Friday 26 December 2014

Fresh insight into the night that haunts us

Exclusive: Insider account of Guarantee meeting casts new light despite lack of Government notes

Daniel McConnell, Political Correspondent

Published 20/04/2014 | 02:30

The late Brian Lenihan with Brian Cowen
The late Brian Lenihan with Brian Cowen
Eugene Sheehy of AIB. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Former Bank of Ireland (BoI) chief executive Brian Goggin
Dermot Gleeson, former chairman of AIB
Richard Burrows

Not a single note from any civil servant or politician present on the night of the infamous bank guarantee meeting in Government Buildings exists in the Department of An Taoiseach.

This was the startling admission from the Government last night as detailed accounts from the four senior bankers who arrived at the building on the night of September 29 have emerged.

The bankers – former AIB chief executive Eugene Sheehy, his chairman Dermot Gleeson and their Bank of Ireland counterparts Brian Goggins and Richie Burrows – provided detailed accounts in 2010 about the roles they played in the meeting.

In stark contrast to the lack of any files about how the most important commercial decision in the history of the State was arrived at in Government – which ultimately cost the taxpayer €64bn – the bankers have revealed how they made detailed notes about the night's events.

In his account, Mr Gleeson said he "subsequently made a dictaphone recording of these events. A typed note was then produced from this recording. This note details the meeting of September 29, 2008, including attendance."

Mr Sheehy said he recorded a note of the meeting shortly afterwards, containing details of the people who attended and the discussion. He said his notes referred to threats to the system generally because of the weakness of Anglo and Irish Nationwide.

The emergence of their accounts come as the Sunday Independent today reveals previously unpublished testimony from a person present on the night.

This testimony portrays the former Finance Minister, the late Brian Lenihan, who was present that night as a "rookie minister" who was "completely out of his depth".

Facing the bankers that night in the Taoiseach's meeting room were the then Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Mr Lenihan, Central Bank Governor John Hurley, Financial Regulator Patrick Neary, and Dermot McCarthy, Secretary General of the Department of An Taoiseach.

Also there for most of the evening were David Doyle and Kevin Cardiff, the most senior officials at the Department of Finance and Attorney General Paul Gallagher. Other government officials and advisors also attended.

As the night progressed, according to the new testimony, Mr Lenihan was said to be "woefully indecisive".

The figure told the Sunday Independent: "Lenihan dithered all night and couldn't make up his mind. Highly agitated, he was deeply conflicted and didn't trust anyone in the room. He couldn't make up his f**king mind.

"He couldn't decide what to do – Cowen was always going to be the one who decided. Lenihan was lucky his party colleagues were not there to see him in action, because that night he showed himself to be no leader of men."

In contrast to Mr Lenihan, the new testimony confirms that Mr Cowen, having spoken to independent financial consultant Alan Gray by telephone, was the one who ultimately decided to issue the blanket bank guarantee.

The source added: "Cowen was clear from the outset. The bankers left and the politicians and a few advisors remained on to finalise the plan. Lenihan was out of his depth that night."

In the statements from the bankers, as revealed by Tom Lyons in Saturday's Irish Times, it emerged that BoI chairman Richie Burrows met with Central Bank Governor John Hurley 12 hours before the guarantee was issued.

However, Mr Hurley was reported as saying "there is very little he could do" to save Anglo Irish Bank.

Mr Burrows said he received a call from Mr Sean FitzPatrick, then chairman of Anglo Irish Bank. "At about noon he requested an urgent meeting with myself and Brian Goggin," Mr Burrows said.

"Mr FitzPatrick claimed that Anglo Irish Bank was not in a position to repay a credit facility or to roll it over.

"Mr FitzPatrick asked if Bank of Ireland would be interested in buying Anglo Irish Bank or any part of it," he added. Bank of Ireland rejected the approach.

Mr Burrows then met Mr Hurley and later spoke to Mr Gleeson in AIB and they agreed that a meeting with Government was needed.

In June 2012, Taoiseach Enda Kenny caused controversy when he suggested that files relating to the night of the guarantee may have been "shredded".

He told the Dail at the time: "I, as Taoiseach, am unable to find any file or shred of evidence in the Department of the Taoiseach. There is no file in the Department of the Taoiseach. . . It is either shredded or has been disposed of or dispatched of – in other words, the Government has no evidence of the discussion that took place."

A spokesman for Mr Kenny last night said: "A timeline of contacts around the night of the guarantee has nothing to do with files in the Department of An Taoiseach.

"The Taoiseach asked for the files on events leading up to the guarantee and there were none. Freedom of Information requests have shown there were no meaningful records."

A total of 146 records within Mr Kenny's department were identified as being relevant to the night of the guarantee, but most were withheld from being released by the Government.

Last night, Fianna Fail's Michael McGrath said that the emergence of the bankers' testimony highlights the need for the long-awaited banking inquiry to examine fully as to what happened on that night.

"It beggars belief that we are still awaiting the commencement of this statutory inquiry. A court trial into specific criminal charges is not a subsitute for that full inquiry into how such decisions were arrived at. These accounts from the bankers must surely form part of that inquiry," Mr McGrath told the Sunday Independent.

Sunday Independent

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