be arrested, charged, tried and jailed for fraud, corruption, thievery and treason.
    If they want to set high moral standards, start with their own party first, independent criminal investigations should be instigated against those that were in charge and over saw the loss of Ireland’s economic independence.
    Finna FAIL unhappy with the Banks…HA, now that is a sick joke.