I know that the state has been prepared to recapitalise the society for under €1 billion, a relatively small sum compared to the black hole in Anglo-Irish and even the horrendous costs of bailing out Irish Nationwide. I suspect that the Fianna Fail/Green government included EBS in the September ’08 Bank Guarantee to cover the incredible errors in permitting Anglo and Nationwide to continue as going concerns and which may cost the state up to €35 billion. But even at this stage, given EBS’s historic role in housing hundreds of thousands of Irish families, I cannot see why the Society should not be retained in community/state ownership to continue the activity for which it was founded 75 years ago.
EBS is a key Irish institution with some 600,000 members before nationalisation and with over 20% of the Irish residential mortgage market. Like many of my constituents, I remain suspicious of the conduct of the residential mortgage market given the appalling scandals of the past including the endowment mortgage scam (and which the Central Bank and Regulator and the Department of Finance have steadfastly refused to investigate). The creation of an Irish ‘Third Force’ in banking would be laudable if there was confidence in the leadership of the organisations taking part, but that is simply not the case.
Clearly the key failure of the Department of Finance, the Central Bank and the Regulator in relation to building societies lies in a refusal to update and improve democratic accountability. This contrasts with the accountability which seems to exist in the UK’s Co-Operative Group or the John Lewis Organisation (in fact the Co-Op is paying a dividend this year to its 5 million members following strong performances by its bank and supermarket chain).
The 2009 EBS Annual Report clearly shows that EBS is a very profitable business (when the NAMA bound loans and other ‘bubble’ loans are excluded). Why doesn’t the Minister for Finance therefore reconsider the sale of EBS and examine how it might develop as a state-owned mutual association for affordable housing with strong accountability to its members?