Friday 30 September 2016

Why Banking Inquiry is no more than the show trial of Brian Cowen

The Coalition's election ploy looks set to backfire, but will Eamon Gilmore be man enough to withdraw 'treason' slur, asks Jody Corcoran

Published 10/05/2015 | 02:30

Brian Cowen
Brian Cowen

The Banking Inquiry looks like turning out to be what many always suspected it to be from the moment it was set up - the show trial of Brian Cowen.

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So far, various bankers, who must hold primary responsibility for what was, after all, a banking collapse, have been called to give an account of where it all went wrong.

They have been in and out in short order, having delivered of themselves various well-rehearsed expressions of regret. In terms of illumination, however - well, so far, that has been in short supply.

The former Taoiseach and former minister for finance Brian Cowen has been pencilled in for not one or even two, but no less than four sessions this July.

Now, I regard Brian Cowen to be a friend of mine, so I should put that on the record - although the fact of it is we have not met or spoken for almost two years.

There is no doubt his evidence will be interesting, however - insofar as it goes; but it is doubtful he will stray too far from what many already know to be the case about the two key issues: the blanket bank guarantee and subsequent decision not to burn bondholders.

Any examination of these events, without the input of several key figures, and with other bankers trotted in and out to deliver carefully-calibrated apologies, makes total nonsense of the supposed good intentions of the inquiry.

The proof of this came recently, when Jean-Claude Trichet honoured the inquiry with his presence to answer pre-submitted questions from a lofty perch, in the warm embrace of Ireland's pre-eminent Europhiles and in direct contradiction of almost everything we feel certain to be true.

The manner in which he presented himself as a bosom buddy of Brian Lenihan is what I found to be most objectionable, although I am sure M Trichet would still maintain otherwise.

If he did, I would not believe him.

Regardless of the former ECB president's evidence, there are certain things I know to be true about Brian Cowen, based on, yes, character, and a cast-iron certainty that he is no traitor, and never was and never will be guilty of "economic treason" as Eamon Gilmore has claimed - Mr Gilmore, of all people, who buckled, as he always would, when votes were in the bag and he finally came up against the might of Frankfurt.

Mr Gilmore is now irrelevant, discarded by his own party when the Syriza-style falsehoods of Labour were finally exposed for what they were - vacuous populism one step short of downright lies.

At issue still, however, is the show trial that Fine Gael has put on, wilfully timed in advance of what seems more likely to be an autumn election. It is my view that the show trial will backfire.

I have no firm idea what Brian Cowen will say to the Banking Inquiry, other than, from what I am told, he intends to be well prepared for this moment he has been waiting for and is said to be looking forward to the event. Good for him.

I am told he has been meeting with his advisers for weeks now in preparation. In fact, I suspect that was where he was coming from when he was harangued on the streets of Dublin recently as he returned to his car in an office district.

He was called a "scumbag", among other things - which is not as bad as being accused of "economic treason" for a man who has made a virtue of patriotism as has Brian Cowen.

You can take it from me that he is neither a scumbag nor a traitor, but a good man who was under intense pressure at the centre of an extraordinary set of circumstances.

If you do not believe me in relation to that - and frankly, I do not care whether you do or not - then maybe you might like to believe Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar.

Both men made pronouncements a few years ago, which have not been repeated because, politically, it does not suit either to do so; but their comments go to the heart of the matter when Brian Cowen found himself having to make decisions to guarantee the banks and to resile from burning bondholders.

In June 2012, a year after he was elected Taoiseach, Enda Kenny believed he had negotiated in Brussels a deal to break the link between bank and sovereign debt.

You may recall him dashing from a summit, his open topcoat flapping at the potential breakthrough moment of it all.

Mr Kenny called the so-called deal a "seismic shift" and Mr Gilmore called it a "game-changer".

Three years on, in that regard at least, the game has not changed.

When the so-called deal looked dead before the ink had dried, Mr Kenny was forced to embark on a tour of Europe's capitals that autumn after Angela Merkel had caused consternation by appearing to rule out retrospective recapitalisation of Ireland's banks.

In Paris on Monday, October 22, 2012, Mr Kenny gave an account which had the ring of truth.

He said: "Ireland was the first and only country which had a European position imposed upon it, in the sense that there wasn't the opportunity, if the Government wished, to do it their way by burning bondholders.

"The Irish public and Irish taxpayer were required to service the full extent of the debt."

And when Michael Noonan's turn to burn the bondholders came and also went, this is what Leo Varadkar had to say of the ECB: "What they've said really is that - 'It's on your head. We don't want you to default on these payments. It is your decision ultimately. But a bomb will go off, and the bomb will go off in Dublin, not in Frankfurt."

In other words, the man who had accused Brian Cowen of "economic treason", Eamon Gilmore, had discovered the hard way what some of us always knew to be true anyway - that it was going to be Frankfurt's way.

In due course, of more interest than anything which may emerge at the Banking Inquiry will be whether Mr Gilmore is man enough to withdraw the outrageous slur he cast upon Brian Cowen's good name before he too scurries from Leinster House, with a comfortable six-figure pension his reward.

Sunday Independent

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