In the ridiculously short time available to me I am not able to discuss Bank of Ireland but suffice it to say I agree with the remarks by Members on all sides of the House. I will confine myself, in the few minutes I have, to the situation with Ulster Bank.
The key question with Ulster Bank is who steps into the breach. Who will step into the breach in relation to SME lending and lending to homeowners? Be it called public banking, community banking, a third banking force or whatever one wishes, unless we move quickly to establish some sort of realistic competition in this country, a number of consequences are inevitable, none of which is particularly palatable for the people. One potential consequence is that the duopoly of AIB and Bank of Ireland, which controls, for example, 60% of the mortgage market, will tighten its grip on that market. The result of the power they have over the mortgage market at present means this country is paying the highest mortgage rates in the civilised world. Any further diminution of competition arising from the departure of Ulster Bank will only further exacerbate that situation.
Another potential consequence is that NatWest, to release its capital from this country, may sell to a third party, commonly known as a vulture fund. I notice one particular vulture, Cerberus Capital Management, is reportedly circling ominously at present. It is very appropriately named because, in Greek mythology, Cerberus was the monstrous creature that guarded the gates of hell and prevented its inmates from escaping. It was supposed to have had three dog’s heads, snakes growing from its body and a serpent’s tail. The vulture funds, including the latter-day Cerberus, have a long and distinguished record of consigning people to a living hell from which they can never hope to escape.
I have been listening to the Minister telling us for the past few days what powers he has and does not have, mainly the ones he does not have. Whatever about the powers he has or does not have, he certainly has a duty and a responsibility to do all in his power to ensure the small businesses and homeowners of the country do not fall into the clutches of such a rapacious monster or any others of its ilk.