Wednesday 21 February 2018

Finally, we'll get to hear Fingers' account

Michael Fingleton, former Chief Executive of Irish Nationwide Building Society
Michael Fingleton, former Chief Executive of Irish Nationwide Building Society
John Downing

John Downing

Michael Fingleton, with his distinctive beard, was for decades the best-known figure in the Irish home-loan business.

He ran the Irish Nationwide Building Society (INBS) from 1971 until he stepped down in 2009, and was known in banking and media circles as "Fingers".

Ultimately, INBS joined the infamous Anglo Irish Bank in the mop-up operation coordinated by the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, and was wound up in 2013.

Though much smaller than many of the other stricken banks, INBS wrote its own chapter in the Irish banking fiasco, as it cost taxpayers €5.4bn to bail out.

Today, the TDs and senators on the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry will finally get an opportunity to hear Mr Fingleton's version of all those calamitous events.

A copy of his witness statement reportedly shows that Mr Fingleton is adamant that INBS was solvent on the night of the notorious bank guarantee on September 29/30, 2008.

Mr Fingleton also has some harsh things to say about the Financial Regulator. He is equally critical of rivals in Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland, who sought to have INBS nationalised on the night of the guarantee, as merely trying to take competitors out of the market.

We can expect the bank inquiry members to closely question Mr Fingleton's view on the solvency of INBS at that juncture, given the subsequent events. The answers will be carefully scrutinised.

Equally, the pivotal role of Mr Fingleton within INBS will be of interest to the inquiry committee.

Previous hearings at the Commercial Court relating to INBS were told that Mr Fingleton had considerable direct powers over very many lending decisions.

There will also be questions about INBS's move far beyond traditional homeloans and into vast commercial transactions during the boom years.

Mr Fingleton's own pay and pension arrangements will also be the focus of attention. In 2009, it was reported that he would repay a €1m bonus - but this never happened. It also emerged that a pension fund worth almost €28m had been provided for him.

This high-profile session will mark the resumption of committee hearings which closed at the end of July with the revelation that a November 30 deadline for the report was extended until January 2016. The general election timing is now crucial to that report ever seeing the light of day.

Irish Independent

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