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The banking bromance with no happy ending


Brian O'Donnell arriving at the Banking Inquiry at Leinster House

Brian O'Donnell arriving at the Banking Inquiry at Leinster House

Tom Burke

Brian O'Donnell arriving at the Banking Inquiry at Leinster House

There were two oh-so familiar faces hanging about outside committee room 1, waiting for the doors of the banking inquiry to open.

It's quite the bromance which has developed between the odd couple of retired solicitor Brian O'Donnell, formerly of Gorse Hill, and Jerry Beades, of the self-styled New Land League, since they bonded in battle against Bank of Ireland over the Killiney mansion, and over a mutual enthusiasm for surfing the recent tsunami of publicity to progress their cause.

They were in Leinster House to listen to the evidence of O'Donnell's banking bĂȘte noir Richie Boucher, chief of Bank of Ireland. But there was to be no repeat of the embattled ex-multi-millionaire's attention-seeking stunt at the bank's EGM last week when he presented the BoI boss with the keys to his just-repossessed property.

Instead, the two men (who had been invited into the inquiry by Independent TD Mattie McGrath) sat quietly side-by-side in the public gallery for over four hours as Boucher answered questions relating to the meltdown of the State's financial institutions in 2008. "This is dull," whispered O'Donnell to his sidekick at one point.

But it wasn't dull, really. It was another salutary tale of how the lads stick together for richer and for poorer and for richer still, until debts to them part. It was another chapter in the tale of the protracted and feverish love-in between bankers and developers which surely should be titled Brokebank Mountain.

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins read from a letter which Boucher wrote in 2007 to Dublin City Council in relation to the hubristic, cockamamie plan by developer Sean Dunne to build a citadel of skyscrapers in the red-bricked residential haven of Ballsbridge.

"I believe [it] will significantly benefit the city of Dublin and its citizens through helping enhance the concept of a living city and providing buildings of significant architectural merit befitting Ireland of the 21st Century," wrote Richie, then-chief executive of the bank's retail financial services.

"Is it usual for banks to involve themselves in the planning process on behalf of developers?" asked Joe. "It was a mistake," replied Richie flatly. "It was one of the most stupid things I've done."

Labour senator Susan O'Keeffe homed in on another past utterance by Bullish Boucher from last year, when he remarked about the bank's property lending in the boom times, "when there is a wild party even good girls get into trouble".

Susan wanted to know what he meant by that. "In the past I was advised I used too much jargon," he explained, adding it was an "unfortunate" analogy to choose.

But of course the plain jargon-free fact is that it wasn't good girls, or even bad ones, who landed the country in such peril that Richie Boucher revealed he had been left "shocked and shaken" by the disarray he encountered at various crisis bank meetings in September 2008.

It was the lads - the boys in high places in government, in banks, in finance, who cosily wrote letters, struck deals, made money and circled the wagons, and ultimately left us all stranded on the slopes of Brokebank Mountain.

Irish Independent