THE blame game used to be easy. For every one of our economic ills, we had Sean FitzPatrick to blame.
Three years on from the night of the now-infamous bank guarantee and with Ireland's economic sovereignty surrendered to the EU and the IMF, however, the opprobrium once heaped solely on the former Anglo chairman is being shared by a growing number of our boom era elite. As the public braces itself to take the strain of another €3.8bn in cuts and taxes promised in the Budget, the Sunday Independent identifies the key players who were instrumental in bringing Ireland to its knees.
In 2006, the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern declared "the boom is getting boomier". A year later, he was asking why those who were sitting on the sidelines "cribbing and moaning" didn't go off and commit suicide. While he quickly apologised for that remark, the former Taoiseach has been slower to apologise for his part in inflating our economic bubble through his government's introduction of tax reliefs for developers and investors, encouragement of 'light touch' regulation of the financial sector, and the inflation of the public sector and its pay bill to unsustainable levels.
Not that Bertie was alone. Even as the economy was showing signs of faltering in late 2006, he was wilfully assisted by his finance minister and "natural successor" Brian Cowen as Fianna Fail pulled out all the stops to win a third term in government. Quite apart from his failure to apply the brakes safely to the property market, Mr Cowen seems to have been content to let the Irish banks grow out of all proportion to the economy, fuelled by lending primarily to the property sector.
Shortly after becoming Taoiseach, Mr Cowen presided over a series of unfortunate events. Among the disastrous decisions for which the Offaly politician will go down in history are the infamous 2008 bank guarantee, the January 2009 nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank, and the ceding of Ireland's economic sovereignty to the EU, IMF and ECB in November 2010.
THE DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE
While politicians are the ultimate decision makers, their decisions are usually based on the advice of senior civil servants. In the cases of Messrs Ahern and Cowen, arguably the most important advice would have come from the Department of Finance.
Kevin Cardiff is very much in the news now as a result of the controversy surrounding his nomination to the European Court of Auditors and the recent revelation of the €3.6bn accounting error that happened on his watch, but the Department of Finance Secretary General has been at the centre of decision-making for several years now. Prior to being appointed to his current role, Mr Cardiff headed up the department's Taxation and Financial Services Division, a position which would have given him an unrivalled power to delve into our banks' operations.
Mr Cardiff's name is more readily identified, however, as one of those present in Government Buildings on the night the bank guarantee was decided by Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan, a move now acknowledged as paving the way for the arrival in Ireland last year of the EU/IMF/ECB troika. As Secretary General, Mr Cardiff was a key member of the team that negotiated Ireland's so-called 'bailout' deal with the troika.
To be fair to Kevin Cardiff, though, it was his predecessor David Doyle who was at the helm in Finance when the seeds of our economic destruction were being sown.
Indeed, during Mr Doyle's tenure, "higher-than-expected tax receipts and lower-than-expected spending" was so often a feature in the Exchequer statements that it became something of a running joke for media reporting on the nation's finances.
Unfortunately, the joke turned out to be on us. Too few realised or simply refused to acknowledge that the extra billions in taxes were being derived from an unsustainable source, ie the construction and sale of property. When it all came "shuddering to a halt", as the late Finance Minister Brian Lenihan so succinctly put it, the truth behind our boomtime tax receipts was exposed.
THE CENTRAL BANK
The jury is still divided on Patrick Honohan over his phone call to RTE's Morning Ireland programme on Thursday, November 18, last year in which he confirmed that Ireland would be drawing down a "large loan facility" from the EU and IMF, worth "tens of billions" of euro. While some were simply glad to be told the unvarnished truth in the face of Brian Cowen's stubborn refusal to admit it, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan was distinctly unimpressed by what he and his closest advisors saw as Mr Honohan's wrong-footing of him politically.
The Central Bank governor has also come in for heavy criticism from UCD economist Morgan Kelly, who sensationally accused him of making the "costliest mistake ever made by an Irish person" with his miscalculation of the scale of Irish banking losses.
The UCD academic has also claimed that Mr Honohan could have announced Ireland's intention to walk away from the infamous bank guarantee introduced in September 2008, on the grounds that the decision had been made "in haste and with poor information".
Unsurprisingly, the Central Bank Governor strongly rejects Professor Kelly's assertions, claiming in the case of the bank guarantee that Ireland would have been viewed as a bankrupt were it to be withdrawn.
Somewhat surprisingly, Mr Honohan has come in for more flak than his predecessor, John Hurley, a man who seems to have been completely ignorant of the serious problems facing the Irish banks prior to their collapse.
