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Plenty of noise coming from this empty vessel

IT WAS a case of Hamlet without the prince(s). Scanning across the packed function room at the Burlington Hotel in Dublin and listening to the heated, sometimes very heated, contribution from the floor you could almost believe there was some relevance to the Bank of Ireland annual general meeting (AGM) of shareholders.

There was plenty of noise, and lots of rows.

One delegate even invited another to "step outside" to settle a dispute over who had the floor at one stage. The squabble died away before the champions came anywhere near engagement.

Around 300 shareholders packed the vast function room of the Burlington.

Add in the impact of the impressively raised seating area for directors fronted by chief executive Richie Boucher and chairman or "governor" Archie Kane.

Consider the busy pool of national and international press and the security presence that stopped just short of but intrusive.

You would be forgiven for thinking the meeting floor was a forum for real debate and decision making.

In truth it was anything but. Contributions from the floor included congratulating the bank for its Irish-language ATM options and calls to hand the old House of Lords on Stephen's Green to the nation as penance for the debt crisis.

One shareholder even wondered when he'll see dividends again – oblivious, apparently to the financial crisis gripping the nation and the ongoing losses at the bank.

But the biggest shareholder (us – the taxpayers) was not there. Finance Minister Michael Noonan, who holds a stake for the nation, let it be known in advance that he would not be voting in the most contentious issue facing shareholders – directors' pay.

The minister has 15pc of the voting rights in Bank of Ireland thanks to the €4.8bn of taxpayers money pumped in to rescue the bank following the financial crash.

He abstained from a motion to accept directors' pay – believing it would be wrong to back the remuneration deals for the top tier at the bank, until Bank of Ireland comes up with a plan to meet his request for a big reduction in overall wage costs.

Instead the room was packed with mostly elderly shareholders, many of whom drifted off in advance of the casting of ballots when the complimentary lunch of tea and sandwiches, cocktail sausages, potato wedges and goujons of chicken began to arrive.

But before that, pay was an issue on the floor of the conference.

Shareholders who spoke on the issue were evenly split on whether Mr Boucher is doing a good job and earning his keep – or raking it in while the little people swing in the wind.

In the event, the public debate was irrelevant. The big international funds that now dominate the bank gave the board a ringing endorsement, voting by more than 99pc in favour of the 2012 pay packets and directors' fees.

Irish Independent