Thursday 21 November 2019

Mystery over crucial missing Lenihan notes

PAC chairman says absence of notes 'not credible'

PROBE: Kevin Cardiff and Brian Lenihan spoke to Rob Wright
PROBE: Kevin Cardiff and Brian Lenihan spoke to Rob Wright

Tom Lyons and Daniel McConnell

CHAIRMAN of the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) John McGuinness has said he finds it utterly inconceivable that there is no record of crucial notes or minutes of meetings where former Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan and ex-Taoiseach Brian Cowen delivered frank assessments of the Department of Finance whose failings helped bankrupt the country.

After an almost two-year Freedom of Information battle, department officials have claimed there are "no records" of meetings that went on for hours between Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan and a panel led by Rob Wright -- a former deputy minister for finance in Canada -- into why the department failed to prevent Ireland's financial Armageddon.

Kevin Cardiff, the department's then secretary general who was in charge of banking during the boom, has claimed that he had "no formal meetings" with the Wright commission and he kept no notes of informal ones. The department admits its records show Mr Cardiff was due to meet Mr Wright on both August 9, 2010, and August 10, 2010, but has no records of what may have been said.

"It is totally beyond credibility that no records of these meetings exist," Mr McGuinness said. "These were high-level meetings relating to the biggest decisions in the State's history. We are expected to believe that Kevin Cardiff was the head of banking, and no notes. Brian Lenihan was the Minister for Finance and we're told there are no notes.

"Brian Cowen was the Taoiseach and we are told there are no notes. Someone somewhere has a record of those meetings.

"When Kevin Cardiff was before the Pac, he was able to recall documents and emails instantly before our eyes to do with the €3.6bn error and redact sections. It is not credible that notes or records don't exist, or at least did exist at some stage," he said.

"Wright's report, which he produced in 2010, was described as 'thorough' by Lenihan but it has now emerged the Wright panel never interviewed former Taoiseach and Minister for Finance Bertie Ahern, the man arguably most responsible for our collapse.

The Sunday Independent spoke to three senior sources who spoke to Mr Lenihan many times during his time as Minister for Finance to try to gauge what he might have said.

They all said Mr Lenihan told them that he had "serious concerns" about some senior officials in his own department.

"Brian wasn't impressed by his officials and distrusted some of them," said a source who knew Mr Lenihan well.

"His view was there were officials who worked incredibly hard during the crisis but there were also other senior civil servants who were more concerned with protecting their own asses than the country."

Things got so bad, the sources said, Mr Lenihan held many crucial meetings with senior banking and business figures in the run up to the bank guarantee outside the walls of the department in order to prevent damaging leaks of his real fears.

Mr McGuinness, who is fighting to be allowed hold a bank inquiry, said it was vital that clarity emerged about what Mr Lenihan, Mr Cowen and Mr Cardiff told Mr Wright.

He said he could only do so if given the power to do so by Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin.

Mr McGuinness accused the Mr Howlin of abandoning his promise as there is no mention of it in the list of proposed legislation for this new Dail term.

Mr McGuinness said only a full independent inquiry as proposed earlier this year by the PAC will have the power to discover all relevant documents relating to the night of the bank guarantee, the decision to nationalise Anglo Irish Bank and the decision to establish Nama.

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