Ronald Quinlan: Dukes had to go on record about tapes
But the former finance minister is now on a collision course with the political establishment.
THE decision by former finance minister Alan Dukes to come out last Friday to defend his actions as public interest director and chairman of Anglo Irish Bank in relation to his knowledge and handling of the Anglo Tapes issue was understandable, given the public baiting by Sinn Fein's finance spokesman Pearse Doherty and its deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald. Having kept his own counsel on the matter at first, Dukes was also right to respond to McDonald's particular claim that he had "sang dumb" on the issue since being appointed to Anglo's board in late 2008.
Similarly, he was absolutely correct to let it be known that despite reports suggesting the Central Bank and Department of Finance knew nothing about the tapes before their explosive contents were first revealed in the Irish Independent, both bodies had been made aware of their existence in the course of their regular communications and interaction with the board of Anglo Irish Bank following its nationalisation.
"All of the board papers of the bank were made available to the Central Bank and to the Department of Finance in advance of each board meeting. They knew, or had the information at all times, as to what the bank was doing in order to facilitate the investigation," Mr Dukes said.
With the Department of Finance saying that it had not been aware of the content of the tapes until last month and with Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan insisting that he and his colleagues didn't have access to them as they weren't held for "regulatory purposes", it's clear that in speaking up, Mr Dukes may well have set himself on a collision course with the State apparatus in which he has been a significant figure for nearly 40 years.
At the very least, the former Fine Gael leader finds himself navigating a potential legal minefield where any mis-step has the potential to compromise future court proceedings against former Anglo personnel.
No prizes for guessing what the members of Sinn Fein would have to say then.
But while Alan Dukes may be constrained from making any further public comment on the Anglo Tapes, the Sunday Independent can reveal precisely what steps he and his fellow Anglo board members took once they became aware of their existence and, more pertinently, their content in the period between late 2008 and early 2009 when the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation and Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) began their investigations.
Sources have told this newspaper that the process of assembling information for the gardai and ODCE by Anglo's board was one that extended over a lengthy period. During this time, Dukes and his colleagues, including former Revenue Commissioners chairman Frank Daly, continued their own internal investigations into a number of issues, managing to unearth material relevant to the garda and ODCE investigation in the process.
While those investigations went on, Dukes and his team also put a system in place to facilitate interviews of Anglo personnel by gardai, while ensuring that their legal rights in the context of potential criminal investigations and the observance of due process were protected.
The Sunday Independent understands that the board of Anglo relied on its legal advisers to bring the substance of the evidence being gathered to its attention, both for the bank's internal investigations and for the garda and ODCE inquiries.
A source familiar with the examination of the tapes and other material said: "They were interested in the substance of the material as opposed to the tone and the language being used by the individuals involved."
Asked what the board of Anglo had reviewed, a separate source said: "The board specifically reviewed material from some of the tapes and the email threads that were examined, where these concerned issues of substance. They did not view every item; that would have taken a totally inordinate amount of time."
Asked what level of information had been supplied to the Central Bank, Financial Regulator and Department of Finance in relation to the tapes and email threads, they said: "They had a detailed Relationship Framework with the Minister and Department of Finance and were in daily contact with the relevant authorities. Both the Department of Finance and the Central Bank/Financial Regulator got all board papers before the board meetings were held and they were entitled to have an observer present.
"So they were certainly in a position to know of every board decision about co-operation with the Garda and ODCE investigations, both of which were co-operated with fully by the bank."