Lise Hand: Three monkeys hear, see, speak no sense while we all go bananas
ULSTER Says No. It has no idea how the chaos happened, no clue as to exactly how many people are unable to access their money and most definitely no notion of discussing in public anything to do with the payment of bonuses.
Such is the bad odour in which the Ulster Bank is held at the moment by at least half of its 1.1 million customers across the country that one almost expected a smell of sulphur rising from its CEO Jim Brown when he entered committee room four in Leinster House yesterday to explain just what the dickens has been going on in the bank for almost three weeks now.
Certainly, he and his two colleagues -- Chris Sullivan from the parent bank, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Ulster Bank's Jim Ryan -- had a bucketload to explain.
And the various TDs and senators of the Oireachtas Finance Committee were (ahem) banking on getting some answers -- most of them had been dealing with distressed constituents unable to access their funds.
Alas for all concerned, it seemed that it wasn't the Three Wise Men who showed up, but the Three Monkeys who Hear, See and Speak No Evil. In short, the trio were doing their best impression of knowing the square-root of bugger all.
Chris Sullivan admitted that they still didn't know exactly what had caused the systems meltdown, but that there would be a thorough investigation.
Committee chairman, Labour's Alex White badgered the three men to state if reports that the staff numbers at the centre in Edinburgh where the problem had occurred had recently been halved from 60 to 30.
Mr Sullivan dodged and weaved, but Alex was stuck to his trouser-leg. "So you don't know?" he persisted. "Correct," conceded a sheepish Sullivan. Neither did either of the two Jims know.
Some of the committee were openly frustrated at the answers given by the three men, whose collective knowledge appeared to have more holes than a wheel of Swiss cheese.
Hackles rose fastest when the issue of Jim Brown's salary and bonus was raised. The Ulster Bank boss flatly refused to divulge if he planned to take a bonus this year.
"I don't know if I will get a bonus or not," he said.
When pressed as to whether he would accept one if it was offered, he said: "I will make that decision at the end of the year."
A barrage of criticism was then hurled at Bonus Brown -- it would be "astounding" and "unacceptable" and "beyond belief" if he pocketed a packet.
The Ulster Bank CEO also shrugged off calls for his resignation from Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty, stating: "My focus right now is getting the bank back to normal as quickly as possible."
But shortly afterwards Bonus Brown had a change of heart. He issued a brief statement, confirming that he had informed the bank "I do not wish to be considered for an annual bonus award in 2012".
He should never have considered it in the first place, of course.
But welcome to the Real World, Mr Banker -- it's life, Jim, but not as you know it.