Tuesday 17 October 2017

Anglo off the menu as they tucked into the economy

Siobhan Creaton

Gary McGann wouldn't have been surprised when Fintan Drury invited him to join Sean FitzPatrick and the Taoiseach for dinner after a round of golf in Druids Glen.

The three men were long-time colleagues and business associates and all knew that Mr Drury was a close friend of Mr Cowen's. What is surprising is that these men who had all served as directors of Anglo Irish Bank never discussed the monumental crisis that was unfolding at the bank in July 2008 with the Taoiseach.

Mr McGann is one of Ireland's top corporate warriors. His day job is as chief executive of Smurfit Kappa, an international company that grew out of the Jefferson Smurfit paper and packaging group that today has sales of €6bn and 38,000 employees in 30 countries. He is a heavy hitter by any standards and it was a coup for Anglo Irish Bank to have him on its board of directors.

Mr FitzPatrick knew Mr McGann from the business scene for many years and also through another Smurfit executive, the late Paddy Wright, who was on the Anglo board between 2000 and 2007. The men held each other's business acumen in such high regard that while Mr McGann joined the Anglo board in 2004, Mr FitzPatrick was in turn invited to become chairman of Smurfit Kappa.

Mr FitzPatrick has described Mr McGann as one of his "friends" on the board. He is known as a tough and uncompromising character and as one of the strongest members of the Anglo board where he remained a director until it was nationalised.

It was seen as a comfort for Anglo shareholders that someone of his calibre was chairman of the bank's audit committee, charged with keeping an eye out for any unusual transactions, including excessive directors' loans. He, like other former Anglo directors, is said to have taken legal advice following the bank's collapse about any potential actions that may be taken against him during his stewardship of the bank.

Mr Drury had stepped down from the Anglo board the month before he arranged the game of golf and the dinner at Druids Glen and had left the bank quietly and without the usual brash leaving bash. He too was a firm "friend" of Mr FitzPatrick and a loyal supporter in the board room.

Mr Drury had been chairman of Anglo's risk management committee, which would have been keeping an eye on the extent to which the bank was exposed to major difficulties that lay ahead.

Problems

As former Finance Minister, of course Mr Cowen knew there were big problems brewing within Irish banks and that Anglo had its difficulties. The previous March, Mr FitzPatrick rang him directly to explain the dire situation that was developing because of cement tycoon Sean Quinn's massive gamble on the bank's shares.

Another dinner guest was economist Alan Gray, whom the Taoiseach had appointed as a director of the Central Bank -- the organisation that was overseeing the Irish banks. He also says this group didn't discuss Anglo that evening. We are told the dinner was a gathering of an "economic think tank" that discussed jobs and the economy. But it's remarkable that the individuals who were furiously battling to save Anglo from ruination were only interested in helping the Taoiseach to tackle Ireland's economic woes that evening.

Irish Independent

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