Saturday 17 March 2018

Cowen fury at delay in Bank Inquiry date

Former Taoiseach eager to counter Patrick Honohan's evidence that he 'overruled' Lenihan on guarantee night

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen
Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen

Daniel McConnell Group Political Correspondent

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen is said to be angered at having to wait almost six months to rebut evidence to the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry about his role on the night of the €440bn bank guarantee.

Mr Cowen and his former key officials will have to wait until July to appear before the €5m Oireachtas Banking Inquiry, the Sunday Independent has learned. Sources close to Mr Cowen, speaking this weekend, have revealed a high level of "annoyance" at the delay in bringing him in.

Mr Cowen is deeply anxious to respond to claims made by Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan, at the inquiry in January, that he directly overruled then finance minister Brian Lenihan as to the scope, size and shape of the guarantee on the night of September 29, 2008.

"It is a real pain, this delay drags this out a bit. Brian was very keen to get in as early as possible to put his side of the story forward. He is anxious, of course he is, to appear," said one source close to the former Taoiseach.

The news of Mr Cowen's frustrations comes as the inquiry has received documents and opening statements from former AIB chairman Dermot Gleeson, who was one of four bankers who went to Government Buildings on the night of the guarantee, and Nama.

Mr Gleeson, a former Attorney General, will appear on April 23 and is expected to recount his version of events on that key day.

He is expected to tell the inquiry how he was called by Bank of Ireland chairman Richard Burrows, who had expressed concern as to the state of the Irish banking system and who suggested they approach the Government.

Based on a previous statement given to gardai about that night, Mr Gleeson agreed and contact was made with the Government. He said the approach to the Government alongside Bank of Ireland "occurred as a result of the general chaos" in the banking system. He said AIB was willing to make €5bn available to Anglo Irish Bank on the understanding it would be wound down the following weekend.

The documents have been branded "top secret" and inquiry members have been warned that they face prosecution should they leak any documents to the media.

Media outlets have also been put on notice that they are also liable to criminal prosecution should any documents be published.

Mr Honohan told the inquiry he did not believe the bank guarantee was necessary.

He also said Mr Cowen overruled the former finance minister, Brian Lenihan, on the size, shape and scale of the guarantee.

However, Mr Cowen's brother, Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen, said the former Taoiseach was anxious to respond to Mr Honohan's claims as soon as possible, which he dismissed as "pure conjecture".

And he expressed fears that the six-month gap between Mr Honohan's evidence and his brother's delayed appearance before the inquiry would allow the Central Bank chief's version of events was too long to go unchallenged.

"I just hope they don't delay his appearance to such an extent as to allow what has been said to be left out there. It's pure conjecture, and what the hell is he talking about?" he said.

The inquiry is about to enter into its key nexus phase, during which it will hear from many of the key players in Ireland's economic, financial and political crash.

According to sources on the inquiry, Mr Cowen and officials from the Department of An Taoiseach will not be heard until mid-July.

Their testimony will follow evidence from senior Department of Finance officials including two former Secretary Generals David Doyle and Kevin Cardiff, who are expected to give evidence in June.

Mr Doyle controversially had his pension topped up to the maximum level of 40 years by Mr Lenihan. On retirement, Mr Doyle was in line for an annual pension payment of €115,000, putting his retirement fund at an estimated €4.6m. His successor, Kevin Cardiff, will also see his eventual pension pot boosted by his term as a member of the European Court of Auditors, where he is expected to enjoy a package of €1.6m between salary and add-ons over his term of office.

Before that, officials from the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator's office are to be called before the inquiry.

According to committee documents, among those to be called are the much maligned former regulator Pat Neary and former Central Bank Governor John Hurley.

Also, the four key bank leaders who met the Taoiseach and Finance Minister on the fateful night of the bank guarantee have been called to the next phase of the inquiry.

Former bosses at Bank of Ireland, Richard Burrows and Brian Goggin, and Mr Gleeson and Eugene Sheehy of AIB, are being summoned to the next and crucial stage of the parliamentary inquiry along with other banking figures and the heads of Nama. Mr Sheehy will appear on April 29.

Sunday Independent

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