Wednesday 20 November 2019

Plain-speaking Patrick puts the boot into Anglo

Anglo Irish Bank
Anglo Irish Bank

Lise Hand

It was impossible to ignore Patrick Honohan's hands. They were the hardest-working pair of paws in the room. They swooped and rose like startled swallows, chopped imaginary logs, drew circles, square and rhombuses in the air, twiddled invisible knobs and conducted a symphony.

By the end of an almost five hour-long performance, one was tempted to throw a flower on to the desk while shouting "Bravo".

In contrast, the rest of the Governor of the Central Bank was remarkably relaxed. Quite often, invitees to various Oireachtas committees/inquiries exhibit emotions ranging from unease to annoyance to ennui.

But not Professor Patrick. He fair bounced into the Banking Inquiry committee room and proceeded to answer the questions with equal amounts of gusto and gesticulation. He reclined in his chair with the air of a chap atop a tall stool with a gin and tonic effervescing in a glass in front of him.

Not only was he happy to reply to questions which were permitted by the chairman Ciaran Lynch, but he was eager to answer those which were verboten under the strict rules of the inquiry.

When Fine Gael's John Paul Phelan was firmly barred by Ciaran from asking the governor about his historic 'Morning Ireland' interview in November 2010 ('historic' in the sense that it was the first-ever time a financial chief ever told the plain, unvarnished truth to a bamboozled nation), Patrick was undaunted.

"I'll have great fun answering that question in three months' time," he grinned chirpily, clearly looking forward to having a second go in the hot seat when the inquiry begins delving into the kaleidoscope of confusion surrounding the bank guarantee and the banjaxed banks falling over the fiscal cliff.

Nonetheless, despite the instructions that yesterday's hearing wouldn't be dealing with the fateful events of the night of 30 September, 2008, the lure of the balubas night of the guarantee proved impossible to resist.

And Patrick explained that it was his view that then-Finance Minister Brian Lenihan wanted to nationalise Anglo and Irish Nationwide and burn the junior bondholders, but he had been overruled.

But further than that Patrick refused to go, and he refused to name the person who had overruled Brian Lenihan, despite being peppered with pleas from eager politicians. However, he did try and help out with the guesswork. "The Taoiseach and the Attorney General were present. They were the only other political people present," he added.

But he had no intention of singing like a pinstriped canary. "I don't want to be on television naming names," he declared.

It was day three of the Banking Inquiry which opened last month with less of a bang than a mutter.

There's a distinct lack of public excitement over this political picking of the still-fresh scab of our catastrophic economic meltdown, whether it's because of the unglamorous nature of a stream of pointy heads offering complex explications on the regulatory and banking shortcomings, or whether it's just too soon for a traumatised public to digest the gory details of the catastrophe.

But at least Patrick Honohan brought a bit of animation and plain speaking to the sedate and constricted proceedings. Asked by Fianna Fail's Michael McGrath if the tottering Anglo bank should've been allowed to fail in September 2008, he replied: "Yes, certainly."

Everything rotten in the State comes back to Anglo. Not even Professor Patrick could make that grim fact the least bit entertaining.

Irish Independent

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