FORMER Taoiseach Brian Cowen has said he is "very surprised" about the content of the Anglo tapes – as it emerged that his Cabinet was unaware they existed.
The recordings of the internal phone conversations between Anglo bankers have been in the possession of the gardai for the past four years. But this has come as news to Fianna Fail and Green ministers in the Government who signed off on the fateful bank guarantee.
Mr Cowen said: "Like everyone else, I was very surprised at the tone and content of what has been said."
However, he told the Irish Independent he did not want to make any further comment on the content of the tapes in case it prejudiced any prosecutions.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin – who was Minister for Foreign Affairs in the last Government – also said he had not known about the Anglo tapes.
His colleague Willie O'Dea, who was Minister for Defence, said the tapes had come as a "bolt from the blue" to him.
"It shows there was a degree of arrogance and a lack of empathy for taxpayers that is quite nauseating," he said.
He suggested that ministers would have never approved the guarantee if they had been aware of the ultimate €64bn cost of bailing out the banks.
"We had to act on the information we had. I've no doubt that if the full picture was known, it's doubtful there would have been a state banking guarantee," said Mr O'Dea.
He added: "We knew no more than the TDs – it was just a day in advance. Everything said in the Dail during the debate on the guarantee was as much as we knew. It's disingenuous for anybody to believe otherwise.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, who was Minister for Communications, said he had been shocked by the existence and content of the tapes.
He said he believed there was a need for an Oireachtas committee inquiry to get to the bottom of what had happened.
Key members of the current Cabinet, including the Taoiseach, Tanaiste and Finance Minister, have also said they were unaware of the tapes.
A Department of Finance spokesman said the "general consensus" was that Government ministers had been unaware that internal phone conversations between bankers were recorded.
He said even if ministers had known about the tapes, they would have had no authority to access them, adding: "It's not like asking a parliamentary question. They (the tapes) are being kept as evidence. It's not the case that a minister can demand them."
By Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor