Shane Ross: 'Is this conversation being recorded?'
Published 07/10/2012 | 05:00
THE scene: AIB HQ Bank Centre, Ballsbridge. In the boardroom, taking a telephone call, is former Labour Party leader and AIB 'Public Interest' director Dick Spring. On the line is Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore.
Eamon: "Morning, Dick."
Dick: "Hi there, Eamon. I was about to ring you. What a terrible week you had with that wretch Roisin. Reminds me of the days when the old Left and the unions were giving me grief.
"I wanted to warn you not to back Dr Reilly. I never trusted a man with a beard, even Ruairi. David Begg and Jack O'Connor have the country ruined. The bearded brethren made my life hell when I was leader. And now you turn up backing a Fine Gael man with a red beard. I thought you had more sense."
Eamon: "That is not why I rang, Dick. I wondered . . ."
Dick: "Another word of warning. You were on the money taking the Foreign Affairs ministry. Like I did when I was Tanaiste. It's a doddle. Little legislation. No tricky Dail questions. Plenty of travel. Lots of time to see the world.
"But you must watch your back. Roisin buried you when you were stranded out at the UN in New York throwing shapes, seeking global glory. You looked a complete corpse being interviewed from the US, spoofing on about how you backed the bearded boy from Balbriggan."
Eamon: "I want your help. A favour . . ."
Dick: "Anything I can do, comrade."
Eamon: ". . . in your AIB role. The 'Public Interest' director gig you hold could come in handy, after all. Would you please take a message to the board: hold off on the hike in interest rates.
"The 0.5 per cent rise in the standard variable rate last week is a political time bomb. My backbenchers are already bleating about Roisin. I need a bone to throw to them."
Dick: "Tell your backbenchers to take a hike. The board of AIB is an independent commercial body. We are trying to return to profit. We do as we like and are in no mood for instructions from elected politicians. If I told them that you were getting frisky, they would laugh me to scorn.
"I hate to tell you, but governments are still regarded with scorn by bankers. The AIB board will not be taking orders from you.
Eamon: "But Dick, you yourself are the Government's anointed. Public Interest directors are there to protect the people. The board appears to have gone walkabout. The Cabinet cannot tolerate you -- of all people -- going native."
Dick: "Are you threatening me, Eamon?"
Eamon: "No, no, of course not. You will remain on the board for as long as I am Tanaiste."
Dick: "And for a lot longer, actually. I do not have to stand for re-election."
Eamon: "Good God, I'd forgotten that you had an eternal mandate. Good, good. No re-election necessary for you PIDs. The Labour Party needs more of that sort of thing. Our problem, Dick, is the word on the ground that AIB's 0.5 per cent hike is hitting our supporters hard. They are the same people living in the same houses that will be clobbered by property tax in the Budget. The same people whose child benefit we will cut.
"Do you know that a family with a €300,000 mortgage will pay an extra €1,080 a year after your AIB mortgage increase? Many will be unable to pay the new mortgage. Labour will be decimated."
Dick: "Tough. The AIB board makes its own independent decisions. We will not allow government interference. You are acting as though you own the bank."
Eamon: "We do. The Irish people own nearly 100 per cent of AIB. The opposition and the media are suggesting that we socialists are intimidated by bankers.
"Advise me: what am I to tell our suffering supporters? They are asking the embarrassing question about how we hope to solve the mortgage debt meltdown while raising the rates to punters.
"There is no answer. What we are doing is madness. It will put borrowers further into arrears. Your decision to raise rates may be good for bankers, but it is insanity for Labour."
Dick: "It will improve the look of our balance sheets. We are not worried about your political futures. I lost my seat. So will you."
Eamon: "Okay, but as an old comrade, advise me, how can I salvage an iota of credibility? The Government is again becoming the tool of the bankers, allowing your colleagues in AIB to put borrowers into penury."
Dick: "There is only one answer. Do what you do best, Eamon. Do your outrage bit.
"Remember those hissy fits you had when you were in opposition? Remember how your explosion ended the political career of John O'Donoghue? That was vintage Gilmore. Remember how you used to rail about stroke politics?"
Eamon: "A bit difficult to do this week with Reilly still in situ. Roisin has cornered the market in outrage. But who should I rail against?"
Dick: "Against bankers. We will forgive you. We understand your posturing."
Eamon: "Impossible, we will be ridiculed. We caved in to the bankers after the election."
Dick: "The bondholders?"
Eamon: "Can't. We paid them a billion last week."
Eamon: "No chance. We need to love-bomb Angela now. We will lose our debt deal if we give Angela any lip."
Dick: "You have lost that deal anyway."
Eamon: "I know. Is this conversation being recorded?"
Dick: "Eamon, do what I did. Look to the future. I was a socialist too. But look where I am now. I'm a banker. I'm a director of Fexco financial services and of Alder Capital. I was even a director of Eircom until it was sold.
"Look to a career on the boardroom circuit. Work your global contacts from the Foreign Affairs brief. There is always room for an agreeable socialist on the board of companies paying juicy fees to non-executives.
"You could pocket a Dail pension of €71,000 like mine, and pick up boardroom gigs in case 70 grand from the taxpayer is not enough to keep you in your old age.
"Did you notice last week how I hadn't given any of my pension back to the State? What you need, Eamon, is a bit of backbone. And a few crumbs from the capitalist table. Socialism has its uses."
Eamon: "You mean if I play my cards well I too could become a well-paid PID?"
Dick: "Why not? Look, other ex-politicians' banking talents are recognised. Ray MacSharry is on the board of Irish Life. Joe Walsh is a director at Bank of Ireland. Play the game, you'll be rewarded."
Eamon: "Would I be considered?"
Dick: "You could be my successor here in Bank Centre, Eamon. There are no vacancies today because we appointed Tom Foley last month. Tom is a great guy, another ex-banker, an insider. Now off you go, brazen out the interest rate hike. Face down the backbenchers. Forget about the suffering. You have a bright future."
Sunday Indo Business