Northern Ireland banks may not be honouring their pledges to support business in the face of the economic downturn, the Assembly has been told.
First Minister Peter Robinson said he would be holding candid talks with the banks after mounting reports that businesses were being turned down for loans.
Mr Robinson said this was despite claims by the banks that they had millions of pounds at their disposal and were keen to lend.
The First Minister told MLAs that the experience of businesses did not match the promises made by the banks.
“Along with the Deputy First Minister, I have held meetings with all the banks collectively and we then determined it might be more appropriate to meet them individually and at the very highest level in each of those banks,” said Mr Robinson. “We have had meetings with Ulster Bank, Northern Bank and Bank of Ireland, and we are due within the next few weeks to meet First Trust.
“At each of those meetings with the banks we are told of their very great willingness to lend money, that they have hundreds of millions of pounds to lend. And, indeed, in the case of the Ulster Bank, members would be aware that they were allocated £250m for lending purposes as a result of the first tranche of the £3bn share-out in the UK.”
Mr Robinson added: “So they tell us that they have the money but everyday I go out and meet businessmen, I meet farmers, who tell me of the bank withdrawing loan facilities from them, reducing loan facilities to them. And the two simply are not squaring-up. I think we do really need to have a very candid further discussion with the banks.
“The Deputy First Minister and I intend to do that, to make sure that the funding that is available to banks to lend in Northern Ireland goes out to the customer.”
Mr Robinson said that although he understood there would be individual cases in which loans could not be made, he was concerned that there might be a trend of refusals to businesses.