THE scene: the Burlington Road bunker, the new sparkling headquarters of Anglo Irish Bank. A board meeting last Thursday morning.
In the chair, Alan Dukes, flanked by ex-Bank of Ireland chief Maurice Keane, ex-AIB chief Gary Kennedy, ex-Fianna Fail senator Aidan Eames, Anglo chief executive Mike Aynsley and Teagasc chairman Noel Cawley.
All stand. Round of applause for Dukes as he enters the bunker.
Mutual backslapping for the chairman’s “brilliant” interview on RTE’s six o’clock news on Tuesday after the disastrous interim figures.
Dukes: “The worst is over. Well done, Mike, you held the latest line about containing the rescue at €25bn.
“And allellujah, did anyone read the news this morning? Developer Liam Carroll has been granted permission to finish our new headquarters in the docklands. When are we moving in, Mike?”
Aynsley: “Ahem, chairman, we have only just bedded down in the Burlington bunker.”
Dukes: “Come on, Mike. Are you not on message? Have you not read our mantra: ‘There is a future for Anglo.’ We will not be winding down. We will all be here in 10 years’ time when our ‘good bank’ is up and running. Prepare the site in the docklands.”
Aynsley: “Ahem, chairman, did you read Lex this morning in the Financial Times? He is not quite so cocksure about our survival. In fact, he has called us a ‘rotting corpse’.”
Dukes: “I did not get where I am today by reading Lex. Time for a break. I need a cigarette.”
(Short chairman’s nicotine break)
Dukes: “Welcome back. We seem to be losing support for project ‘Phoenix’, our plan to keep the bank alive. Even the politicians are gunning for us.
“God help us, we should be able to influence politicians, of all people. I am a Fine Gael ‘has been’. And Aidan, there appear to be some wobbly wimps in your Fianna Fail.
“Could you make a call to Deputy Sean Fleming and to your pal Brian Lenihan to wise them up? Tell Brian that we are fighting a lonely rearguard action down here in the bunker.”
Eames: “Brian is not my pal. Conor is my chum. And to be honest, Charlie Haughey, not the Lenihans, was my first patron — and Charlie is beyond reach. I might call Pat Farrell, head of the Irish Bankers Federation, he is an ex-FF general secretary. Seems to have the ear of the minister. What should I tell him?”
Dukes: “Tell him to stop the Government sliding towards an orderly wind-down. Tell him that Anglo has a future. It will be a bank for small businesses when the poison is removed. And tell him to inform the European Commission that we are going to last forever.
“And Mike, what about the other politicians? How can we put a gag on them? Dan Boyle was throwing shapes earlier this week, seeking an earlier wind-down.
“My old Fine Gael colleagues are thumping the table in disbelief and Labour’s Joan Burton is stabbing her stiletto at the corpse. Can we enlighten them?”
Aynsley: “Yes, I have fixed a private briefing with key politicians for Tuesday. The list includes both Dan and Joan. We must pay special attention to Joan. She is a trifle too bright for my blood, but most of the others will not understand a word I am saying after the first three syllables.
“The press will not be admitted, so there should be fewer tantrums and less theatricals.
“Some of those media guys understand the numbers far too well. The board will note that we held no press conference after the dreadful interims this week. A bit of good media management. Politicians will be bamboozled by figures.”
Dukes: “Hear, hear. That is why I left politics. I could not suffer fools gladly.”
Eames: “Forgive me, chairman — did you not lose your seat to one of our Fianna Fail soldiers in Kildare? Is that not why you are our chairman today? Otherwise you would probably now be leader of Fine Gael and Taoiseach-in-waiting.”
Dukes: (Chokes on his coffee).
“Gentlemen, I need a fag. I call a 10-minute break, all right?”
(Short nicotine break)
Dukes: “Welcome back, gents.”
Kennedy: “Chairman, I have just come from a board meeting at Elan. They could probably offer you a cure for nicotine addiction. At one time they were marketing a patch for your problem. Would you like me to order one for you?”
Dukes: “Stick to the knitting, Gary. Give us your expert views on the property market and a rundown on how AIB lost its shirt while you were finance director. By the way, have you still shares in AIB?”
Kennedy: “Er. I am still a holder. Anglo and AIB are no longer in competition. So I am not conflicted. I’ll ring my pal Eugene Sheehy for his views on the property market. I still have great contacts at AIB, you know. Eugene is thriving. I spotted him running around Clonskeagh this week in shorts and a T-shirt.”
Dukes: “Ahem. Maurice, as one of the BoI old guard, what are your views on bankers’ pay? Are we rewarding our staff — including Mike’s €500,000 a year — enough? Ha ha. By the way, did you sell your BoI shares when you came on the Anglo board?”
Keane: “No, why should I? I will ring one of the bright guys from my days in the BoI, young Brian Goggin, for his views on remuneration. I cannot remember protesting against high pay when I was in the saddle there. Presumably there are no problems about my shareholding. We are offering no competition to Bank of Ireland, are we? We are a zombie bank. Or, as the FT said, a ‘rotting corpse’.”
Dukes: “God help us, Maurice. Where did you learn such transparency? Certainly not during your stint at the BoI. Do not let the European Commission hear you. They might stop the State aid. Our submission — which they rejected — insisted that there was lots of life in Anglo yet.
“Listen, my fellow directors, I know that we lost €8.2bn last year, I know that Sean Quinn still owes us €2.8bn, I know that Standard & Poor’s says the cost of the bailout will rise to €35bn, but King Canute would be proud of us.
“Are we not about to own Arnotts and Quinn Insurance? Any director who does not believe Anglo will survive and prosper should resign. That’s the party line.
“Any dissenters? (Not a murmur.) That is fine so.”
Dukes continues: “We have hit the bottom — again. We in the new Anglo must insist that the €25bn figure is a line in the sand. We are going to create an expanding bank with project ‘Phoenix’. And the losses are not the only ballooning feature. I will retain my €150,000-a-year fees, giving me €1.5m over the decade. You guys will draw your stipend, now increased to €73,000 a year.
“Give me the telephone, Mike. I want to ring Liam Carroll to tell him to complete Anglo’s headquarters in the docklands. Shall I tell him to add a few more storeys for our expansion into the Quinn empire and Arnotts, brick by brick, all the way up to cloud cuckoo land?
“Now, time for another nicotine break.”