Indeed, in the Central Bank's 2007 annual report, which was published in June 2008, just three months before the government was forced to introduce the guarantee, Mr Hurley stated: "The Irish banks have negligible exposure to the sub-prime sector and they remain relatively healthy by the standard measures of capital, profitability and asset quality. This has been confirmed by the stress- testing exercises we have carried out with the banks."
THE FINANCIAL REGULATOR
Former Financial Regulator Patrick Neary has said he will cooperate with any inquiry the Government wishes to conduct into the banking system and wider financial crisis.
Should such an inquiry take place, Mr Neary will have serious questions to answer given his approval of the "green jersey" agenda whereby Irish Life & Permanent (IL&P) helped Anglo Irish Bank to flatter its end-of-year balance sheet with the transfer of €7.4bn, which the latter classified as customer deposits.
While the claim made by former IL&P chief executive Denis Casey about the €7.4bn has been flatly denied by the regulator, the Central Bank and the Department of Finance, Mr Neary has also been accused by Anglo's former finance director, Willie McAteer, of approving the €7.4bn plan. Mr McAteer claimed that Mr Neary said, "Fair play to you Willie," when told of the strategy.
Sean FitzPatrick has been the villain of the piece ever since his infamous interview on RTE's Marian Finucane show in October 2008, in which he declined the call to apologise to the Irish taxpayer for the havoc wrought on the country by Anglo Irish Bank.
Three years on, and with the estimated cost of bailing out Anglo now in the region of €34bn, Mr FitzPatrick, who is now a bankrupt, is just one of a number of former high-flying bankers who the public blame for destroying the economy.
Former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive David Drumm claims that he tried to put a brake on the bank's lending to the property sector when he was appointed as Sean FitzPatrick's successor in 2005.
Unfortunately for him, and for the Irish taxpayer, he didn't. Rather, he went on to preside over a dramatic growth in the bank's balance sheet, bringing it to an eye-watering and unsustainable €100bn.
Anglo's singular obsession with property lending proved ultimately to be both its undoing and the country's.
Now living in the United States, Drumm refuses to return here to answer ques-tions in relation to the €7.4bn transfer between Irish Life & Permanent and Anglo, or the "Maple 10" deal in which it is alleged that he personally selected a "golden circle" of Anglo clients to buy up €450m of its shares using money the bank would lend to them, in an effort to prop up its own share price.
The plan was hatched after David Drumm and Sean FitzPatrick were informed by billionaire businessman Sean Quinn that he had amassed approximately 25 per cent of Anglo's shares through Contracts for Difference (CFDs), a situation that threatened the bank's very survival.
Mr Quinn -- who was recently declared bankrupt in Northern Ireland -- is now being hotly pursued by Anglo's new management team for over €2.1bn, which it says he owes as a consequence of personal guarantees he gave on the borrowings of the Quinn Group.
Not that Anglo was the only bank flying by the seat of its pants during the boom.
Clearly in awe of the massive profits and soaring share price at its upstart rival, the AIB and Bank of Ireland also plunged head-first into the property market, and with similarly disastrous results.
So, while former AIB chief executive Eugene Sheehy enjoys his new life as a history student at Trinity College, the taxpayer has been left to foot the €20.5bn bill for the bank's recapitalisation. Incredibly, as the storm clouds gathered in 2008, Mr Sheehy declared that he would "rather die" than see AIB accept capital from the State.
A similar form of hubris gripped former Bank of Ireland chief executive Brian Goggin before his departure. Seemingly unable to grasp the consequences of his own poor decision making, he declared in January 2009 how he would earn "less than €2m" for the current financial year following a voluntary pay cut.
A shining example of the old adage that you can't keep a good man down, Mr Goggin now works for private equity giant Apollo Management, where he advises on the purchase of distressed assets.
Apollo has been in the news here recently, having been identified as one of the parties interested in acquiring the British and Irish credit card operations of MBNA Bank Europe, which include its facility in Carrick on Shannon. Apollo was also one of several unsuccessful bidders for Irish Life, the insurance arm of IL&P.
When the late Brian Lenihan claimed that "everybody partied" during the boom, a lot of ordinary people were left either scratching their heads or shaking their fists in anger. There's no doubt that Ireland's developers did party off the back of the easy credit afforded to them from the banks to acquire land, and the money they made off the ordinary people who bought the overpriced houses and apartments they built.
As popular as it may be to blame the developers, the form of greed they represent could not have prospered were it not for the system created by our politicians and enabled by our civil service, regulators and our banks.