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Furious row at economists' forum over 'zombie banks'

A furious row broke out at the annual economists' conference when the former chief economist of Ulster Bank challenged the standing of UCD economist and ferocious critic of Nama, Prof Morgan Kelly.

After Prof Kelly had described the Irish banks as "worse than zombies" because they were completely dead, Pat McArdle said the organisers of the conference had to ask themselves whether Prof Kelly should have been allowed to say what he did.

He also queried where the UCD economist had acquired the "wisdom" to make such definite dramatic forecasts. Prof Kelly said he was the person who had predicted the property crash and a banking crisis which would be as severe as Japan's.

Afterwards, Mr McArdle said he was not against free and open discussion, but there were dangers in using extreme language on such issues.

"We are still in very sensitive territory, with the cost of Irish borrowings the highest in Europe. The danger of this kind of thing being reported around the world worries me," he said.

Prof Kelly had said that, even if the Government's assumptions about Nama all turned out to be correct, the two big Irish banks would remain severely short of capital and under stress in handling their €160bn of debt.

He said Bank of Ireland was in a particularly difficult position -- the opposite to the general market view that AIB is under the greater stress.

"That is why I describe the Irish banks as too big to save. We are not talking here about saving developers or saving the banks. We are talking about saving the Irish state."

Prof Kelly believes that, instead of the Government guaranteeing the banks' debt, they should in effect be handed over to the creditors -- mostly international banks -- who hold their bonds.

There were other critics of Prof Kelly's approach besides Mr McArdle. Former AIB executive Pat Ryan said his experience of bank defaults in other countries suggested the cost of government borrowing would rise sharply beyond the present 1.3 per cent premium being paid.

Colm McCarthy, chairman of the cost-cutting committee An Bord Snip Nua, said Ireland was paying more for its borrowings than Greece, which had more than twice Ireland's national debt.

"The Greeks don't have a banking crisis. We know that up to half a percentage point of that premium is due to the banking crisis. If we can find mechanisms to reduce the uncertainty around the banks, it should bring down the cost of borrowing," he said.

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