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Taoiseach denies 'secret agenda' after golf game with disgraced banker

Taoiseach Brian Cowen last night insisted there was no secret agenda behind a previously undisclosed golf game and dinner he shared with disgraced ex-banker Sean FitzPatrick.

Mr Cowen faced demands for a full explanation of the outing at an exclusive resort two months before he oversaw a crippling plan to save Anglo-Irish Bank and other banks from collapse.

The Taoiseach admitted playing the round at Druid's Glen, Wicklow, but insisted Mr FitzPatrick's now defunct property bank was not discussed.

"I want to take this opportunity to utterly refute any suggestions of impropriety on my part arising out of the recent publication of a book about Sean FitzPatrick," Mr Cowen said.

The Labour Party had accused the Taoiseach of giving contradictory accounts of how he first became aware of the crisis facing scandal-hit Anglo Irish Bank.

The golf match and a subsequent phonecall - not revealed until interviews with Mr FitzPatrick were published yesterday - took place as Anglo was brought to its knees by plummeting share value and the rest of Ireland's banking sector was on the brink of collapse.

Joan Burton, Labour's finance spokeswoman, claimed Mr Cowen suggested to the Dail in February 2009 that he heard about the bank's stock problems from official sources, including the Financial Regulator.

But Mr Cowen said there was nothing inappropriate in his contacts with now bankrupt Mr FitzPatrick.

"I am quite clear that no discussions regarding Anglo Irish Bank took place," the Taoiseach said.

"It was a social outing in full public view. There was nothing untoward, no hidden or secret agenda and no concessions, favours or interventions requested or granted.

"Certain people are drawing inferences for political and other motives, they are malicious, unfounded and have no basis in fact."

Ms Burton had said: "At no time did he disclose to the Dail that his first indication of this problem came in a call to his mobile phone from his golfing pal, Sean FitzPatrick."

The pair had shared a round of golf on the exclusive Druid's Glen resort in Co Wicklow in July 2008. A former Anglo board member and long-term friend of the Taoiseach's, Fintan Drury, also played.

"At best the Taoiseach was being economical with the truth. At worst he deliberately misled the Dail," Ms Burton said.

Mr Cowen made the statement after talks with junior coalition colleague and Green Party leader John Gormley. It is understood he was unaware of the contacts until yesterday and was said to be concerned at the revelations.

The Taoiseach will face questions on his relationship with Mr FitzPatrick in the Dail on Wednesday.

Mr Cowen said the phone call he took from the ex-Anglo chairman while in Malaysia in July 2008 related to concerns over the bank's shares.

The following September the Government moved to protect the Irish banks with a wholesale multi-billion guarantee ultimately being paid for by the taxpayer.

Mr Cowen reiterated that he told Mr FitzPatrick he would relay his concerns to the Central Bank.

The Sunday Times yesterday revealed the contacts between Mr Cowen and former banker.

Mr FitzPatrick said he flagged up issues with insurance tycoon Sean Quinn's complex but failing holding in the rogue lender during the earlier phonecall.

In an extract from The FitzPatrick Tapes - written by two Sunday Times journalists after exclusive interviews with the former bank boss he describes his favoured source of investment advice: The Financial Times website and The Economist, "but for the real McCoy you can't beat the 19th hole on the golf course".

Leo Varadkar, Fine Gael TD, said it was "hard to believe" Mr FitzPatrick's version of events.

"This game of golf with Fintan Drury and Brian Cowen and Sean FitzPatrick must have gone on for three or four hours," Mr Varadkar told RTE Radio.

"It would seem strange to me that they did not discuss the condition of the bank at the time."

Sinn Fein said the Government should step down.

Gerry Adams, party president, said: "The FitzPatrick revelations again expose a Government which is incapable of governing in the interests of citizens.

"There is no public trust or confidence in the Government. It should go."

© Press Association