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Sunday 11 December 2016

Dan White: 'Sorry' still the hardest word for €27m man Michael Fingleton

Michael Fingleton arrives at the Banking Inquiry in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Michael Fingleton arrives at the Banking Inquiry in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke

Former Irish Nationwide boss Michael Fingleton appeared before the Banking Inquiry yesterday - and what an appearance it turned out to be.

It was the first time he has answered questions about his management of the building society since he 'retired' six years ago.

Unfortunately, anyone hoping for answers was disappointed.

Instead, we got the usual expressions of "regret". However, Fingleton's mea-culpa was of the strictly limited variety, telling the Inquiry that: "I don't regret any decision I took, but I do regret that [Irish Nationwide Building Society] had a loan book that was too large".

Whose fault was that exactly?

Fingleton ran INBS with an iron fist for 39 years. The Inquiry heard that he could personally approve loans of up to €1m.

Untrammelled

The revelation that Fingleton had virtually untrammelled authority to approve loans at Irish Nationwide and that normal procedures were habitually disregarded, will hardly come as any surprise to anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of its affairs.

In July, the Central Bank fined INBS - now part of IBRC - the maximum €5m after uncovering literally dozens of regulatory breaches.

The Central Bank's director of enforcement, Derville Rowland, said that Nationwide had admitted to failings that amounted to a "consistent and, at times, wholesale disregard for its own policies and procedures".

In what was a competitive field, INBS was easily the most reckless Irish lender during the Celtic Tiger era.

By comparison with Nationwide the other Irish lenders were almost paragons of sober, responsible banking.

The society ended up writing off €5.4bn of its €8bn of lending to builders and property developers, getting on for two-thirds of the total.

This was the banking equivalent of Animal House.

Despite this, Mr Fingleton is still refusing to hand back the massive €27.6m pension pot and €1m bonus which he received from Irish Nationwide.

The bonus was paid after the 2008 bank bailout and at a time when the Nationwide was rapidly going bust.

Apparently Mr Fingleton feels that he has been "wronged" in media coverage of the Irish Nationwide.

Clearly for Mr Fingleton, "sorry" is the hardest word.

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