Sunday 21 April 2019

Neary left in the rough as another round of Banking Inquiry blame game tees off

Happily for Mr Neary, his departure in 2009 was eased by a €630,000 severance deal and a pension of €118,000
Happily for Mr Neary, his departure in 2009 was eased by a €630,000 severance deal and a pension of €118,000

Lise Hand

Patrick Neary was eager to set the record straight. "I became aware of it, that's when they were discontinued."

So what could the former head of bank regulation during the dreadful years of financial peril be talking about? Clamping down on the banks' hysterical throwing of bags of dosh at property developers, perhaps? Or discouraging banks from throwing around 100pc mortgages like snuff at a wake?

Nope. The chap who was in charge when the banks toppled drunkenly from their champagne-soaked bar stools had taken a brave stand on golf balls.

Mr Neary had discovered the shop in the Regulator's office was offering golf balls as - what he described at the banking inquiry - "a suite of products" on offer among their "promotional materials".

"Who ordered the golf balls?" asked Labour's Susan O'Keeffe.

"I really don't know much about it other than when it was unearthed it was discontinued," he explained. "And I regret that. It shouldn't have happened."

Oh, we all regret it - to the tune of the €64bn black hole bequeathed to us by the banjaxed banks.

And somehow, it's utterly fitting that this particular sporting accessory should make an appearance at the Banking Inquiry.

For the small white ball could be a symbol of the cosy, elite old boys' club network which ran the country (into the ground) from the comfort of the 19th hole of a selection of well-appointed, exclusive golf-courses.

There was lots of comfort knocking about in those heady days.

The financial regulator's office was on the seventh floor of the Central Bank, the same floor as that of its then-Governor, John Hurley.

Mr Neary acknowledged that he would often bump into the governor on the corridors.

"I'd meet him quite frequently," he explained.

Chairman Ciarán Lynch interjected: "You could be having a cup of coffee?"

Mr Neary nodded: "And have a chat, yes, absolutely".

They were doubtless grand chats as they gazed over the stunning vista of the city's northside, which was then festooned with busy cranes. And no doubt Mr Neary was good company. He explained how the financial regulator was polishing its image (hence the golf balls). "It wanted to be seen as a friendly, can-do kind of organisation," he said.

What the financial regulator couldn't do, which became blindingly obvious as Mr Neary gave evidence yesterday, was spot the looming crisis or impose any sort of regulation on the out-of-control banking sector. In this, it was an abject failure. Time and again, Mr Neary admitted to a succession of failings by the office, deploying the phrase "in hindsight" over and over. It had been the system of light-touch regulation which was at fault, he insisted. "There was trust and reliance placed on the boards and management of the banks to conduct their affairs prudently and properly," he explained. "That clearly failed," he added.

Happily for Mr Neary, his departure in 2009 was eased by a €630,000 severance deal and a pension of €114,000. "Well, that's what the authority agreed to provide me with," he explained.

Throughout an intense nine hours of questioning, jaws frequently dropped as a tale of stupendous carelessness and chutzpah on the part of the office of the financial regulator unfolded, especially when the former boss revealed the regulator actually had powers to rein in banks which it had never deployed.

And golf made a re-appearance towards the end, when Ms O Keeffe asked him about playing rounds of golf with Anglo poohbahs when he was Prudential Director.​

He stopped playing when he was appointed ​Prudential Director of the Central Bank. "I just felt it had become inappropriate," he explained. Nor were they buddies of his. "They were people I knew strictly and traditionally from a golfing background," he assured the committee.

Oh, well, that's all right then. Pity they all took their collective eyes off the economic ball, though, and left the country languishing deep in the bunker for years.

Irish Independent

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