Do you know a bank that likes to say “yes?”

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Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me.

Reuters reported on March 7 2012 that Bank of Ireland will increase the standard variable rate (SVR) on its UK residential mortgage by 1.5 percent later this year.

The bank which  plans to exit the UK market through the sale of parts of its book and by taking on no new business as its remaining mortgages expire, said it would increase its SVR by 1 percent to 3.99 percent from June and by a further 0.5 percent to 4.49 percent  from September.

BOI, Ireland’s largest lender and the only one not under full state control, said the move marked its first increase since 2007, adding that the cost of funding mortgages had risen significantly for UK lenders in recent years.

It announced last month that deposits made with its UK arm will not fall under Ireland’s expensive government guarantee scheme from the end of March, boosting hopes of lowering its funding costs this year.

When I woke up and heard of this jump in BOI rates on the early morning news, I confess, I broke out in a sweat. I have a small mortgage with the BOI. Think of the poor devil who owes the bank hundreds of thousands of pounds.

People went with the flow,  availed of easily accessible money because the traditional banks bowed the knee to the boasts of huge profits by rival banks such as Anglo Irish and accordingly relaxed lending rules. How do I know this? Bankers in BOI told me so, admitting they came later than some banks to the party.

Standing in my local butcher’s shop on Saturday afternoon a woman known to me from my local bank nearly twenty years ago,  greeted me warmly.

I reciprocated and quickly moved to remark “I am very concerned at the Bank of Ireland’s decision to raise the mortgage rate by 1.5 %.  What are they trying to do – to put people’s smoke out completely?”

To my surprise my hearer replied “why don’t you do something about it?”

“Like what” I asked.

“Write in” she said,  “tell them how you feel. People who owe them millions are walking away and getting away with it.” She added.

The Bank of Ireland has been, on balance fair to me in my thirty plus years of having dealings with it. Fortunately I am not heavily indebted to that bank and I remain mindful that no bank ever came out onto the street and said to me “Hi – do you want a million pounds to buy a property?”

If I borrowed excessively I did so voluntarily and I am of a disposition whereby I accept I have to pay my way and sort out any debts incurred.

For the first time however, I feel aggrieved at a Bank of Ireland hike of 1.5% in mortgage interest rates. I know the bank will immediately remind me this applies to SVR mortgages.

With so much negative equity and incomes falling, with less and less money in circulation, and many people failing to pay up because people owing them money are not being paid by people who owe them money and so on, thousands of people are now being faced with financial strangulation.

The easy option would be for me to stay quiet and work discreetly with the BOI. I am choosing to raise my voice using the only weapon available to me as a professional journalist – words.

I will deal with my overdraft and debt as I always did but where is all this leading?

Recently I interviewed Consultant psychiatrist Dr Philip McGarry for

He painted a bleak picture flowing from all this economic austerity. The graph of suicides is jumping in Northern Ireland. I am not drawing attention to this by way of blackmail.  I speak as a human being who cares for my fellow human beings.

If I have to practise tolerance and understanding of my debtors as a sole trader surely large institutions such as the banks, fully and partially bailed out by the governments with taxpayers’ money should be correspondingly tolerant of the ‘small guy.’

I should point out NAMA reportedly accesses £200.000 to clients whose assets have been expropriated by the so called bad or toxic bank. Who is accessing a yearly income to the average mortgage borrower probably having to find an additional £150 monthly to keep up the mortgage payment?

What is going to suffer if mortgage clients of BOI want to avoid ending up in arrears? That is a matter for the individual. Is it going to be income protection or critical illness protection in the case of the self employed? Is it going to be protection of the house contents or in other cases medical cover? These are big issues with which many people are currently wrestling.

A decent man known to me who ran a very successful firm of accountants told me me he was onto the third set of accounts for some of his clients without payment for any work carried out. Explaining that he was in contravention of his own professional articles in the execution of his duties he added “these are good people, good clients from whom I earned decent fees for several decades. How can I walk away from them now when they are having a bad time?”

That same man who had bought BOI, AIB and BP shares and advised his clients to do likewise, was known to me to be under immense stress as he helplessly watched  his investments wither on the vine. The phone rang last year to tell me my colleague had keeled over and died from a massive heart attack.

This is the human side of the financial crisis in which people currently find themselves. Banks, governments and institutions can be very heartless. My generation’s inheritance has etherised. A wise woman from the West often says in my company “when all fruit fails it’s welcome haws for the birds.” Like the birds, in this permanent winter of austerity myself and very many of my  contemporaries are depending on haws unless our banks ‘grandfather’ us grandfathers.


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About Author

Eamonn Mallie

I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.

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