Saturday 17 March 2018

Former boss of Irish Permanent Edmund Farrell passes away

Edmund Farrell. Photo: Tom Burke
Edmund Farrell. Photo: Tom Burke

EDMUND Farrell, who gained and lost his job thanks to his autocratic family's domination of the country's largest building society, has died.

Dr Farrell was always a somewhat reluctant businessman and was by no means a natural entrepreneur.

His father Edmund senior had been involved with the Ambassador and Capitol cinemas in Dublin, but his real money was made as managing director of the Irish Permanent, which he transformed from a small, sleepy lender for non-drinkers into the country's biggest mortgage lender.

In 1972, the son abandoned a career in medicine and became a director of the Irish Permanent. Three years later his father died and Dr Farrell was voted the new managing director. His brother Michael, an auctioneer, was also a board member of the society.

Dr Farrell, despite his lack of financial training, was well rewarded and enjoyed a salary package of about £250,000, plus bonuses, during the 1980s.

He ran the society very much as a private family business and appeared to take exception to the push for independent directors or media queries. Dr Farrell was a big contributor to Fianna Fail then, and was featured in the Moriarty tribunal on payments to Charles Haughey.

By 1989, the residential mortgage business changed dramatically as the retail banks fought for some of the lucrative lending business. Suddenly the internal sweetheart deals common in some building societies were under threat.

No longer were customers willing to pay dual legal fees, duplicate surveyor's bills, put up with in-house insurance cover, or accept vague administration charges.

In addition, building societies were becoming more like small banks and had to agree to stricter regulation.

Dr Farrell recruited Goodman liquidator and former Coopers & Lybrand partner Peter Fitzpatrick, GPA senior executive Peter Ledbetter and the chief of AIB's British operations Roy Douglas as his senior executive team.

Months before the flotation, the board dismissed Mr Farrell over claims that he had sold his Foxrock home to the society in 1987 for £275,000. The society had used £400,000 in members' funds to rebuild it and sold it back to him in 1991 for £275,000.

A court case in relation to his long-standing dispute with IPBS over his leaving the society promised to be spectacular. The case, however, never lived up to its billing, being settled abruptly after two days.

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