Fingleton 'sorry' about bank crisis but silent on €1m bonus
Published 19/08/2010 | 05:00
FORMER Irish Nationwide boss Michael Fingleton finally said he was sorry last night about the effect of the banking crisis on the country.
But there was still anger about his failure to comment on his €1m bonus, which he has so far refused to return to Irish Nationwide.
Mr Fingleton made his first public comments since the banking crisis erupted two years ago when he was questioned at Dublin airport after returning from a trip to Spain.
He admitted he had a "sense of remorse" about what had happened to the country as a result of events in Nationwide and other financial institutions.
"Of course I have, of course I have, like anybody else, I have indeed," he said.
It came after Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan hinted this week that the final cost to the taxpayer of Irish Nationwide's bailout could rise to more than €3bn -- well above the €2.7bn already announced.
Mr Fingleton, who was in charge of Irish Nationwide for almost 30 years until his retirement in April last year, would not comment on whether he "felt guilty" about what had happened.
"I've already made my comment. That's it. I can't say anymore. Thank you," he said in an interview with RTE.
Mr Fingleton also refused to say if he would pay back the €1m bonus he received just weeks after the Government introduced the €440bn state bank guarantee in September 2008.
"I've already made a full public statement on that, that you're fully aware of," he said.
Back in March last year, Mr Fingleton said he was entitled to the payment, but wanted to repay it "because of the effect on my family with a continuing 24-hour media siege on my home". But despite extensive correspondence with Irish Nationwide over the past year and a half, the bonus has not been repaid.
Fine Gael deputy finance spokesman Kieran O'Donnell said last night that ordinary people were looking at this situation while their jobs were at risk and their homes in negative equity. "That €1m is an outrageous figure and should be repaid," he said.
And he called for the Dail to be recalled from its summer break two weeks earlier than planned (back in early September rather than the end of September) so that the banking crisis and the potential renewal of the banking guarantee could be debated.
Mr Fingleton indicated last night that he was willing to account for his actions at the forthcoming banking inquiry by saying he would co-operate with any investigation.
"I've already co-operated -- and I'll continue to co-operate in every way I can," he said.
And he strongly defended his former building society's warehousing over an eight-year period of at least €87m in hidden Anglo Irish Bank loans to former Anglo chairman Sean FitzPatrick, who has now filed for bankruptcy.
"That's a matter under investigation, that'll be made very clear in due course, that we had no responsibility whatsoever for those loans," he said.
But Mr Fingleton would have had little choice but to appear before the soon-to-be established Commission of Inquiry, which will be specifically investigating what happened in Irish Nationwide as well as other financial institutions.
The Department of Finance confirmed last night that the commission would be able to force witnesses to attend, saying it had "certain compellability powers" under the Commission of Inquiry Act 2004.
Fine Gael's Kieran O'Donnell said he expected everyone to co-operate with the Commission of Inquiry.
"The Irish taxpayer is now footing the bill for the irresponsible and reckless actions that happened in terms of banking practices and they are entitled to a full account of what brought us here," he said.
One of the commission's specific terms of reference is to investigate why Irish Nationwide and Anglo Irish Bank adopted business models and strategies which were implemented by "senior management" and which "resulted in those institutions experiencing severe financial distress".
The building society he dominated for more than 30 years, Irish Nationwide, is now transferring €8.5bn of its €10bn commercial loan book to the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA).
NAMA applied a 58pc haircut to Nationwide's first tranche of toxic property loans, while a massive 72pc discount was applied to the second batch.