Tuesday 20 February 2018

Every tale of greed we hear includes the word 'Anglo'

Cathy Herbert arriving at Leinster House yesterday
Cathy Herbert arriving at Leinster House yesterday
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

It was quite the pot-pourri of witnesses at the Banking Inquiry yesterday, starting with Cathy Herbert, former adviser to the late Brian Lenihan, and closing with former NTMA chief Michael Somers.

But the best stories belonged to the first developer to appear. "The Irish banks were very keen to lend money," explained developer Derek Quinlan to the shock of absolutely nobody at all.

After a series of witnesses dealing with the political and technical minutiae of the Lost Years, the Banking Inquiry was taken on a little trip down Memory Lane, back to the heady, Champagne-filled days when people nipped out on their lunch breaks to buy a sandwich only to return instead with two apartment blocks in Bulgaria.

The endless Celtic Tiger summer when bankers pursued property developers with all the frenzied zeal of 1Directioners, with millions of euro thrown around like snuff at a wake.

And Revenue tax inspector-turned-money consultant and property mogul Derek Quinlan was slap-bang in the middle of the party, offering financial advice to a starry roster of celebrity clients, and snapping up buildings around Europe in breathtaking deals.

He attained Maximum Tiger in 2004 when he and a coterie of investors outbid a billionaire Saudi prince to take control of a group of prestigious London hotels, including the Savoy, for a mind-boggling €1.1bn. Panting banks beat a path to his many doors.

"It's like if you're playing football and you suddenly have the touch of Ronaldo, who plays for Real Madrid, lots of people want to see him," he explained with a flash of humour.

Then the crash came, and the billions became a big bottle of smoke.

But Derek - who had returned from his base in the UK to give evidence - had been in the thick of the euphoria, and when pressed by Senator Susan O'Keeffe to offer insights into the collective madness of the banks, offered this telling vignette.

In 2006, he was talking to a senior banker from an institution which wasn't Anglo. "And he proudly told me that he spent the previous Friday morning parked outside a particular bank in St Stephen's Green, which was Anglo Irish Bank at the time, to watch who was coming in and out.

"And I was shocked that here's a very senior banker wasting his time sitting outside on a Friday morning watching who was coming in and out of the bank," he recounted. "And then he said he went back and he made a report that these were the people who he had recognised coming in and out of the bank."

It was a story which vividly encapsulated the manic, competitive greed which gripped a banking sector desperate to keep up with the endless, heedless largesse of Anglo Irish Bank.

If there's one theme which has emerged through the stories narrated by the trail of witnesses, it's that every ruinous road led to the rotting carcass of Anglo, still haunting Irish taxpayers from beyond the grave.

And now, emerging from the rubble, Derek Quinlan has regrets. Living abroad for financial reasons, he told the committee: "I miss Ireland every day." Joe Higgins asked him if he felt any responsibility for the fact that the bubble and crash was caused by developers and bankers running amok. Derek said he felt "deeply saddened" by what happened. But of course it didn't just happen to the little people.

"I too lost a substantial amount of money," he said.

Indeed. There wasn't a wet eye in the House.

Irish Independent

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