I regret playing round of golf with Sean FitzPatrick, but only because of the 'optics' - Brian Cowen
Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen regrets a round of golf with Anglo boss Sean FitzPatrick "if only for the optics", he told the Banking Inquiry.
The controversial game took place in Druids Glen on July 23, 2008, just months after a catastrophic collapse of Anglo Irish Bank shares.
Mr Cowen played with Mr FitzPatrick and his long-term friend Fintan Drury, a former Anglo director. Later the trio joined Alan Gray, a director of the Central Bank, Gary McGann, a director of Anglo, and Mr Cowen's driver for dinner at the golf club.
Mr Cowen described the game as "unfortunate from an optical point of view".
"Yes, I'd rather it didn't happen," he told the Banking Inquiry.
When Deputy Kieran O'Donnell asked him if he had shown poor judgement in taking part, Mr Cowen responded that there was nothing wrong with what he did.
"I didn't do anything inappropriate or untoward. If people want to set it up that something happened, I can't do anything about it," he said.
Several Deputies questioned Mr Cowen about that golf outing. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked if the former Taoiseach knew that it was mainly Anglo individuals who would be present.
"It didn't occur to me much really," he said.
Mr Cowen said he had asked Fintan Drury to get some people together to discuss the economy which was clearly slowing down. He insisted there had been no discussion during the day about banking and "this is the truth. It was about economic issues". He told Deputy Joe Higgins that the conversation had focussed on discussing economic challenges.
"I don't believe it should stretch credibility," he added.
"I'm here under oath telling the truth. It was about economic issues - it was nothing to do with Anglo Irish Bank at all."
He rejected suggestions that he had "over-ruled" Brian Lenihan on the night of the bank guarantee.
Mr Cowen described the private meeting between the two on that night after which Mr Lenihan changed his mind about a blanket guarantee.
"There was no question of our conversation being in any way adversarial or confrontational with each other," said Mr Cowen.
"We were talking the issue through. Both of us were deliberating with each other and striving to find the best course of action for the country at this point".
He said he had explained his reservations to Mr Lenihan and "reassured him that nationalisation (of Anglo and Irish and Nationwide banks) was something that we could not rule out in the future".
He said he also told him "a limited guarantee seemed to me preferable than giving an open-ended guarantee which a full nationalisation would entail".
During the meeting, it became clear that "all banks were running out of cash" and depending on the run rate, it could now be days rather than weeks.
In relation to the senior bondholders, he said given the uncertainty in the market it was decided to include senior bondholders to maintain maximum market access to the financial system. In response to questions from Senator Susan O'Keeffe, Mr Cowen made a point of apologising to his colleagues that he had not called a cabinet meeting that night to discuss the decision.
"It is a matter of regret to me. It would have been better for me to call a cabinet meeting, even at 6am," he said.
Mr Cowen told the committee he still believed the blanket bank guarantee decision was the best that could have been taken given the information available to the government.
He said he believed EU institutions had tried to push Ireland into a bailout programme in later 2010 with selective leaks to international media.
Mr Cowen felt this was an attempt to "bounce" Ireland into a decision by creating an impression that the IMF (International Monetary Fund) was in town already.
Mr Cowen insisted that as Taoiseach he took his share of responsibility in respect of what happened. "I have at all times sought to do what was right for the country," he said.
"The responsibility I accept is where it lies at the Taoiseach's office."
SEE PAGE 14