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Seán FitzPatrick: The controversial Anglo Irish banker emblematic of Celtic Tiger Ireland has died aged 73


Sean Fitzpatrick, former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank. Photo: Jason Clarke

Sean Fitzpatrick, former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank. Photo: Jason Clarke

Sean FitzPatrick. Photo: Tony Gavin

Sean FitzPatrick. Photo: Tony Gavin


Sean Fitzpatrick, former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank. Photo: Jason Clarke

Seán FitzPatrick, the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, has died.

The 73-year-old was rushed to hospital late last week after taking ill suddenly at home. He lost his battle for life on Monday.

A family spokesman told Independent.ie the cause of death was cardiac arrest.

Mr FitzPatrick is survived by his wife Triona and children Jonathan, David and Sarah.

Mr FitzPatrick was one of the country’s most high-profile bankers throughout his career which peaked during the Celtic Tiger years.

But his public image changed dramatically when Anglo Irish Bank collapsed, ultimately costing the taxpayers €34bn.

This subsequently led to the EU-IMF bailout in late 2010.

Back in 1980, when Mr FitzPatrick was told to hire a recruitment firm to make a list of candidates to head the fledgling Anglo Irish Bank he seized the moment and began a successful campaign to persuade his bosses to give him the job.

‘Little Anglo’, as one of the banking group executives called it, had gross assets of around IR£500,000.

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But Anglo Irish Bank would grow to be a major financial force and “Seanie” would become a household name emblematic by turns of both boom and bust Ireland.

But things ended in calamity when the bank went bust in 2008, costing taxpayers €34bn and leading the Irish State into an EU-IMF bailout in late 2010.

Mr FitzPatrick was himself forced to resign as the bank’s chairman in December 2008 when it emerged €87m of Mr FitzPatrick’s personal loans had been transferred to another bank to avoid having to declare them to shareholders.

The ruse was not illegal but was deemed “inappropriate” and “unacceptable” in terms of corporate governance.

In May 2018, after a landmark trial which lasted 127 days, he was acquitted of criminal charges related to allegedly misleading the bank’s auditors.

The trial effectively collapsed with no evidence being put before the jury.

As he stopped proceedings, the trial judge was scathingly critical of the standard of investigation undertaken by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

The episode added to controversy about failures on white collar crime and a lack of accountability for many of the senior banking figures.

Seán FitzPatrick was born in Bray, Co Wicklow, on June 21, 1948.

He was the second of two children born to Michael FitzPatrick, a dairy farmer, and Johanna Maher, a civil servant.

His sister Joyce O’Connor was also a high achiever working in the academic world and who headed the National College of Ireland at a crucial point in its development.

He was educated at Presentation College in Bray and at UCD where he studied commerce.

At school, he was a mediocre student who got just one honour in his Leaving Certificate.

Mr FitzPatrick would later say that he was aware of his academic limitations and turned this into a positive in his career.

He entered university by successfully doing the matriculation exam and after college he went on to qualify as a chartered accountant working for a time with another trainee accountant, Charlie McCreevy, who went on to become Finance Minister.

Mr FitzPatrick joined the Irish Bank of Commerce in 1974 as an accountant, and that bank was taken over by City of Dublin Bank which later bought Anglo Irish Bank. He became general manager of Anglo Irish Bank in 1980 at the age of 32.

In 1986, he became general manager of the expanded Anglo Irish Bank Corporation plc, a post he kept until 2005 when he stepped down.

In a controversial move seen by some as contrary to best practice, he became bank chairman.

His successor as chief executive was David Drumm, who was later jailed on charges relating to the bank’s collapse.

But back then, Anglo Irish Bank went from strength and in 2001 he reflected upon the journey they made under his stewardship going from €1m capitalisation in 1986 to €1bn 15 years later.

“I was determined this was never going to be just another bank,” he told the author, Ivor Kenny.

Known as “Seánie” to family and friends, he was referred to as “Fitzie” at the bank, though not to his face.

He was a grafter who believed in focus and working smart and he was known for great social networking skills to rival the most polished politician in working a room.

Mr FitzPatrick played competitive rugby into his 40s for Bective Rangers and used the rugby world to enhance his business contacts.

He married Caitriona O’Toole, a former secretary in a consultancy company, and the family had three children, Johnathan, David and Sarah.

He became known for his brash public utterances. In June 2007 when alarm bells began to ring about banking and the property bubble, Fitzpatrick was railing against “corporate McCarthyism” in Government with too much regulation.

After the Government’s controversial decision to guarantee the banks in late September 2008, he did an interview with RTÉ radio’s Marian Finucane.

He utterly rejected suggestions that “reckless lending” by banks caused the crisis which he blamed on the international economic collapse.

This time he praised the Government for the bank guarantee insisting it was the most important decision it had taken for the good of the country.

“If one bank toppled, they were all going to fall. Every single one,” he argued.

How the banks would pay for support had yet to be worked out via talks with Government and the Central Bank, he said.

Ms Finucane asked if Anglo would be paying dividends at year’s end but he refused a direct answer saying it would be wrong to do so.

"But let me put it this way. The world hasn't stopped. We were talking about a liquidity problem, we weren't talking about a profitability problem, and the banks will look at all of these,” he said.

"We've got a list of the detail of what's going to be in the detailed regulations next week and we're going to look at that and we're going to have to discuss that with the Central Bank and the Department of Finance and reach a solution which is right, not just for the banks, but also for Government and the taxpayer," he added.

Two months later, he was forced to quit as bank chairman.

His life from then on was a decade of controversy, litigation and court appearances, culminating in the collapse of his criminal trial in May 2018.

After that he faded from the limelight living in Greystones, Co Wicklow, where he spent most of his life.

More recently, he was in the news for a planning battle with the local council over plans to build a new house.

This article was amended on November 9, 2021 to reflect that Mr FitzPatrick died on Monday.

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