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'We didn't discuss bank crisis during golf game'

BY the time Sean FitzPatrick and the new Taoiseach Brian Cowen teed off at Druid's Glen golf course in July 2008, Anglo Irish Bank was already in deep trouble.

Mr FitzPatrick, who tightly controlled the bank's board and who after more than three decades at the bank knew the institution better than anyone, was doing everything he could to save it from collapse.

Just two weeks earlier, Sean Quinn had been forced to sell off his 15pc of the bank to a group of 10 investors brought together by Anglo's chief executive David Drumm.

Indeed, Mr FitzPatrick had in the difficult weeks before this transaction sat in a meeting with Mr Quinn, one of his biggest and longest-standing customers at Anglo. He saw that the Fermanagh man, formerly Ireland's richest man, was almost in tears as he agreed to offload his shares and take a €1bn hit.

These were dreadful times. Every day the bank was fighting a new battle to survive.

Rumours were swirling around the markets that big companies like Ryanair were taking their millions out of the bank and moving them to safer homes.

The share price was tumbling as investors worried about the bank's exposure to the property market. It was a desperate situation.

Mr Cowen, who was just three months into the job, was well aware that Ireland's banks were in trouble, although the scale of their difficulties wasn't yet obvious to him.

He had been Finance Minister up until May that year and officials at his department had been working on strategies the Government could adopt if one of the banks went bust.

The idea of introducing a bank guarantee was mentioned in a presentation made by a Department of Finance official in February 2008.

It was feared smaller banks such as Irish Nationwide might fall and "trigger systemic failure" with devastating consequences for the other banks and for the Irish economy.


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All of the Irish banks were finding it hard to raise money on the international money markets and through the inter-bank market they were supporting each other, providing cash in the form of short-term loans to each other.

Central Bank governor John Hurley and the Financial Regulator Patrick Neary were in constant touch with the bank chiefs about their funding. Mr Neary had specifically asked Mr Drumm to examine ways of "pooling resources" between Irish banks without directly telling them how to do this.

The National Treasury Management Agency, which was awash with cash, was also playing its part. Its boss Michael Somers had been placing some of its deposits with the Irish banks to shore up their position, putting €300m into AIB and Bank of Ireland, but he was "hesitant" about putting more than €40m into Anglo, the bank that needed the cash most.

Yet Mr FitzPatrick played 18 holes with Mr Cowen in July, but amazingly claims they did not talk about the deepening crisis at Anglo, and Sean Quinn's name wasn't even mentioned.

This was the bank that Mr FitzPatrick had led from humble beginnings to become a blue chip stock that had soared in value for the previous few years.

He had millions worth of Anglo shares himself. Of course we now know that he also had millions of loans from Anglo that he had concealed from shareholders.

For two weeks every year he warehoused the loans at the Irish Nationwide building society before switching them back into Anglo. He knew he was running out of time. Mr FitzPatrick simply couldn't afford to let Anglo fail.

So by July 2008 he would have been engaged in the fight of his life, yet he claims he didn't discuss his concerns and anxiety with Mr Cowen that day. Even later, when they went for dinner at the hotel, there was no shop talk.

So what did they discuss?

"The world, Ireland, the economy," Mr FitzPatrick says. "I am not going to go into that now with you. [It was] absolutely nothing to do with Sean Quinn or with Anglo Irish Bank or anything like that."

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