Tuesday 23 January 2018

Architects of downfall have been made to pay elsewhere

Ireland's former top bankers have gotten away lightly in comparison with some of their international peers. None are in jail or even facing any charges arising out of the banking collapse that could cost up to €40bn, and are free to move on with their lives and enjoy their pensions.

The men who led Iceland's banks are, by comparison, now all under official scrutiny and the subject of enormous public outrage for the past couple of years. The former heads of its three largest banks -- Glitnir, Landsbanki and Kaupthing, all taken over by the government -- have become public hate figures.

Other once-powerful bankers, like the Gudmundsson brothers who ran Kaupthing and the father and son who owned Landsbanki, are rarely spotted on the streets of Reykjavik. They are facing investigations related to the billions of pounds deposited in those institutions by British citizens and businesses.

In Ireland, the government guarantee protected the money deposited in Ireland's financial institutions, ensuring that customers didn't lose those nest eggs, whereas depositors in Iceland are battling to get even 80pc of their money back. This has quelled some of the public anger but those who relied on bank shares to provide for their future have seen those funds wiped out by the banks' reckless lending.

Anglo's Sean FitzPatrick and Irish Nationwide's Michael Fingleton have been pilloried by the media, and Mr FitzPatrick's financial future is uncertain, but they are both allowed to get on with their lives without much interference from the public. This week Mr FitzPatrick was given a warm welcome in the Barrister's Tea Room in the Four Courts when he arrived for his bankruptcy hearing.

Mr FitzPatrick and Mr Fingleton's high profiles have helped shield the other bank chiefs who contributed to the sector's problems. During his three- year reign at the top of AIB, Eugene Sheehy and his team oversaw a period of incredibly reckless lending into an inflated property market that has destroyed its future prospects. This once-powerful bank, with operations in Ireland, Poland and the UK, is now selling off its most-prized assets in a bid to raise €7.4bn by the end of this year to avoid being taken into full government ownership.

Bank of Ireland's Brian Goggin, who was in charge of what turned out to be the best of Ireland's worst banks, plays golf with some of the country's most powerful business figures.

In Iceland the public no longer accepts that the country's woes were precipitated solely by the global credit crisis and are blaming their ex-bankers.

And Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan holds a similar view about Ireland's banking meltdown. The collapse of Lehman Brothers would have been problematic for the Irish banks, but even without this catastrophe, years of reckless lending were always going to end in disaster.

Yet the investigations into their actions are perilously slow, giving the public little hope that anyone will ever be held accountable for bankrupting the country.

Irish Independent

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