Daniel McConnell: €2m wasted on 'watchdogs' of public interest
The banks' cause is what these directors really fight for – we come second.
Shortly after 5pm on Saturday, October 25, 2008, an hour or so before the first edition of the Sunday Independent went to print, I was at my desk when my mobile phone rang. It was a private number. "Hello," I said. "Daniel, this is Brian Lenihan. I have something that might impact on your front page for tomorrow."
Just 24 hours after having signed the now infamous €440bn blanket bank guarantee into law, the then Finance Minister informed me that, in exchange for State support, the Government was to appoint what he called two public interest directors to each of the covered institutions – AIB, Bank of Ireland, Anglo Irish Bank, Irish Nationwide, Irish Life and Permanent and the EBS.
These people, he said, would be directors and would be appointed to the loan committees, credit committees, remuneration committees and risk committees of each bank concerned to ensure the "public interest would be fully protected".
These people would be experienced, hard-nosed business types who would take no s**t, he passionately articulated, and would defend the taxpayers' stake at every turn. As with many things Lenihan said during his time as Finance Minister, the sell was good; however, ultimately, the product turned out to be lousy.
Ultimately, some of those appointed included some political cronies, career civil servants and former ministers.
But recent disclosures about excessive pay levels and pension payoffs at the bailed-out banks, coupled with the fact that, under the rules, there is very little pressure that can be brought to bear on these defenders of the public interest, have led to accusations in the Dail from opposition TDs that some of this group have "gone native" and that the public interest has been sidelined.
Indeed, Lenihan later himself told me he had the same fears. "It was always a risk and I have fears that the appointees could go native," he conceded.
Last week, Lenihan's embattled successor, Michael Noonan, admitted by way of a response to a parliamentary question that the 12 public interest directors appointed have cost in excess of €2m in fees since their appointment.
Who are they and what have they done? According to the latest available figures, Former Fine Gael leader and minister turned chairman of IBRC (formerly Anglo Irish Bank) Alan Dukes – who also has an executive role – has been the highest paid.
He received €102,000 in fees in 2009, €127,000 in 2010 and €150,000 in 2011. In fairness to Dukes, he has previously said that he wanted to take a fee of € 112,500 this year, €100,000 below that set by the board.
Former Fianna Fail Finance Minister turned EU Commissioner, Ray MacSharry, was paid €181,000 in fees between 2009 and 2011 for being the public interest director at Irish Life & Permanent TSB. The figures showed his colleague and career civil servant Margaret Hayes was paid fees of €205,000.
His former party colleague and Minister for Agriculture Joe Walsh got €238,000 between 2009 and 2011 for being a public interest director at Bank of Ireland. Walsh is also chairman of the remuneration committee, which means he is directly responsible for the salaries of top staff, including CEO Richie Boucher, who is paid €623,000.
The other Lenihan appointee to BoI was a former Secretary General of the Department of Finance, Tom Considine, who was paid €259,000. Another political appointee was former Tanaiste Dick Spring, who has been a public interest director at AIB since 2009, for which he received €132,000 in fees up to the end of 2011.
The other appointee to AIB, former Dublin Airport Authority chief executive Declan Collier, was somewhat controversial. Collier had been paid a massive annual package in excess of €630,000 despite plummeting numbers and higher fees at the airport at the time of his appointment. Figures show he was paid €140,000 in fees until he resigned last June to take up his post as CEO of London City Airport. In the Educational Building Society, former AIB whistleblower Anthony Spollen was paid fees of €81,000 in that three-year period, with Ann Riordan receiving €82,000. Frank Daly, who along with Dukes sat on the Anglo Irish Bank board in 2009, was paid €98,000 in fees before he took up the post as chairman of Nama.
So what have all these luminaries done to actually earn their fat fees?
One would have to question whether they have been acting in the public interest. Since their appointment, the facts are that while the banks have hoovered up €64bn in capitalisation funds and continued to report multi-billion annual losses, they have introduced a raft of mortgage interest rate hikes affecting struggling families, while at the same time they sanctioned large bonuses and departing golden handshakes for senior bankers.
But since the recent furore over bankers' pay and pensions, first revealed by this newspaper two weeks ago, their role has once again come into focus.
Such is the disquiet among the opposition about their roles, that Mr Noonan was subjected to a host of questions from opposition TDs Pearse Doherty, his party leader Gerry Adams and independent Shane Ross in the Dail about their pay, their performance and the amount of times they have met.
"I understood when they were appointed, they were there to represent the public interest, to be the watchdog of the people. One of the most extraordinary things to come out is that Mr Walsh, a former cabinet minister, is chairman of the remuneration committee of the Bank of Ireland. Acting supposedly in the public interest, presiding over pay for Richie Boucher of €623,000 and approving it. So they don't just have a role in this thing, they approve them," Ross said.
But Noonan doesn't seem too bothered about their performance, stating definitively that their primary role is to act on behalf of the company.
Those nominated directors are essentially subject to the requirements of company law in the discharge of their duties, as any company director is in a bank.
In a response to me last week, Noonan admitted he'd had the bare minimum of contact with these public interest directors since taking office. Just one meeting with AIB directors Spring and Collier in May 2011, and just one meeting with MacSharry and Hayes in the same month, but no meeting with any of the Bank of Ireland public interest directors.
"The minister deals directly with the chairmen of the banks, not individual board members. The minister's officials meet with the officials and directors of the banks," he said. Noonan says his department held "generic briefing sessions" about their roles in late 2008, when they were being appointed.
Last weekend, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said the primary goal of these directors was to the bank they were appointed to, and their public interest duties were merely a "secondary responsibility". It was thought up by Lenihan that to guarantee their independence, public interest directors would not have to stand for regular re-election to their boards.
However, under company law, they have the same responsibility to companies as any other board member, calling into question what exactly their value as watchdogs for the State is.
So, if their primary role is not to act in the public interest, and they have little contact with the Minister that appointed them, what is the bloody point in having them there and why have we squandered €2m on them?
Public Interest Directors
Total fees paid between 2009 and 2011: €2m
Former FG leader and minister (now executive IBRC chairman), right; appointed Jan 2009; age 67; paid fees of €379,000
Former Labour leader and Tanaiste (AIB); age 60; appointed Dec 2008; paid €132,000
Former Secretary General of Department of Finance (BoI); age 67; appointed Jan 2009; paid €259,000
Former FF Minister for Agriculture (BoI); age 69; appointed Jan 2009; paid €238,000
Former Fianna Fail Finance Minister (IL&P), right, age 74; appointed Dec 2008; paid €181,000
Former Secretary General at Department of Trade and Tourism (IL&P); age 58; appointed Dec 2008; paid €205,000
Former Dublin Airport Authority CEO (AIB); age 56; appointed Jan 2009; paid €140,000 (resigned in June this year)
Former AIB whistleblower (EBS); age 66; appointed Dec 2008; paid €81,000 (resigned in June 2011)
Microsoft Ireland chief (EBS), right; age 65; appointed Jan 2009; paid €82,000 (resigned in June 2011)
Former NTMA boss (AIB) (government appointee as distinct from a public interest director); age 68; appointed Jan 2010; paid €248,000
Other former PIDs include: Frank Daly, Anglo director who became Nama chairman, €98,000; Rory Ferrall and Adrian Kearns, directors at Irish Nationwide. Both resigned in June 2011, both paid €109,000 each