Saturday 27 May 2017

Sorry is hardest word in Seanie's shed

But the former Anglo chief is said to have borne up well during his sojourn in the Garda station, says Ronald Quinlan

I'M standing in Sean FitzPatrick's garden shed. It's not your average shed. For a start, it has a burglar alarm on the outside. On the inside, meanwhile, there are few of the gardening tools or the bags of compost one would normally expect to find.

But still, there is little space for myself and the former Anglo Irish Bank chairman to conduct our conversation.

All around us, stacked from the floor to the ceiling, there are the cardboard filing boxes that Seanie has been busily arranging prior to my early-morning visit.

He looks a little surprised to find me standing there, given that I had already called around to see him only the previous afternoon (again unannounced) to ask him what he had to say about the implosion of Anglo.

"Good morning Sean. Doing a bit?"

Seanie takes a sip of tea from a fine bone china cup before placing it carefully back down on a tray which sits atop of one the filing boxes.

"There is something I meant to ask you yesterday. I've been kicking myself that I didn't. It's this. Will you say sorry to the taxpayer and to the shareholders in Anglo Irish Bank?"

Keen for a quote, I have my tape recorder to hand, but Sean FitzPatrick isn't ready to be taped just yet.

Pausing once more to take a genteel sip from his tea, he begins to explain his difficulty with the word 'sorry'.

"That's a simple question, but the answer isn't. What if I were to invite you, Ronald, to sit down here with me for a cup of tea and a chat. And what if, in the course of our conversation, you were to have a cigarette. And when you were finished with your cigarette, you were to throw the butt on the floor and this shed burned to the ground. Could I ask you to say 'sorry'?"

"You could ask me, and I would apologise," I respond immediately, while marvelling at Seanie's notions of blame and how it should be apportioned.

"Well, why would I ask you to apologise? It wasn't you who burned my shed down. It was the cigarette," he replies, perhaps revealing just a little of the world according to Sean FitzPatrick.

"Now," he says, pointing to my tape recorder so that I can press the 'record' button. "You have a question for me."

It's January 24, 2009, and just four days since Anglo Irish Bank, has been nationalised.

I ask him what he has to say to the bank's shareholders, many of whom have seen their life savings wiped out with the collapse in the institution's share price.

Clearing his throat gently, he says: "I've got great sympathy for the shareholders in all the banks in Ireland, including Anglo Irish Bank."

Asked for his reaction to the nationalisation of the bank, Mr FitzPatrick adds: "It's a very sad day, but there's really nothing else I have to say on that."

Responding to the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan's statement that he would be compelled to repay the monies he had borrowed by way of his director's loans, he says: "Of course. If I borrowed money, I do intend to pay it back."

And that's all he has really had to say on the burning

issues surrounding Anglo Irish Bank, until last Thursday morning, of course, when the gardai arrived and started to ask him some significant questions of their own.

While the Garda Fraud Squad's 6.30am door-knocks might fluster the vast majority of those they seek to question as part of their investigations, it won't have discommoded Sean FitzPatrick that much when they arrived at his home in Greystones at that early hour.

He's an early riser as a matter of lifelong habit, and has been known to tee off on the golf course as early as 7am, even on weekends.

The arrival of detectives, while anticipated by the FitzPatrick family for several weeks now, is nonetheless said to have taken the former banker by surprise, representing as it did something of a new low in his continuing fall from the privileged position he previously enjoyed at the head of Ireland's banking class.

Quite apart from Seanie's shock, the arrival of gardai is understood to have caused great distress to Mr FitzPatrick's wife, Triona, and their daughter, Sarah, who were present in the house at the time.

With the 61-year-old career banker taken to Bray garda station for questioning in relation to his activities as former chairman and former chief of Anglo, a number of fraud squad personnel stayed on at his Whitshed Road home to conduct a search for evidence.

Such was the stream of official traffic in and out of the newly installed electronically controlled entrance gates, a technician was called shortly after 9am to carry out repairs when they seized up.

Looking on at gardai as they carried out three computer hard drives and countless boxes of files from the house, I couldn't help but ask myself why they hadn't been there long before now.

And as they marched in and out of Sean FitzPatrick's family home, I wondered also if they had bothered to look inside his garden shed, or indeed in the other house he owns, which backs directly on to his rear garden.

Down at Bray garda station meanwhile, Sean FitzPatrick was already into the first few of the near 24 hours of questioning he would undergo with fraud squad investigators.

Given my own experience of Seanie and his ability to weave the English language in his own inimitable way, it came as little surprise to learn that his day-long engagement with the gardai was a relatively convivial affair, notwithstanding the circumstances surrounding their meeting.

Confident and self-assured and at pains to be helpful with their enquiries, but a long way from any admission of wrongdoing on his part is how garda sources describe Sean FitzPatrick's demeanour throughout the 30 hours he was in custody last Thursday and Friday.

Little wonder then that the career banker's lead solicitor Michael Staines came and left the station within 40 minutes last Friday morning, leaving his junior to sit in with the banker for the last six hours of his questioning by gardai.

While Mr FitzPatrick fielded questions in an interview room in the modern wing of the garda station, four fraud squad detectives were installed elsewhere in a conference room in the original building where they sifted through the boxes of material taken from the former Anglo chief's family home in Thursday morning's dawn raid.

Having endured the discomfort of a night in a cell, Seanie is understood to have borne up well enough to assist gardai for the final six hours of his stint in detention.

Mr FitzPatrick's wife, Triona, on the other hand is said to have spent a difficult night without the company of her husband at the family home. It is understood that a number of the FitzPatricks' neighbours called to her to offer her words of comfort.

While an immaculately-attired, albeit visibly weary, Sean FitzPatrick was released from garda custody shortly before 2pm last Friday, he didn't arrive home until 7.20pm that evening.

Clearly keenly aware of the media's presence outside his Greystones home, the wily banker did not return in the 01-registered Volkswagen Golf that his son, David, had picked him up in just over five hours earlier.

Rather, Mr FitzPatrick arrived back in a Toyota jeep driven by his gardener of many years' standing.

Fiercely loyal to his friend and employer, the gardener (who lives locally) politely informed me that Mr FitzPatrick was not at home when I called to the house just minutes later.

Not that Sean FitzPatrick's reluctance to receive me so soon after his release from garda custody will cause me any offence.

Indeed, the former Anglo Irish Bank chairman didn't appear to be of a mind to entertain even his closest friends or former colleagues.

It was just after 7.30pm when two men arrived on foot to the gates of the FitzPatrick family home. One of them looked familiar.

Drawing up at the kerbside, I rolled down my window to inquire after their business

"Mr Butler?"

"Yes, that's him on the phone," the man standing nearest to my car said.

As I suspected, it was Peter Butler -- the recently retired head of Anglo Irish Bank's wealth management division-- who was buzzing on the FitzPatricks' intercom and talking on his mobile phone.

"Have you come to see Mr FitzPatrick?" I asked.

"Yes, he's here to see Sean if he can," Mr Butler's helpful friend confirmed.

"That's all right then. Have a good evening."

Driving away down Whitshed Road, I could see Mr Butler walking away from the FitzPatricks' gate in my rear view mirror. No joy for him with Seanie either then, I thought to myself.

Sunday Independent

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