The new head of the banking industry body here has said lending decisions taken by banks before the crash and the subsequent tracker mortgage scandal point to a lack of character. 

Addressing the Association of European Journalists Irish section, Brian Hayes said that without character there can be no positive reputation for the banking industry here.

"Character is that intangible ingredient, it makes up a person's mind, it defines what a person might do," the Irish Bank Federation CEO said.

"Do they make the right decision or the wrong decision? Do they confront bad behaviour or simply ignore it, putting risk or indeed profit ahead of their customers."

The former MEP and minister of state said that as he begins his new role, he is well aware of the banking industry’s standing and the legacy issues that remain.

He said banking is a controversial industry in Ireland because of the legacy of the impact that occurred eight or nine years ago, which left quite a devastating impact on the lives of people and communities. 

But he also said that he does think that people trust that the banks have the capacity to do the job they are there to do.

"I believe most people when pressed begrudgingly accept that the banks have certain capabilities that they recognise," he said.

Mr Hayes also said he is in favour of having profitable banks in this country, pointing out that the state can only get its €10bn in remaining equity back if the banking system is sustainable and profitable. 

"But we also need an understanding with that, that the basic rules of banking apply even with the legacy and even with trackers," he stated.

"And that those fundamental rules have altered as a consequence of the eurozone and banking union system and we have got to understand that and explain it to the public."

"Whatever banks do they cannot hide away. Banks need to explain their side of the argument and they cannot leave the stage empty – that has happened too often in the past."

However, Mr Hayes said there is no easy way of repairing the reputation of the banking system

"There is no quick fix to this," he told the gathering.

"Repairing reputation requires not just words or speeches like this but tangible action in the here and now, real action that delivers change. It is clear to customers that change is already underway – real actions that demonstrate that the industry has already changed."

While some would suggest that the banks should be written off, he said, the question is what alternative is there to replace them and if there were alternatives would they work.

Mr Hayes said he believes the banking industry is worth fighting for, although he accepts that his job is controversial and difficult. 

But he said the 28,000 people working in banking have a right to work in an industry that is respected.

The industry has to earn that respect by its actions though, he added.

Mr Hayes also pointed to the need for the importance of banks in the current investment phase of economic recovery. 

"I believe banks have a role, I believe they are coming from a difficult place, I think at the heart of which has to be about rebuilding trust and reputation, at the heart of which has to be around customer experience," he said.

"They have to do more things together as an industry to make common platforms and utilities which improve that experience. They have to get their NPL [non-performing loan] problem sorted."

"We have to explain to people the importance of having secondary markets, what some people call vulture funds, when other people require in any modern capitalist society the requirement of secondary markets. 

"And we have to explain the new world they operate in, which is an extraordinary risk averse world, but it is good that we have that world as a consequence of the SSM and ECB and banking union. "

Mr Hayes also defended the political system here, saying that while it is by no means perfect, it has delivered for the country at critical moments.

He also paid tribute to the work of the Fianna Fail led Government during the early stages of the response to the economic crisis.

"What is not I think recognised in my view is the leading role played by many senior politicians who steered the country towards safer times," he said.

"I think the early contribution of both Brian Lenihan and Brian Cowen, especially in terms of making really hard choices at a critical time for this country, should have been recognised well before now."

"I say the same of Enda Kenny, of Michael Noonan, Brendan Howlin and Eamon Gilmore, who took over in 2011."

"But our task in Government was made significantly easier as a consequence of the early decision taken by the Cowen Government, in terms of the scale of the adjustment and also in terms of the very quick decisions that had to be taken on expenditure and on tax matters.

"The Government of 2011 in a sense was able to get on with the task of renewing the country, growing the country and coming back from the brink as a consequence of those early decisions taken by Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan."