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Old Hat From Anglo’s New Boss

Posted on: February 22nd, 2009 1 Comment

Monday

AN early morning head-to- head with publishers Penguin. “Where the hell is the book?” they ask, impatiently.

In a moment of weakness some months ago, I agreed to write a book about the dark side of our bankers. The timetable is falling behind. The Penguin boys give me a right bollocking. I plead that it will be ready before the spring is out. (My mother always told me that the spring ended in April).

Not good enough for them, but it will have to do. I had better read the contract to see whether they can confiscate any royalties if it is not finished on time.

The book will be bang up-to-date, covers all the FitzPatrick shenanigans, the night of the long knives in Government buildings, the death of Anglo plus the knaves, fools, builders and politicians who have controlled Irish banking for decades. And the few heroes.

Suitably chastened, I ring Gary Kennedy the one-time number two at AIB to ask for his version of events, on or off the record. He politely “declines the opportunity”. A pity that. I had no intention of reminding the nation of his €2.8m payoff from AIB, nor of pointing out that he is now part of a new golden circle, the merry-go-round reserved for ex-bankers. Gary is on the juicy directors’ circuit with board membership of Elan and he even overlapped last year as a director of Greencore with Sean Fitz.

Tuesday

A TRIP to Cheltenham means a jaunt through the chaos at Dublin Airport.

Nothing works. The carpark screws me for €40 for staying less than a day. The cafe at Departures is filthy. The spare tables are covered in debris. Moving staircases refuse to move. The long walk to pier D must be a world record. This bombsite houses one of the biggest shacks of all the semi-States. It ranks with FAS for inefficiency.

In Cheltenham, I miss a meeting of the Oireachtas Economic and Regulatory Committee, the body initially determined to compel Sean FitzPatrick to give evidence. Chairman Michael Moynihan has shown a bit of bottle but the crafty civil servants call in the lawyers who give all sorts of clever reasons why FitzPatrick should be spared the ordeal. The Committee buckles under. Sir Humphrey is alive and well and ruling the roost. I nearly have a coronary when I read about it on the plane home.

I arrive in Dublin, ring the Oireachtas lawyers. They make a less than convincing case for letting FitzPatrick and others off the hook.

There will be another meeting on Tuesday. How in God’s name can the TDs justify their reluctance to question FitzPatrick? I would suggest that they had been politically nobbled, had not Moynihan and government whip Pat Carey seemed determined to bring the bankers in to answer questions.

Wednesday

DAN O’Brien, a rare creature — an economist with street cred — breaks a taboo.

Dan goes on Newstalk’s George Hook show and spills the beans about the Irish economy. Not a popular guy in financial circles here, Dan warns that Ireland may be heading for bankruptcy.

Dan is not some lunatic seeking sensational publicity. He has pedigree, real form as a forecaster. It was Dan who coldly predicted that our property boom was an unsustainable frenzy while other economists were fuelling it. I ring him at the Economist Intelligence Unit and ask him of the likelihood of the nation hitting skid row. “Still less than 10 per cent, but rising,” he volunteers. Chilling stuff.

I determine to raise the spectre of national bankruptcy in the Senate on Thursday. Everybody is muttering about the unmentionable in the Dail bar and restaurant, but they are pulling their punches in the debating chambers.

After warning of debtor’s prison for the country, I am ticked off for treason by Donie Cassidy, Fianna Fail’s most loyal son.

But today a report from Europe suggests that we are not taking our recovery plans seriously enough. If we get the “thumbs down” from Europe, the worst warnings about our being evicted from the euro — along with basket cases like Greece — could come to pass.

It may be time to show loyalty to our friends in the next Lisbon Treaty referendum.

Thursday

RTE’s Morning Ireland again covers the Oireachtas expenses row. Why on earth the debate is allowed to fester is beyond me. A sharp, deep cut is necessary — but it should be done now, not tomorrow.

No mention of it in the Senate at 10.30am. Fianna Fail Senator Terry Leyden tantalisingly brandishes a “list”, apparently of the 10 amigos who supported the Anglo share price with the €451m borrowed from the bank.

Afterwards I ask him who is on his list. “Everybody bar Mother Teresa,” he reveals.

Speculation about the names fascinate Leinster House. Most chatter centres around developers. I can already count 30 of the 10.

Senator Feargal Quinn offers a welcome diversion from the nation’s banking obsession, demanding a debate on all forms of energy including the political taboo of nuclear power.

Feargal has no hardened position on the issue but believes we should all inform ourselves better about the nuclear option, particularly as the ESB monster is a massive cost to business and punter alike. The entry of Bord Gais into the electricity market is a commercial coup which is welcome in upsetting the ESB dinosaur.

Friday

BERNARD Allen and the Public Accounts Committee’s report on FAS is publicised.

Totally damning. It is deeply critical of the board, but pulls its punches about calling for heads. Why?

Like the bank boards, the directors of FAS are clinging on. Bernard and his crew should not have hesitated — but the social partnership industry has a powerful hold on politicians.

Bernard’s report lashes the right of the social partners to eight automatic slots on the overpaid FAS directors’ gravy train. It is a wonder to behold first-class Florida traveller, Fas chairman Peter McLoone, leading the charge on behalf of the public service brigade in the latest row over pensions. No doubt he will don the cloth cap for the protest marches.

The PAC findings confirm everything Nick Webb and I revealed in these pages about the reckless extravagance of this €1bn-a-year quango.

Late in the afternoon, Anglo Irish releases its much heralded annual report. What a damp squib. New chairman and former PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant Donal O’Connor produces a lot of old hat. Just as he did at the Anglo EGM when he pleaded investigations, lawyers, confidentiality, the lot, as his reason for not telling shareholders the full facts.

Why did he not tell us how on earth Sean FitzPatrick’s €84m loans were approved? Why did he not tell us who decided to doctor the year end accounts with the €7bn dodge through Irish Life & Permanent? Today we know no more about who approved FitzPatrick’s loans nor how the Irish Life dodge was devised. The name of Sean Quinn is not even mentioned. The auditors Ernst & Young are still on board.

And according to the report, the old Anglo directors resigned to make way for some new blood! Ahem. What humbug.

Nothing can be revealed because there are so many independent investigators at work. In many cases the report even fails to identify these “independent” saviours.

If O’Connor is hoping to put clear water between Old Anglo and New Anglo, he is fooling himself. International investors would prefer to have seen him make a clean breast of it. Instead, the report reads like an apology for the old regime.

I sense the hand of the Department of Finance in this tactic.

O’Connor should make way for Alan Dukes. And fast.