Business Irish

Saturday 16 November 2019

The Gloomsday Book: who was there on the night of the guarantee

D-DAY: Cometh the hour, cometh David Begg?
D-DAY: Cometh the hour, cometh David Begg?
The sign-in diary

Tom Lyons

The sign-in book in the Department of Finance on the day of Ireland's disastrous decision to blanket guarantee its banks reveals how the then minister Brian Lenihan's day was clogged with mundane meetings before he faced into the most crucial night of his political career.

Everyone from Protestant Aid to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association flooded the halls of the department on September 29, 2008, the day before the night that bankrupted the country.

A scan of the book was released by Finance Minister Michael Noonan to Kevin Humphreys, the Labour TD for Dublin South East, following a written request.

It shows that two officials from the Financial Regulator dropped in at 10am to meet William Beausang, a department senior official, in what presumably was a meeting to do with the financial crisis.

Guests signing in to see Mr Lenihan himself, however, had nothing to do with the banking crisis which that day saw Anglo Irish Bank on the brink of collapse and other toxic banks such as AIB and Irish Nationwide not that far behind.

On that crucial day, instead of being in a bunker strategising with his top team on how to save Ireland, Mr Lenihan seems to have been allowed by his civil servants to spend most of the afternoon in irrelevant meetings.

At 3pm, for example, five delegates from the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association all signed in to see "Minister Lenihan".

The ICMSA, while a worthy organisation, is hardly relevant to the approaching banking tsunami.

At 4pm, six representatives of different charities including Protestant Aid, the Children's Rights Alliance, Cori and St Vincent de Paul all sign in to see the minister. These charities are more relevant to Ireland in the years following the bank guarantee than in the hours beforehand.

Then at 4.50pm David Begg, the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions who sat on the board of the Central Bank during the boom turned up for some reason or other. He was accompanied by Paul Sweeney, the trade union economist.

A few minutes later, another three ICTU officials showed up, though it is not clear who they were planning to visit. At 5pm, Jack O'Connor, the president of ICTU, showed up – another bearded trade unionist with zero banking expertise is there to see the minister.

The fact that neither Mr Lenihan nor his civil servants thought it wise to clear his schedule so he could focus on the banks again underlines how out of their depth they all were. Just after Mr O'Connor bustled in, Padraig O Riordain, the managing director of Arthur Cox, showed up in the department – finally, someone who knows about banking had signed in.

Mr O Riordain was a key legal adviser to the State on the night of the bank guarantee, and his arrival marked the real start of Mr Lenihan's day, having been allowed to waste hours beforehand in irrelevant meetings.

The sign-in book does not show the arrival of bankers from AIB and Bank of Ireland later that night. They did not deign to sign in.

Brendan McDonagh and Oliver Whelan of the NTMA did, however, sign in at 9.50pm, as did Eugene McCague, the chairman of Arthur Cox.

What happened next is, incredibly, still only speculation five years after the blanket bank guarantee. But the sign-in book shows the media piling in the next morning.

The State continues to maintain its silence about what really happened, while urging the country to accept austerity.

Irish Independent

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