Sunday 22 September 2019

Who's who of debtors suggests a golden circle who dominated commercial life

The site of the proposed new HQ of Anglo Irish Bank
The site of the proposed new HQ of Anglo Irish Bank

Thomas Molloy

THERE are several striking features among the high-profile debtors of Anglo Irish Bank back in the summer of 2012.

The first feature is the remarkably homogeneous nature of those who owed money to the bank at that period; apart from the religious orders, they are almost all middle-aged men with a base in south Dublin.

The names look like the membership of an expensive golf club. Anybody who is inclined to believe that commercial life here is dominated by a golden circle would find plenty of evidence to back-up their theories.

What is equally interesting is who did not borrow from Anglo at all.

The almost complete absence of politicians among the high-profile borrowers is the one aspect that is good news.

We don't know why the political class were not borrowing from Anglo in the years before the bust. Perhaps it simply reflects the disdain of Anglo executives for elected officials which was such a stark feature of the Anglo Tapes first published in this newspaper.

What we do know is that this is all a far cry from the 1980s, when former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey was a major debtor to Allied Irish Banks shortly after that bank was saved from collapse by the State in another expensive bailout.

The bailout of Anglo was a calamitous decision that made the country's loss of sovereignty inevitable. If we can take away one thing from this, it is that the Anglo bailout was not due any attempt by the political class to save their own financial skins. Our leaders may have made the wrong decision but they did so for the right motives.

Another group absent is minorities of almost any kind. While the Catholic Church appears several times in different disguises, there is no sign that the Church of Ireland or other denominations had any dealings with Anglo Irish at this stage.

Catholics will probably be annoyed that their donations have gone to waste while Protestants might wonder whether they are excluded from Ireland's cosy golf club financial community.

With almost 10pc of the population coming from overseas, ethic minorities of all kinds may well be asking themselves the same question. Women, while not a minority in the country as a whole, were certainly a minority when it came to high-profile borrowers at the bank 18 months ago. Again, this raises interesting questions about who has access to credit in our society.

A group conspicuous by its absence is the artistic community. None of Ireland's many actors or authors appear to have presented themselves at the doors of Anglo Irish Bank's swish headquarters on St Stephen's Green and asked for a loan.

Another major high-profile group not present includes industrialists: the sort of people who borrow money to invest in factories and other projects that create jobs. While many industrialists prefer to stay under the radar and do not seek publicity, the country's leading industrialists are certainly high-profile.

While there are one or two, it is striking how Anglo's lending policies appear to have been skewed towards financiers rather than business people who might be expected to have invested in anything other than property.

The country's best-known retailers are also noticeably absent. In retrospect, this should not be too surprising. Very few major retailers built shops, preferring instead to rent retail space from developers.

While they may complain about the high rents they are forced to pay, our biggest shopkeepers do not appear to have been left with the massive loans linked to bricks and mortar developments.

While it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from such a limited sample, we can say with certainty that Anglo's high-profile debtors in 2012 included many men but few women, dozens of legal eagles but no doctors.

There was also a relatively high number of rugby players but no GAA players. Many Catholic organisations but no Protestant equivalents. There were also a sprinkling of journalists but no artists or writers.

Irish Independent

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