Picture this scenario:

A bank levies charges on you for services. However, the bank never told you that there was a charge, and you believed that the services involved were covered by the other charges you pay.

After a number of years, the bank announces that its legal department had advised it that the charge was not legal. However, there is still a cost to providing the service, and therefore this charge will be properly announced, notified, approved and regularised.

There then arises the problem of all those customers who were charged illegally and how to return their money to them. The bank, deciding that the money to return is too much, decides that anyone who doesn't make a claim for their money before a certain date (which is very soon after the discovery of the problem), forfeits that money. As a good-will gesture, however, the bank's current customers will receive a nominal amount by way of compensation.

This isn't a completely fantastic scenario. AIB came under a lot of criticism from the public, the press and government when it emerged that it was overcharging for foreign exchange transactions. Its suggestion that some of those customers would be hard to track was poo-pooed as nothing more than an excuse.

And then the very same government turns around and says the following:

  • Pensioners in care have been charged for that care without their knowledge and agreement for nearly 30 years
  • The state's solicitor, the Attorney General, has discovered that this charge is not legal
  • The state now intends to make the charge legal, and will contine to levy it
  • Those pensioners who have already paid out over the years can make a claim for the return of their money, but those claims will only be considered if made before the 14th December 2004
  • Oh, and just to make sure that people don't get annoyed with us (i.e. as a good-will gesture), everyone effected will be given a payment of &eur;2000

In order to execute all this, a bill was rushed through Dáil Éireann so fast it made even normally cynical observers gasp.

The state stole money from a disadvantaged, disorganised and exploitable section of society and when it was caught, it said: you're not getting it back, and by the way, here's a token to shut you up.

The Supreme Court has reviewed the enacting legislation, upon the request of Uachtaráin na hÉireann, and decided that the joke is over. If the executive arm is controlled by thieves, at least the judicial arm isn't. The Head of State has a measure of compassion, too.

The questions I would like answered are:

  • If the Attorney General was able to spot that the charges were illegal, how did a law forgiving that illegality make it as far as Dáil Éireann?
  • Is the government that arrogant to think that we're all stupid to believe what the banks have been doing is wrong and what it does, more or less the same, is not?

Éibhear