'I'm beat, I am totally beat at this stage' – 'Oh, join the gang, ha, ha, ha!'
It is December 23, 2008. The State has sleepwalked into guaranteeing the liabilities of Anglo Irish Bank. Ireland is on its way toward economic collapse and the humiliation of enduring a European Union/International Monetary Fund bailout that would lead to drastic cuts in healthcare spending, education and so on. Inside the Department of Finance, Ann Nolan, an assistant secretary with responsibility for banking, is preparing to go on holidays after a tough year. She rings John Bowe to touch base. In this call Nolan meekly accepts John Bowe's explanation for Anglo's downgrade by a ratings agency. In reality, Anglo's business model is irretrievably broken. Anglo is within three weeks of being nationalised but Nolan displays no hint of knowing this to Bowe. Nolan, whose sister Helen is group company secretary at Bank of Ireland, is currently tipped to become Ireland's new Financial Regulator when Matthew Elderfield leaves.
Note: AN is Ann Nolan. JB is John Bowe. Brackets indicate explanatory insertions by this newspaper
AN: Hello John, how are you?
JB: Ah, not too bad. To be honest I am beat. I am totally beat at this stage.
AN: Oh, join the gang. [Laughs]
JB: Oh, God I tell you.
AN: What a, I just think, what a time, I mean since the end of August. I feel like I've been on a treadmill running as fast as I can but losing time all the time [Laughs].
JB: I just. I'd say about 3 o'clock today I just hit a wall.
JB: I am struggling to talk.
AN: You have my sympathy. I understand exactly where you are coming from.
JB: [Laughs.] Good. Good. Em, Ann, we weren't successful. We were successful to a point with S&P but we weren't, not entirely.
JB: I don't know if . . .
AN: I saw something from Brendan there.
AN: On email, I haven't read it in detail. It is better than it might have been but not as good as it could have been, if you know what I mean, is what struck me.
JB: Yeah and to be honest the piece that is just probably got me to the edge was that they did it I think without a proper understanding or – consultation . . .
JB: We tried to engage with them and I think we had four or five conversations in total.
JB: They were, they were resisting at every turn. They were throwing out things like, but this guarantee scheme may not be, or not guarantee, this capital scheme may not be approved by the EU and then you are saying would you like me to get a government official on the phone? No, didn't want to.
AN: They spoke to [names a Department official] last night so they can't even use that as an excuse!
JB: Yeah. I know. I know.
AN: I mean the reality is that the EU has effectively. Like it is the other one they are griping about because they want to see the full package but on your side they have, I won't say they have approved it but they have told us that they will approve it and that they will approve in time as well . . .
JB: And, and do you know what more . . .
AN: . . . More or less . . .
JB: They know that, they know that as well...
AN: I'd say that is it.
JB: And you know I was saying for example that there is a risk that we won't pay our coupon on our other preference shares. It just defies logic because that would mean, you either pay on all your preference shares or none of them, but you are not actually entitled to pick and choose.
AN: No. I mean this is going in pari parsu. It is . . .
AN: There is no way this is going in at a separate or different to be paid coupon as distinct from anyone else.
JB: They are saying there that the risk of deferment has increased and you are saying I just can't logically understand . . .
AN: Why that has happened . . .
JB: Why is that the case? I am afraid by the time I finished that call I was you know . . .
AN: Yeah. Yeah sometimes you just get the impression that no matter what argument you make it doesn't matter if you are right, they are not going to listen.
JB: That is it, that is it.
AN: Ah well, hopefully 2009 will be a better year.
JB: Well I think we will all keep our fingers crossed.
[Yulping sound from Nolan]
JB: Anyway look Ann I just want to say I appreciate your help.
JB: Along the way and I am sure we will be talking . . .
AN: I am sure we will. I know we will have people in. I won't be in myself now until the new year but eh, em, I will be here for a while tomorrow morning. I am trying not to think about that. But eh, eh we will have people in next week and so on. If anything happens I will be in touch.
JB: Great, okay.
AN: Hopefully nothing will happen. Do I have your mobile phone in my phone?
JB: I think you do because I gave you it to you the other day.
AN: I know I had it written down on a piece of paper.
JB: Will I give it to you again?
AN: I'll just double check if you'll hold for one second, I'll just see if it is there . . . John Bowe, I think I do alright. Yeah, I do, that is grand, you know, it's just eh, the dread is that you find yourself over Christmas and you can't contact the people you need to contact.
JB: Oh, I know, I know.
AN: You ring the office and there is nobody there.
JB: Well, I tell you if you ever get stuck, em, the [Anglo executives] and em, you know Donal O'Connell – Donal O'Connor [Anglo's new chairman] will have my number.
AN: Ah yeah, yeah. Actually I did find in the last fortnight if I really needed someone in particular's number I was [laughs] other people were very good at saying [Laughs] . . .
AN: [Laughing] You do find that there is the thing. I mean I think there is an extent to which you know a lot of things happened that might have been better if they didn't happen. But we're all trying to sort the problem out or not make it worse you know.
JB: We have all got to work with what's in front of us you know.
AN: Yeah, you'd like to have a different stack of cards but we have to play with the ones that are in our hand.
JB: That's it. Well, look Ann, enjoy the break.
AN: Okay, you too, and eh talk to you in the new year.
JB: Yes, indeed.
AN: Okay, Happy Christmas.
JB: Bye now.