Friday 19 July 2019

Enda Kenny in tough banking inquiry exchanges over briefing claims

Enda Kenny (left) blamed Bertie Ahern for the banking crisis
Enda Kenny (left) blamed Bertie Ahern for the banking crisis

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has denied he secretly briefed Anglo Irish Bank executives over rumours about the rogue lender's future in the weeks before it was nationalised.

In tough exchanges at the Oireachtas banking inquiry, the Taoiseach rejected claims in emails that he passed information to the toxic bank's chief financial officer and fellow Castlebar native Matt Moran in 2008.

"I made a call because I was asked to make a call and that he had something to say to me," Mr Kenny said.

"In any event I had no conversation of any substance with Mr Moran."

The inquiry heard claims the then opposition leader called Mr Moran on November 17 and 18 2008 to brief him on rumours of how the bust lender was to be dealt with in the wake of the 440 billion euro bank guarantee.

The Taoiseach said he only picked up the phone after Mr Moran's brother Michael, a Castlebar businessman, asked him to.

Emails purportedly from inside Anglo and published by the Sunday Independent in 2013 were read into the record by Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty.

One claims the then-Fine Gael leader told the executive that the rogue lender was to be turned into "an offshoot of Bank of Ireland" while another suggestion was that a deal was being planned between Anglo and the then-Irish Life & Permanent.

Mr Kenny said: "It was never my business to be in contact with senior members of banks in the first place.

"I made the call because I was asked to do it by his brother.

"I reject that assertion, or the allegations in that newspaper report, or that email completely."

The Taoiseach said he had one boardroom meeting in 2008 with seven or eight Anglo executives, including then chief executive David Drumm, at the Stephen's Green headquarters where a presentation was given that claimed the lender would come out of the recession fitter than any other.

Before being challenged on his associations with Anglo bankers, the Taoiseach used his opening statement at the inquiry to level swingeing attacks on Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen's tenure in government.

He said the lion's share of blame for Ireland's economic meltdown and banking crisis lay squarely with mismanagement during the Fianna Fail-led coalitions from 2002-2007.

"By 2007, an uncompetitive, bloated, over-borrowed and distorted Irish economy had been left at the mercy of subsequent international events, without the safeguards, institutions and mindset needed to survive and prosper as a small open economy inside the euro area," he said.

"By this point, the economic costs of the banking and wider collapse had already been incurred, even if the true scale of the disaster would take several more years to fully reveal itself."

Mr Kenny added: "For hundreds of thousands of lrish families, however, their dreams turned into a nightmare, as boom turned to bust and as stability was replaced by policy recklessness and regulatory failures.

"To be sure, design flaws in the euro architecture as a whole contributed to the crisis here and elsewhere in the euro zone.

"While much work remains to be done, these flaws are gradually being repaired.

"But the Iion's share of the damage to the Irish economy was the fault of domestic economic and financial mismanagement."

Within the first 10 minutes of the inquiry, Mr Kenny clashed with Sinn Fein finance spokesman Mr Doherty who repeatedly asked the Taoiseach about a 2007 Fine Gael election promise to slash income taxes.

Inquiry chairman Ciaran Lynch was forced to press the Taoiseach to address the specific question as to whether he thought the cut would have further narrowed the tax base just as the economy began to fall apart.

After more than five minutes on the one point, Mr Doherty said he was "still none the wiser" before Mr Kenny interjected and answered: "No, I don't."

Later, the Sinn Fein TD, with a second opportunity to scrutinise, claimed Fine Gael's plan to increase spending from 2007-12 by 17.4 billion euro was no different from what Fianna Fail did in power - increasing spending twice as fast as the economy was growing.

Mr Kenny hit back: "The figures speak for themselves.

"But the Fine Gael model was vastly different from what Fianna Fail had proposed and were implementing.

"Your comment that this was the same as the Fianna Fail party is just not consistent with reality."

Also, during several hours of questioning, Mr Kenny said he did not meet the financial regulator during his time as leader of the opposition.

He also revealed he first heard of the blanket guarantee at about 7am in the morning after it was agreed as he waited to do an early morning interview on TV3.

The Taoiseach also flatly rejected any similarities between Fine Gael's fundraising through golf classics and associations with developers and the Fianna Fail tent at the Galway Races.

"Let me assure you that insofar as the Fine Gael party was the relationship that you refer did not apply and anybody who participated in a golf match or whatever I'm not sure how they played," he said.

Mr Kenny said the vast majority of money taken in by Fine Gael was from the party's national draw.

"I didn't go on a campaign of developers asking 'please give me money'," he told the inquiry.

"I have never been on the trail of developers or contractors."

PA Media

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