I WAS 15 months in the job but the old newspaper instincts of the previous 25 years were still stronger than I thought.
My first reflection on the evening was the very superficial and shallow thought that something very big was happening and the great world outside knew nothing of it. I had a very fleeting thought, of a kind one can get from staring too long at the train communication chord, that I could ring a few newsdesk numbers I still had off by heart and rack up a world exclusive.
It started just after 5pm on Monday, September 28, 2008, and there was an unusual amount of activity at Government Buildings where I then worked as a government press adviser. I was thinking of sneaking in a 'half day' and leaving for home when a group of people began to gather on the second floor close to the office of Taoiseach Brian Cowen for what turned out to be several hours of discussions.
These were senior officials from several departments and the Central Bank and many of them I recognised. Later, at 9pm, others arrived, including Eugene Sheehy and Dermot Gleeson from AIB and Bank of Ireland's Brian Goggin and Richard Burrows. I had recognised Gleeson and Burrows.
It was to be the evening of the now infamous and much criticised bank guarantee scheme, which Michael Noonan announced yesterday would end next month.
I have absolutely no special knowledge of the deliberations that followed and, even if I did, wouldn't be able to disclose them. One did not have to be a financial whizz to understand that the world's bank system was in chaos and our banks were especially vulnerable. It was clear the deliberations were taking place while money markets on this side of the world were closed.
For most of the evening I was in and out of the office of government press secretary Eoghan O Neachtain, who was busy discussing a draft press release. Many of the senior civil servants were fretful that the journalists would get wind of what was happening – but none of them ever did find out.
I left the building close to 1am. I kept in constant contact with O Neachtain and there was a flurry at 2am when my boss John Gormley could not be contacted.
He had been closely involved in talks throughout the previous days but kept all details to himself then and later. As luck would have it, his mobile phone ran out of power and it took a garda visit to his home to get him to telephone the Taoiseach.
There followed a so-called incorporeal cabinet meeting where the bank guarantee was agreed by telephone. Later, many felt an actual cabinet meeting would have been better, at least optics-wise.
At 6am, O Neachtain called to inform me of the press release that was about to be issued to an unsuspecting world. He pushed the button at about 6.45am and sent the statement to all the leading news organisations.
I was back in the office before 9am and the ministers assembled for cabinet. The general reaction was very good. But, we did not realise that things had begun to spin out of control.
John Downing was deputy government press secretary, working for the Green Party from 2007-2011