Taoiseach: I have not betrayed my country
Published 01/04/2010 | 05:00
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen hit back angrily last night at claims he is guilty of an "act of economic treason" over his handling of the banking crisis.
A clearly shaken Mr Cowen launched an emotional defence of his political reputation, insisting he had always acted in the interests of the country and not vested interests when making his banking decisions.
And he fumed -- to applause from his Fianna Fail backbenchers in the Dail -- that he would never accuse another Irish person of an act of treason.
The Taoiseach's raw and impassioned response followed Labour leader Eamon Gilmore's claim that the state guarantee had been introduced for Anglo Irish Bank, "a rotten bank that acted as a piggy bank for property speculators" to "save the skins" of some individuals connected to Fianna Fail.
"If my belief is correct, and I have not been convinced to the contrary, then that decision is an act of economic treason for which this country is now paying very dearly," Mr Gilmore said during the highly charged Dail debate.
Some €4bn has already been invested in the nationalised Anglo Irish Bank, and up to €18.3bn is now set to follow under Tuesday's recapitalisation announcement.
Opposition parties have now urged the Government to wind down the bank, claiming taxpayers are being saddled with €22,000 of debt for every man woman and child in the country for the Anglo Irish arrangement alone.
The September 2008 decision to introduce the guarantee for Anglo Irish Bank was taken not in the best interests of the nation but in the "best personal interests of those vested interests" the Government was trying to protect, the Labour leader claimed.
His voice quivering with emotion, Mr Cowen hit back, claiming that in his 25 years in politics, he had never been beholden to anyone.
"Any decision I ever made in the privileged position I hold in this, or any other office, has been in the best interests of my country as I saw it," he said.
"I will not be accused of seeking to cause treason to my country. I find that beyond the Pale."
In the aftermath of Tuesday's announcement to inject up to €18.3bn into Anglo Irish Bank, the opposition parties turned the heat on the Taoiseach's period as Finance Minister and as incoming Taoiseach in 2008.
But Mr Cowen insisted any decision he had ever made in office had been in the interests of the country and taxpayers.
"I want to assure you, whether you agree with them or not, be under no illusion about the motivations that moved me to make them," Mr Cowen told the Labour leader.
"I'd never come into this House and accuse another Irish man of what you accuse me."
Mr Gilmore urged the Taoiseach to publish all the advice and information on which the government decision was made to unconditionally include Anglo Irish Bank within the terms of the blanket bank guarantee.
By publishing the documents, the "veil of secrecy" would be lifted on the events of September 2008.
Taxpayers, he argued, were entitled to know the basis on which the decision to include Anglo Irish Bank was made.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny also attempted to link the Taoiseach directly to the banking crisis. He claimed that lack of regulation and oversight by Mr Cowen while Finance Minister had caused the "cataclysmic financial consequence" for every person in the country.
"How does he defend protecting the interests of the Irish taxpayer and protecting the stability of the Irish economy in his time to date as Finance Minister and as Taoiseach when it is clear he oversaw this spiralling and out-of-control situation, and when he has asked the taxpayer to take on the private debts organised and raised by Sean FitzPatrick and his crew?" Mr Kenny said.
But Mr Cowen accused Mr Kenny of attempting to rewrite history and of attacking his "personal integrity".