Wednesday 22 November 2017

Not a rotten egg in sight but directors come in for a grilling

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

AT least this year they could take small comfort in not having to sponge rotten eggs off their good pinstripes.

But the board of AIB probably would have preferred a short, sharp pelt of sulphur over the excruciating roasting they got -- three whole hours before they could call time on the first resolution.

The anger on the role AIB played in bringing down the Irish economy with its financial irregularities needs no fanning and shareholders were in a justifiably grim mood at the bank's AGM yesterday in its Ballsbridge HQ.

"We'll get to everyone," executive chairman Dan O'Connor reassured them at the outset of a very long day.

There were tough questions, stories of hardship and moments of farce as the inevitable crank took microphone. Small wonder Mr O'Connor, Colm Doherty -- who had buried his father the previous day -- and the other board members looked wiped out at the end of it all.

It was obvious many shareholders were taking a certain grim satisfaction in making their board jump through a few hoops.

They wanted real answers and were not to be appeased by the cover of a shareholder's report that proclaimed: "Positive Change is Underway."

Mr O'Connor opened the meeting with the understatement of the century, acknowledging AIB's performance in 2009 was "highly unsatisfactory" to instant heckles.

"We lent too much money to the property and construction sector in Ireland [and] most of our present problems were self-inflicted," continued Mr O'Connor, with as much penance as he could muster.

The first tranche of loans to NAMA has begun and Mr O'Connor expressed "sadness and regret" at having to sell off the lucrative businesses in the UK, Poland and the US to raise their €7bn "need".

"I'd like to talk about relationships," began shareholder Donal O'Callaghan, specifically that with AIB's external auditors KPMG.

The auditor was paid €8.1m to come up with a report -- a page and a half -- that showed "virtually no change" from previous years. The first applause of the day came as he told the room the auditors had let them down, urging the board to take legal action against them for negligence.

But Mr O'Connor wouldn't hear of it -- the bank was entirely to blame for its own problems.

Barry Sheehan from Limerick City spoke. The board had run into the ground the business his father spent 40 years working on and had absolutely destroyed the shares his father left him. They were worth "nothing" he said.

Mr O'Connor began to talk about the general global economic crisis but Mr Sheehan retorted that it had nothing to do with Ireland. "Resign sir," a frail elderly man called out to Mr O'Connor with vigour. "Out, out, out!"

The frail voice of Peggy Fitzgerald pointed out the real trouble for shareholders in her position -- elderly people who had put aside money for nursing homes and had now lost it.

Neal Duggan of Ailesbury Road wondered what lessons they had learned from all of this and there was laughter as another shareholder pondered why AIB did not merely sell off its Irish interests and hold onto its US and Polish businesses.

Because nobody would be interested in buying, was Mr O'Connor's sobering reply.

Irish Independent

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