Friday 26 August 2016

Shane Ross: Joe, you have let me down

Published 22/07/2012 | 05:00

To Joe Walsh

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'Public interest' director

Bank of Ireland,

Mespil Road,

Dublin 4

July 22, 2012

DEAR Joe, Sorry we have not met since you left the Dail back in 2007 but I have followed your career closely. I regret we never had the chance to serve the nation together in the lower chamber. Nevertheless I enjoyed our short time shared as senators before you moved on to the dizzy heights of being a successful Fianna Fail Minister for Agriculture.

Since you left the Dail, you have proved there is life after politics.

I have to admit to being pretty puzzled when, soon after your departure from Leinster House, the Fianna Fail government elevated you to a highly sensitive position in one of Ireland's crumbling banks.

I was at a loss to see what contribution that you, a former agriculture minister, could offer as a Bank of Ireland director, but for old times' sake I bit my lip. The Fianna Fail government must have spotted some hidden talent in you that the rest of us never recognised.

Fianna Fail handed you one of the plum appointments in its gift and parachuted you into the €79,000 a year part-time job as a "public interest" director.

After watching you in office for three-and-a-half years, I am disappointed. As a small shareholder and a taxpayer, I can still not see that special spark of genius spotted by Fianna Fail, certainly not one to justify the €300,000 you have already taken from the State and shareholders -- in the public interest.

Joe, last week I found out that you are on the Bank of Ireland Nominations Committee. That means that you were part of the cabal that selected the new Bank of Ireland governor Archie Kane, last month.

Kane is a bizarre choice. Perhaps as a "public interest" director, you could tell the public how much you knew about Kane when you selected him? Did you interview him? What questions did you ask him, if any? Did you meet for a liquid lunch in the House of Lords in College Green, or was it a bare knuckle interview?

Joe, you will understand why I am worried when I tell you what happened in the Dail on Thursday. At Leaders' Questions, I asked Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore what he and your other patrons in the Government knew about Mr Kane's pedigree when he was appointed. I was wondering what you and the board had related to the Cabinet about the record of the man who was taking the helm at the B of I -- in which the Government has a 15 per cent stake.

Mr Gilmore, astonishingly, admitted that he was not "informed about the governor's background".

He said I should ask Finance Minister Michael Noonan. I had. A week earlier a spokesman at Finance conceded that Noonan had played no part in the selection. He had merely received a courtesy call from Kane. Just like old times, the Bank of Ireland had delivered a fait accompli to the Government.

Gilmore's was a staggering admission. Archie might as well have been Al Capone. However, the governor's "background" is fascinating .

Well Joe, the next question is: "Were you yourself informed of his background?"

You are on the Nominations Committee. And you receive a special fee for carrying this burden.

Did not the amber lights start flashing when you heard that Archie came from the stinking Lloyds TSB stable -- a bank that is today under a dark cloud?

Did you ask the obvious question why Archie had suddenly departed as a director of Lloyds TSB last year? Did no one whisper the dreaded words "Payment Protection Insurance" (PPI) or that Archie was the director in charge of PPI when Lloyds' mis-selling of the product was at its height?

Did you realise that Archie had lost nearly €250,000 of his bonus because of the mis-selling scandal in the division of Lloyds under his stewardship? Did no one tell you that governor Archie was held "accountable", if not culpable, by Lloyds?

Bankers almost never lose bonuses. Archie did. Archie is unique for all the wrong reasons.

Did no one tell you that Lloyds was forced to provide €3.2bn to compensate victims of this insurance scam, that the mighty Lloyds tumbled into losses as a result of this gigantic black hole?

If they did tell you, what did you as a "public interest" member of the Nominations Committee do to convey your concerns to the Government? If you did not know, you should resign.

Indeed Joe, Archie's dismal past is just one Google search away.

Surely Joe -- as a bank director -- you can smell the toxic sulphur suffocating the one-time blue-chip names like Lloyds, Barclays and HSBC?

You are no doubt aware of the investigation into the rigging of Libor in the UK and that Lloyds TSB is on the suspect list?

You are no doubt equally aware that B of I is not alone in being infected by overseas probes. Your rival AIB faces serious embarrassment following the revelation that a US regulatory inquiry into money laundering at HSBC has named AIB chairman David Hodgkinson as being aware of these practices when working at HSBC. Michael Noonan, astonishingly, doesn't seem to mind very much.

Joe, you were parachuted into the Bank of Ireland to put an end to insiders being spirited onto its board. You have failed. The banking brotherhood is still looking after its own. They are working under the same old rules. You are allowing them to.

You and the other "public interest" director, former Department of Finance Secretary Tom Considine, seem to have gone native.

The Bank of Ireland board shares uncannily close links with Lloyds TSB. Earlier this year a man by the name of Kent Atkinson was put on the B of I board. Kent just happens to have sprung from exactly the same stinking stable as Archie. Both are Lloyds Bank lifers. Kent was Lloyds group finance director from 1994 to 2002, overlapping with Archie's time as group insurance director. It will be nice for the two loyalists from Lloyds to renew their old friendship at their monthly meetings in College Green. How cosy.

The Lloyds link thickens. Dennis Holt, last year's retiring B of I deputy governor spent 30 years at Lloyds TSB.

The sullied name of Lloyds TSB keeps popping up in the Bank of Ireland context.

Would you believe it? Dennis, Archie and Kent all served together on the Lloyds Bank board a few years ago.

Joe, you have not served the public interest well as a "public interest" director. You have acquiesced in the appointment of another insider to the top job at Bank of Ireland. We expected no better from the banking brethren. We expected more from you.

The old BoI board has now been replaced by new bankers with equally flawed pedigrees.

Joe, you appointed Archie. Please resign now -- and take the governor with you.

Your old friend,

Shane Ross, Dail Eireann

(PS: Ruth sends warm regards. She asked me not to post this letter. She fondly remembers the lavish dinner you had together when she was writing her restaurant column and you were her guest in Dobbin's. On mature recollection, she says the occasion is even more memorable because she remembers so very little of it.)

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