AIB Proposed Sale Questioned

The decision whether or not to sell AIB should be a democratic one. Oireachtas members should be involved in such a fundamental decision. I and Sinn Féin believe that AIB should be retained as a state bank which would allow us to retain some form of democratic accountability over AIB. This democratic accountability has had a real impact on the lives of AIB customers. The pressure applied by the Oireachtas and its committees has seen significant movement by AIB on key areas of concern for customers such as in Standard Variable Mortgages and selling portfolio’s to vulture funds.

The hardship experienced by citizens of this state as a result of the reckless behaviour of unregulated banks now seems to be forgotten by Mr Noonan and his Government or else they simply don’t care. With any sell off there will be a transfer of accountability from the Oireachtas to faceless and nameless strangers – the investors. Already we see the likely impact with AIB saying the number of repossessions will increase and sales to vulture funds are on the cards.

The question of branch closures is linked to this sell off. When it is no longer profitable to have a branch remain open, a bank that is driven by private investors in search of huge profits will not think twice about continuing the shutting of rural branches.

State banks can work. Many state banks are successful. Some of the most stable and successful banks in Europe are state banks. The Minister has have not addressed this point at all. Of course Fine Gael is wedded to privatising public assets just as Fianna Fail were with Eircom and many other assets. I also want the Finance Committee to play a greater role in exploring possibilities for state owned banks.

It is obvious now that the Government, Fianna Fail and other parties who supported the Fiscal Treaty in 2012 were wrong. The restraints imposed on capital spending from any proceeds from the sale of AIB mitigates against regions that are starved of infrastructure investment.

I also take issue with the over simplistic attempt to portray this as an honourable return of the money that the Irish people had to pay to originally bail out the bank. This is wrong on two counts. Firstly in terms of money, it represents a loss. Even the Chief Executive of AIB admits this. This morning he could only go as far as predicting that ‘the vast bulk’ of the money would be returned to the tax payer.

Secondly, the initial bailout cost the Irish people more than the original sum paid. The immediate payment caused great distress to the economy. Thousands of our highly educated and hardworking young people were forced to emigrate. Is this quick sale going to bring those people back. We have a chronic crisis in our health services and a serious housing crisis directly linked to the enormous bailout that the tax payer had to shoulder.

Mr Noonan’s reassurances that his decision to sell AIB is underpinned by advice from Rothchilds rings hollow with me. He hardly expected them to advocate the retention of a state bank to serve the interests of Irish citizens. I think this is a wrong decision and one which will cost the Irish people dearly while lining the pockets of the most wealthy.