SHAREHOLDERS were left wondering what Bank of Ireland (BoI) chairman Pat Molloy thinks about a possible inquiry into the banking crisis when they gathered yesterday to nod through the bank's participation in the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) and hear that it plans to return to "boring banking".
"We clearly see that as a matter for the Government, but if there is an inquiry, of course we will co-operate with it fully," Mr Molloy told a hall of about 180 investors.
Allied Irish Banks (AIB) chairman Dan O'Connor also avoided giving his view on the issue at a similar extraordinary general meeting just before Christmas.
Mr Molloy, who came back to take up the chairmanship last July, having spent a well-regarded stint in the 1990s as chief executive, confirmed BoI would look to raise capital as soon as Brussels returned its verdict on its restructuring plan and the impact of NAMA was clearer.
"While our regulatory capital position remains robust, we recognise that market expectations in relation to capital levels has moved on," he said. "There is a range of internal and external options open to the bank to enhance its capital position and we are actively exploring these."
He would not be drawn on mounting expectations that the group would resort to a rights issue as it writes down up to €4.8bn of the €16bn of loans it expects to transfer to NAMA.
Almost half of the affected loans relate to property outside Ireland, mainly in Britain, which has shown signs of improvement recently.
By contrast, about 85pc of rival AIB's €24bn-worth of NAMA-bound loans are exposed to the beleaguered Irish market.
Analysts believe that if BoI's NAMA discount ends up at the Government's mooted industry average of 30pc, then AIB's hit would have to come in above that, dragging up the sector-wide figure.
Brokers estimate that BoI will need to raise more than €1bn to bring its key equity capital ratio to 6pc of assets, but a total of almost €3bn to boost the ratio to 8pc is the new market target.
Mr Molloy outlined that "rigorous" cost management remained among the group's top priorities as it looked to recover from the crisis.
He noted that the bank's natural attrition of about 1,700 employees over the past year had helped shave 10pc off its cost base. He added: "This is not the end. Costs remain very high on the agenda."
Well-placed sources later played down suggestions that the comments amounted to a thinly veiled warning that redundancies could be on the cards.
Having participated in the ill-fated frenzy of lending to developers in the latter years of the property boom, Mr Molloy said that BoI was reverting back to "boring banking".
He conceded, during sustained questioning from shareholders on BoI's woes, that property values bankrolled by the country's lenders "went to ridiculous amounts".
He also said the bank, in the future, would exercise "strict limits of concentration" to individual borrowers, having brought in consultants Oliver Wyman early last year to carry out a root-and-branch review of its credit procedures.
The probe also resulted in the splitting of the roles of chief risk officer and head of group governance risk.
One shareholder, Neal Duggan, asked whether the overriding powers carried by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in the bank -- resulting from the State's guarantee scheme, €3.5bn investment and NAMA plan -- made him a de facto director.
Mr Molloy promised to "look into whether Mr Lenihan could be deemed a director" under company law.
Shares in BoI, which soared 28pc last week as investors bought into hopes of a rights issue equity-raising over the coming months, has pulled back almost 12pc over the past two days.