The Irish government has told banks to show compassion during the coronavirus crisis and bail out the public just as taxpayers helped the country’s lenders during the financial crash in 2010.
The health minister, Simon Harris, told RTE’s Claire Byrne Live on Monday night that he expected lenders to show flexibility in relation to mortgage holidays, overdrafts and loans for those suddenly unemployed because of the pandemic.
Asked by Byrne what he had to say to those who were on a “healthy salary” last week but were now on social welfare, Harris said: “The people of this country were very good to the banks … in very difficult times. They now need to come to the table and show cop on (a blunt Irish phrase instructing someone to behave themselves), common sense and compassion when it comes to things like mortgage payments and debt servicing.”
The bailout initially cost Irish taxpayers €64bn in 2010, with the public continuing to pay social charges to help the state clear the debt, which was €41.7bn net at the end of 2018.
Harris estimated that 50,000 people had lost their jobs “temporarily at least” after Sunday’s direction to pubs and restaurants to close in response to the coronavirus outbreak, which was met by scenes of drunken defiance in the popular Temple Bar district of Dublin.
About 140,000 people have been laid off in Ireland since the emergency measures – involving school closures and travel restrictions – were introduced four days ago.
Harris said the finance minister, Paschal Donohoe, had met banking chiefs and would continue to engage with them.
“But we expect the banks to show decency in this regard, and we will keep everything on the table in terms of making sure that happens,” he told Byrne, who was presenting the show from her garden shed owing to fears she might have the virus.