Tuesday 20 February 2018

Banking inquiry: 'Advisor didn't tell me of meeting with Anglo bosses'

Ex-Taoiseach: advisor didn't tell me of meeting with Anglo bosses

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen arriving for the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House yesterday
Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen arriving for the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House yesterday

Clodagh Sheehy and Daniel McConnell

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen's friend and advisor Alan Gray did not tell him of a key meeting with Anglo Irish bosses, hours before the 2008 bank guarantee.

Mr Gray, an economist and Cowen appointee to the Central Bank board, met with Anglo bosses David Drumm and Sean Fitzpatrick on the day of the guarantee as their bank faced running out of cash.

Mr Cowen, in over nine hours of evidence at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry, said Mr Gray was the only external voice of advice he sought that night.

Under questioning, Mr Cowen confirmed he rang Mr Gray to get his opinion on whether a guarantee was a good idea. He also confirmed that Mr Gray made no mention of the meeting with the Anglo bosses.

This is significant because Mr Drumm and Mr Fitzpatrick had also sought for both AIB and Bank of Ireland to take their bank over that day, because of its desperate financial position.

The inquiry also heard that Mr Gray was present with Mr Cowen at a golf outing in July 2008 at Druids Glen with several Anglo Irish Bank executives.

The former Taoiseach described what he called the unacceptable briefings by figures in European institutions in November that Ireland should seek international assistance.

Mr Cowen felt this was an attempt to "bounce" Ireland into a decision by creating an impression that the IMF (International Monetary Fund) was in town already.

The briefings, he added, created an impression the Government was trying to hide the extent of the problem.

That view had been reinforced when Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan gave an interview to RTÉ saying he believed a deal would be done and a loan agreed.

That interview, he told Senator Marc MacSharry, "put us on the back foot" and put the Government "in a very poor light".

At the very end of his marathon session, Mr Cowen also rejected a June 2013 accusation of Taoiseach Enda Kenny that there existed an "axis of collusion" between Fianna Fáil, big developers and Anglo. He said: "I don't believe that was his finest hour."

Mr Cowen also called on former Labour leader Eamon Gilmore to withdraw a charge of economic treason made in the Dáil.

Mr Gilmore, while in opposition, accused Mr Cowen of economic treason by putting the interests of well-placed property developers ahead of the national interest. Mr Cowen reacted furiously at the time to the charge, describing it as "beyond the pale".

At the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry, Mr Cowen called for the charge to be withdrawn from the record, saying he acted honourably through his long career in politics.

Under questioning from Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath about Mr Gilmore's comments, Mr Cowen said he rejected the charge. He said it was a matter for those who made the remarks to consider having them withdrawn.

"That is not correct, that is not true, I would like that stricken from the record. There is no evidence of that, there are no grounds for that," he said.

He rejected suggestions that he had "over-ruled" Brian Lenihan on the night of the Bank Guarantee.


Mr Cowen described the private meeting between the two on that night after which Mr Lenihan changed his mind about a blanket guarantee.

"There was no question of our conversation being in any way adversarial or confrontational with each other," said Mr Cowen. "We were talking the issue through. Both of us were deliberating with each other and striving to find the best course of action for the country at this point".

Mr Cowen dramatically admitted that he only met with the Financial Regulator, Pat Neary, twice in the four years he was finance minister. Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty was aghast at the admission, but Mr Cowen insisted that the feeling was to respect the independence of the regulator's office and his officials maintained constant contact with Mr Neary's office.


Brain Cowen made an impassioned plea for forgiveness as he appeared to exit the political stage at the end of his two days of evidence. Claiming he had done his duty as he saw it, he said it was his privilege to serve in Government describing being Taoiseach as the highest honour.

He paid tribute to the public servants who served his government during the most difficult economic period. He then paid special tribute to the late Brian Lenihan and the Attorney General of the day, Paul Gallagher SC, who is set to give evidence to the inquiry next week.

In a scripted address to the committee, he said what always moved him was to do his best for his country and its people.

Brian Cowen on:

"When we made that decision money stopped going out and not only did money stop going out, money came back in and it stabilised the situation and bought time." - In reference to the bank guarantee.

"No I hadn't my mind made up going into the meeting." - The guarantee decision was not made in advance.

"We were talking the issue through. Both of us were deliberating with each other and striving to find the best course of action for the country at this point." - Cowen did not 'overule' Lenihan on Anglo.

"There were elements within the EU institutions who were providing inspired leaks to the media with that agenda in mind." - Some EU officials briefed against Ireland.

"As God is my witness … I wasn't discussing banking, I was discussing the economy." - That golf game with Sean FitzPatrick.

Irish Independent

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