Wednesday 24 May 2017

Meet the economic experts Enda is relying on to shape our future

The Taoiseach and his Government have a small group of financial gurus they look to for guidance as the financial crisis deepens. Siobhan Creaton identifies the key players on Enda Kenny's speed dial

Andrew McDowell

•The Taoiseach's economic adviser will be one of the first members of the Government's 'brains trust' to be called. The low-profile economist is regarded as the man who won the election for Fine Gael because of his drafting of its election manifesto last year. Mr McDowell convenes the Government's Economic Management Committee, which comprises the Taoiseach, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and the Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin. The committee meets up to twice a week and is very powerful.

Mr McDowell has been described as a "huge source of intellectual rigour and ideas". He is also said to have impressive international contacts.

Patrick Honohan

•The Central Bank governor was summoned for emergency sessions with Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald in the 1980s when AIB almost collapsed. A bad investment in an insurance company, the Insurance Corporation of Ireland, almost toppled the bank then and Mr Honohan advised on a controversial bailout that saved it from ruin. The former economics professor is well regarded for his integrity and ability, but also has the capacity to be a bit of a loose cannon.

Mr Honohan will be remembered as the person who did a solo run to confirm to the nation on the radio last November that we were bankrupt and would be taking a massive bailout. With Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his ministers all denying it, he showed leadership and went over the Government's head to tell the public what was really going on.

His appointment to the Central Bank last year broke the tradition of giving this post to the top Finance Department official, so in that sense he is a bit of an outsider there.

As a board member of the European Central Bank, the governor is in tune with the thinking in Berlin. This is where his influence will be crucial for Ireland.

Matthew Elderfield

•One of the big plusses in the Financial Regulator's favour is that he is an outsider. He doesn't share the same old school tie as any of the bank chiefs, politicians or civil servants. This puts him at a healthy distance from them, as a regulator should be.

Mr Elderfield came to Dublin from Bermuda last year to clean the place up. And so far he has made great strides. He is a good communicator, with a calm delivery and unflappable demeanour, and has made a good impression. He is viewed as very knowledgeable and with the ability to be tough on the bankers.

A graduate of Cambridge University, he introduced a wide range of reforms to bolster Bermuda's international reputation as a financial sector during his two years there.

Mr Elderfield has introduced new probity tests for bank directors in an effort to break the golden circle that has existed for so long in this country. And, as regulator, he has overseen the stress tests and the recapitalisation of the banks and has played a central part in trying to restore Ireland's credibility in the financial sector.

John Corrigan

•The National Treasury Management Agency boss has been a core member of the group dealing with Ireland's unfolding debt crisis. John Corrigan was part of the late Brian Lenihan's 'war Cabinet' and on the team that negotiated the bailout deal last year. He also helped to establish the National Pension Reserve Fund in 2001, which provided some of the funds to invest in AIB and Bank of Ireland at the height of the crisis.

Mr Corrigan succeeded Michael Somers in 2009 and had been the number two executive there for many years. He was recently embroiled in the fiasco over the missing €3.6bn with suggestions the massive error went undetected by the Finance Department for so long because of tensions between Mr Corrigan and its secretary general, Kevin Cardiff.

Mr Corrigan would normally be kept busy raising money for the country on the international bond markets and hopes to be back doing that again soon. The NTMA team regularly meets international investors to brief them on Ireland's economic progress. His job is more difficult now because big blue-chip investors won't be investing in a country in such financial dire straits.

New Secretary General of the Department of Finance

•The department has kicked-off the recruitment process to find a successor to Kevin Cardiff for its top job. It hopes to hire the new secretary general early next year and this person will play an influential role in all top-level government decisions. It has advertised for someone with a "proven track record of significant achievement as a leader and senior manager" in the public or private sector. Some of the senior officials, such as the second secretaries Jim O'Brien and Anne Nolan, may throw their hat in the ring, as well as the head of bank restructuring, John Moran.

Irish Independent

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