Banking inquiry: Ex Anglo director and friend of Brian Cowen insists bank not discussed at 2008 Druid's Glen dinner
Fintan Drury giving evidence at banking inquiry
A former director of Anglo Irish Bank and friend of former Taoiseach Brian Cowen insisted he had never discussed the issues of the bank with Mr Cowen.
Fintan Drury told the Banking Inquiry: “I had no discussion with Brian Cowen either as Minister or as Taoiseach in regard to the affairs of Anglo Irish Bank”.
Mr Drury was present at a dinner arranged by Anglo for Mr Cowen in April 2008 just weeks after the bank’s shares collapsed.
He also played a controversial game of golf with Mr Cowen and Anglo boss Sean Fitzpatrick at Druids Glen in July 2008.
He insisted there was never any “material discussion” about the affairs of the bank at either of these events.
Mr Drury said he had friends who found this assertion to be lacking in credibility but insisted several times that no such discussion had taken place.
Mr Drury, who was a non-executive director of Anglo from 2002 - 2008 and a personal friend of Mr Cowen for 20 years,
He said he had arranged the Druids Glen golf outing after pointing out to Mr Cowen the value of having a number of smart people around the table to discuss economic issues to get some outside perspective.
They had meet for coffee with Mr Fitzpatrick, Smurfit Kappa chief executive Gary McGann and economist Alan Gray who was a director of the Central Bank.
He had played a round of golf with Mr Cowen and Mr Fitzpatrick and then joined the other tow for dinner where they had a “one-off” discussion about the emerging issues in the economy.
Mr Cowen was concerned that the meeting should not been seen as the setting up of some “kitchen cabinet”.
“Brian had great belief in Alan Gray… so he wanted him there. He wanted Gary McGann there because he knew that Gary was very smart and very committed to public service and was also chief executive of one of Ireland’s largest companies.
“Sean FitzPatrick was my suggestion. The suggestion was made at a time when Sean FitzPatrick was deified. His reputation was both globally and in Ireland extremely high. He was seen as someone who was extremely bright.”
Mr Drury explained that Mr Gray had drawn up an agenda but “at no point was there any discussion whatsoever about Anglo Irish Bank. Why would there have been?”
He also assured the Inquiry there was no discussion about the NTMA being requested to move funds into Anglo.
Mr Drury stressed that he had privileged access to the Taoiseach as his friend and if he had wanted to influence him to take a particular view on Anglo “I could have gone to see him, walked into his office and had a conversation”.
He also said there was “absolutely” no discussion with Mr Cowen on the Government’s decision to give a blanket guarantee to the banks.
On the dinner held by Anglo on April 24th 2008, Mr Drury said it was a very broad discussion nothing “remarkable”.
These occasions were held about twice a year by Anglo for people in public life, often for people lot a very different political persuasion to Mr Cowen.
The emphasis was always firmly on it being a social occasion.
“Brian Cowen just happened to be next on the list. I asked him to be present at the event”.
They had been at the dinner for about 90 minutes. Mr Cowen had not come or left with any documents and the discussion was broad and about anything other than banking.
Mr Drury described a few days after the Anglo share collapse on March 17th 2008 Sean Fitzpatrick had phoned him to ask if he thought Brian Cowen would take a call from Mr Fitzpatrick about the ongoing liquidity issue of the bank.
Mr Cowen was overseas but Mr Drury had contacted him and explained the situation. Mr Drury said Mr Cowen said he needed to talk first the the Governor of the Central Bank and he confirmed a short time later he had done that and the Governor would deal with the matter.
There had been much comment on the lending approach of Anglo but broader based banks also got the emphasis wrong and continued to do so.
He agreed that yes the bank overextended itself and took on too much in the Irish marketplace and the bank's exposure to development lending was at 23pc by the end of 2008, with 50pc of total lending in Ireland.
The storm that broke in Ireland “ was a global financial tsunami that had its origins elsewhere and just took its time to crash over our small island and wreak the damage that it did.
“There is no doubt that the damage was accentuated by the fact that our own defences were very weak”.
Mr Drury added “we had gorged in the boom years and the banks and continued to fee our insatiable appetites. I know because I was involved in both putting the menu on the table as a non-executive director of Anglo Irish Bank.
“I know because I was one of the hundreds of thousands who sat there and ate more than I needed.”
It was not an excuse but simply to acknowledge that when global financial events hit “we were already in a vulnerable position. We know now that Anglo Irish Bank most certainly was”
Asked by Deputy Pearse Doherty if he had been concerned that most of the loans from Anglo were held by a very small number of clients, he responded “not particularly”.
He said the bank had taken a decision in 2006 to stop lending in the Irish market but they were very conscious of the importance of staying committed to people who had demonstrated over the years that they were very good clients.
Mr Drury described how in the past year he had curtailed meetings with Mr Cowen and they had met irregularly and “I regret that”.
He explained that living in a small country meant that if he met him for a pint or to go to a match “there is a percentage of people who would thing we were up to no good.
“All of this palaver has constrained the friendship.” There was an element of “you just can’t win”.
Rightly or wrongly they had made the decision as friends that they should meet less regularly for fear being seen together would be misinterpreted.