PRESSURE mounted on junior minister John Perry to resign last night after it emerged that he will be highly unlikely to be able to pay off his €2.5m debts – even if he sold all of his assets at the best possible market prices.
Auctioneers in his native Co Sligo told the Sunday Independent that the Minister for Small Business could only expect to claw back half of that amount if he disposed of all of his properties as declared in the Dail Register of Interests.
Meanwhile, Mr Perry came under increasingly fierce pressure from the opposition to stand down amid claims that he had "inappropriate contacts" with the heads of State bailed-out AIB and Bank of Ireland.
Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the revelations contained in yesterday's Irish Independent suggested Mr Perry abused his position as a minister in order to "extricate himself from his personal financial difficulties".
"It is clear there was cross-over between his personal and political interests in his dealings with the pillar banks. Certainly there is firm evidence he abused his position as minister," Mr McGrath told the Sunday Independent.
He added that Mr Perry's use of his title as minister in personal correspondence with National Irish Bank (NIB) is "an extremely serious matter".
It also emerged this week that Mr Perry ran up personal tax arrears of €125,000.
And he has continually refused to clarify numerous issues relating to his finances, sparking an increasingly hardline response from opposition TDs.
"At this stage, in my view, he has no option but to go," said Mr McGrath.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny continues to support his embattled Fine Gael colleague, but sources claimed he was forced to back him to shield his chief lieutenant in the Cabinet, Health Minister James Reilly, who also last week found himself at the centre of damaging revelations about his personal finances.
"Enda's wrapping of Perry in cotton wool is his way of keeping the wolves from Dr Reilly's door," a Fine Gael ministerial source told the Sunday Independent.
This was echoed by opposition TDs.
"Minister Reilly's position is itself precarious, given he has a €1.9m judgement against him along with other [people]," said Mr McGrath.
"That he is a close confidant of the Taoiseach and deputy leader of Fine Gael, it is clear there is a necessity to protect Reilly.
"It is clear that the Government is concerned that if Mr Kenny was to demand Perry's head, then it would expose Reilly."
Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty has also called on Mr Perry to resign if he fails to answer serious questions about his dealing with bank chiefs.
"I don't think this can go on much longer – that information continues to seep out which continues to damage not only the minister but also the position that he holds," he said.
Despite the mounting controversy over Mr Perry's finances, the Taoiseach's spokesman last night said he still had confidence in him to continue as minister.
"The Taoiseach has nothing to add to what was said earlier in the week," said the spokesman.
"He won't be responding to details as they emerge. This matter is still before the courts."
Fine Gael's coalition partners are also refusing to call for Mr Perry's head.
A spokesman for Tanaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said the party felt he "should be given time and space to resolve the issue".
The Irish Independent reported yesterday that Mr Perry contacted the head of State-owned AIB about his financial difficulties as he faced demands to repay almost €2.5m to Danske Bank.
He had "discussions" with AIB chief David Duffy as pressure built over his debts. It has also emerged that he said he "knew" Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher.
Court documents also show Mr Perry sent a letter to a bank official about his financial difficulties using his title of 'Minister for Small Business'.
However, he declined to say whether it had been appropriate for him to use his position while writing to NIB, which was later taken over by Danske Bank.
He has also declined to answer questions from the Sunday Independent about his financial woes.
In October 2011, Danske Bank loaned Mr Perry and his wife €2.47m to restructure existing loans and an overdraft account and provide monies towards tax affairs. It was due to be repaid in November 2012.
Mr Perry has been given until September 2 to deal with the judgement against him. If he is unable to repay the €2.47m and is declared bankrupt at the behest of Danske Bank, he will have to give up his Dail seat.
As recently as April, he was being encouraged by Danske Bank to contact whatever banks he had relationships with "to get an offer to take us out".
Around the same time, due to his role as chairman of the Government's Advisory Group for Small Businesses, he was calling senior officials from the banks to ask them questions about lending to small businesses.
In April, Mr Perry sent a letter to AIB's David Duffy and Bank of Ireland's Richie Boucher, inviting them to attend a meeting of his group to discuss how they were dealing with lending and debt problems.
"Access to finance can mean the difference between survival, or failure, for many viable new start-ups and existing small businesses," he said at the time.
Two days later, he mentioned his contacts with Mr Duffy and his knowledge of Mr Boucher in his meeting with Danske Bank about his outstanding €2.47m loan.
The Sunday Independent posed the following questions to Minister of State for Small Business John Perry but he refused to comment. A spokesman said: "As this matter currently remains before the courts, Minister Perry will be making no comment."
• In relation to the loan Mr Perry agreed with Bank of Ireland to help pay his outstanding tax bill of approximately €100,000, what security – if any – was provided to the Bank of Ireland?
• Why did Mr Perry tell Danske Bank officials that he was friends with Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher? What would this have to do with any decision the bank would make on extending credit to him? Did he expect it to make a difference?
• Why did Mr Perry meet Danske officials in his Dail office? Did he not consider this to be an inappropriate use of that office? Did he think a meeting held in a minister's office would in any way influence Danske Bank officials in their treatment of him?
• Can Mr Perry explain his remark to Danske Bank officials on January 31 last, where he accused them of being engaged in a form of bullying? Why did he go on to ask the bank's officials if they treated all their customers in the same way? Does he consider it appropriate to have referred to the bank's relations with other customers given his position as a government minister?