Monday 21 October 2019

Fingleton points the finger at everybody - except himself

Michael Fingleton arrives at the Banking Inquiry in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Michael Fingleton arrives at the Banking Inquiry in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke

Lise Hand

Gone was the jaunty fedora and trademark round-shaped facial topiary which once was so visible in sundry swanky venues around town as the banking boom kept on getting boomier. Michael Fingleton looked his age - he is in his mid-seventies, after all - as he arrived into the banking inquiry.

He sounded a bit frail as he read out his opening statement in which he gave his views on why it had all gone dreadfully pear-shaped for his institution, Irish Nationwide Building Society (INBS). Given that one day it was Celtic cock-of-the-walk, and the next a financial feather-duster which required an eye-watering €5.4bn dig-out from that bunch of poor saps collectively known as The Taxpayer, it was no wonder he was a bit discombobulated.

However, it transpired that Fingers really wasn't particularly discombobulated at all. He was more bullish than a street in Pamplona, spikier than a prickle of porcupines and as regret-filled as Edith Piaf.

The former INBS boss hadn't lost his mojo in the years since the crash. He threw some of the more trenchant questioners off their stride by meekly asking them to repeat the question. He became testy and truculent with other inquisitors. And he threw blame for the financial fiasco around like snuff at a wake. But precious little of it landed on him - Fingers pointed the finger at everyone else.

Every letter of the alphabet, he explained, had predicted a soft landing. There was to be no crash, just a gentle swoon onto a comfy mattress. "We were influenced in our views by the forecasts and commentaries arising from successive reports by the Central Bank, the IMF, the OECD, the EU, the ECB, the Department of Finance, the EIB, the World Bank, the ESRI and the NESC. In addition, all the economists in the banks, stockbrokers and academia were of the same view," he stated flatly.

Nor was the society insolvent on the infamous night of guarantee, he insisted. Nor could any bank have prevented the property bubble from bursting. "The only entities that could have acted to prevent the property bubble were the Regulator, the Central Bank, the Department of Finance or the Government," he declared.

Yep, that was just about everyone covered in snuff.

He did express a soupcon of tristesse though. Pearse Doherty wanted to know more. "What is it exactly that you regret?" he asked.

"I just regret that the State and the taxpayer had to pick up the bill for the collapse of the whole financial market and, in particular, for the banking sector," he replied. "I don't regret any decisions I took at the time," he added. Though he did regret that the society hadn't stopped lending to developers as the bubble grew.

In fact, poor old Fingers felt a bit sorry for himself. "Do you feel you've been wronged?" suggested Fianna Fáil's Michael McGrath. "I feel, deputy, I've been misrepresented, seriously. Eighty percent of what has been written about me is totally wrong, and 10pc is disputable. Maybe 10pc is true," he said irritably."

Silence fell. Perhaps the committee members were reaching for their violins.

Poor chap. Still, at least he has his €30m pension to keep his spirits up. And that princely sum was personally amassed by himself from a modest €3m or so. "The fund built up to almost €30m based on my decisions on what to invest in," he explained.

Clever Gold Fingers. With such a Midas touch, how did the society ever end up in trouble at all?

But alas, questions on the touchy subjects of his €1m bonus and the €11,000 watch bestowed upon him on his retirement were hastily shot down by the chairman Ciaran Lynch as they pertain to a pending legal action.

"Tut-tut," warned Ciaran when Fine Gael's Kieran O'Donnell had the temerity to mention the watch.

Frustration fizzed in the room. He was slippery as an eel, was Fish Fingers.

The committee had been "tough but fair," he happily told the gloomy members as he sailed out. But they sure as hell weren't as tough as Michael Fingleton.

Irish Independent

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