Friday 18 October 2019

They wanted to do right by Seanie - but did wrong by the law

'They had wanted to do right by Seanie. But they had done wrong by the law'
'They had wanted to do right by Seanie. But they had done wrong by the law'

Lise Hand

Her eyes closed briefly, but otherwise there was no reaction from Aoife Maguire. But when the former Anglo official re-opened them, the bad dream hadn't gone away. She was still sitting under the bright lights of Court 19, still guilty of conspiring to hide accounts linked to her boss, Sean FitzPatrick, from the Revenue.

She was still caught in the gaze of the media, and under the scrutiny of curious members of the public who had filled the benches of the courtroom, wondering if they were about to witness something historic - the incarceration of a banker.

And Aoife Maguire, a junior cog in the big wheel that had been Anglo Irish Bank, was still going to jail for 18 months.

To her left sat her two former Anglo colleagues, Tiarnan O'Mahoney and Bernard Daly, who had just been handed down jail time of three years and two years respectively. Neither man had flinched when Judge Patrick McCartan had pronounced sentence - they simply looked straight ahead into the utterly silent court, their expressions solemn and sad.

It had been "a very, very difficult case," declared the judge as he surveyed the trio. They had arrived into the courtroom just after midday, still dressed in the same clothes as the day before, when they had no expectation that they would be spending that night behind bars - Tiarnan and Bernard in Cloverhill, and Aoife in the Dóchas Centre.

It was clear that the night in detention had taken its toll on Aoife in particular as they entered the court. Trembling and tearful, she took her seat, unwilling to make eye contact with anyone in the sea of faces, while her two colleagues scanned the room, silently acknowledging their supporters.

The sentencing of the Anglo Three wasn't a swift, perfunctory affair, with speedy pleas for mitigation from the lawyers and a brief coda by the judge before he doled out jail time.

This was because each of the defending senior counsels were at pains to illustrate to the judge that their three clients were essentially decent people who contributed much to their communities through charity work and involvement in local GAA, that they were of good character, sullied only by the black stain of what happened in Anglo.

In the short space of less than 24 hours since the guilty verdict, a gaggle of character witnesses and statements had been assembled.

Details of their private lives were recounted; Bernard Daly's youngest child has been deaf since birth, and the 67-year old wiped his eyes as Niall Keane, CEO of national deaf association DeafHear told the judge of the impact of the former banker's extensive work on behalf of the charity. "He's passionate and honourable and loyal."

Aoife dissolved into quiet tears as several friends took to the witness stand and spoke about her life.

The 62-year old had separated from her husband at an early stage and had raised their two-year-old daughter - now 32 and living abroad - on her own. "It was a very difficult time financially," said her longtime friend Liz Baker, who explained that Aoife had quit Anglo in early 2005 to nurse her sick mother and had been unemployed for a number of years.

She was deeply involved in her local GAA club, the Good Counsel in Drimnagh, where she mentored and trained camogie players.

Patrick Gageby SC told the court that unlike her co-accused, Aoife was never an officer of Anglo. "No one answered to her," he said.

And yet here she sat, awaiting sentence. From her court bench, 2003 must have felt like a different era, halcyon days when the bank was flying high under the Midas touch of Seanie. But then their charismatic CEO announced he was stepping down to become chairman.

Judge McCartan told the court that then a team was put together at the request of the bank's chief operations officer Tiarnan O'Mahoney and overseen by company secretary Bernard Daly to ensure that nothing would go to Revenue which might tarnish his gilded image. Assistant manager Aoife liaised with Tiarnan, sifting out potential embarrassing accounts relating to their outgoing boss.

The judge looked grave as he addressed the court. Their actions had been done "out of misplaced loyalty, but were still dishonest and were against all good banking principle and practices."

It wasn't often, he observed, that "people of such integrity" and "otherwise impeccable character" stood before him to be sentenced, adding that prison time would be harder, given their ages. But it was "a significant and deliberate fraud" which was well designed.

"Banking must be based on trust, it can't be otherwise," he concluded, just before sentencing them to jail.

Silence followed. All emotions had drained away after the volcanic shock of the previous day's verdict. During an adjournment after the character witnesses, the trio had said their goodbyes, hugging friends and family tightly, anticipating that their freedom was slipping away.

They had wanted to do right by Seanie. But they had done wrong by the law.

From their new accommodation in Dóchas and Mountjoy prisons, it is unlikely that Aoife or Tiarnan or Bernard were able to see the sky, where last night shone a rare Blue Moon, on the very rare day that former bankers ended up behind the bars of an Irish jail.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss