herald

Monday 16 September 2019

Laughing all the way from the banks

They’ve plunged you, your children and possibly even your grandchildren into financial crisis, saddling you with debt for years to come. So are those who led us to this sorry pass paying the price for their catastrophic errors?

Not a bit of it. Despite having beggared this country for at least a generation most of the guilty men, and they’re all men, left with their pockets stuffed with cash and eyewatering pensions when they were finally forced out of the jobs which they had occupied with such disastrous consequences.

Patrick Neary

Two days after US investment bank Lehman Brothers went bust, on September 17, 2008, the then Financial Regulator, Patrick Neary, told the Institute of Directors: "Irish banks are resilient and have good shock absorption capacity to cope with the current situation."

Patrick (never Paddy) Neary may have believed what he was saying but just about no one else did.

Less than two weeks later, on September 30, 2008, the Government was forced to unconditionally guarantee the deposits of the Irish banks, potentially exposing the taxpayer to a liability of over €400bn.

By the time Neary was finally forced to "retire" in January 2009, it was clear that his three-year term as Financial Regulator had been an unmitigated disaster.

His regime of "light touch" regulation turned out to be more a case of no regulation at all as the banks ran riot.

The bills for Neary's lackadaisical approach to bank regulation are now coming due.

Today the Government is expected to announce plans to inject up to €16bn of fresh capital into the Irish banks.

When added to the €11bn the Government had to pump in last year this brings the total cost of bailing out the banks to €27bn, the equivalent of almost one year's tax revenues.

Taxpayers, who are picking up the tab for the Irish banking disaster, will be delighted to learn that Neary didn't go unrewarded for his efforts.

After agreeing to go quietly he received an annual, index-linked pension of €143,000, a €428,000 lump sum and a further €202,000 early retirement pay-off.

John Hurley

At least Paddy Neary was forced to retire early. His boss, John Hurley, who was supposed to be monitoring Neary, had his term of office as Central Bank governor extended by Brian Lenihan for six months in March 2009.

By the time he finally retired in September 2009, it was clear that Hurley had allowed the banks to get away with murder during his seven-and-a-half years as Central Bank boss.

Civil service insiders weren't in the least bit surprised. During a public service career that lasted over 40 years he demonstrated an uncanny ability to dodge the bullets. Despite having been successively assistant secretary and secretary-general at the Department of Health between 1986 and 1994, Hurley emerged completely unscathed when the illegal nursing home charges were discovered.

Like Neary, he retired with a massive taxpayer-funded pension of approximately €175,000 and a lump sum of €525,000.

Meanwhile, taxpayers will be paying the cost of his failure to adequately supervise the Irish banks for decades to come.

Brian Goggin

Nothing became Brian Goggin's five-year term as Bank of Ireland boss more than the manner of his leaving.

Unlike some other bank bosses whose fingers had to be prised from their desks, Goggin quickly realised that the game was up and announced his intention to quit in January 2009.

Of course, if he hadn't gone voluntarily, he would almost have been forced out a few months later as the full extent of Bank of Ireland's losses became clear.

Bank of Ireland had revealed that it was expecting to write off at least €6.9bn in bad loans.

The announcement that Bank of Ireland will be suffering a 35pc "haircut" on the €12bn of bad loans it is transferring to NAMA will push its loan losses even higher.

Despite presiding over the worst performance in the bank's 227-year history, Goggin was lavishly rewarded when he stepped down with Bank of Ireland now paying him a €650,000 a year pension for the rest of his life.

Eugene Sheehy

At least Brian Goggin went quickly, which is more than can be said about former AIB boss Eugene Sheehy.

He hung on grimly and didn't announce his intention of "retiring" until April 2009, more than three months after his Bank of Ireland counterpart bowed out.

However, that wasn't the last we saw of Eugene. Far from it.

As the stand-off between the Government and the AIB board over who should succeed him dragged on and on, Sheehy managed to stay on as chief executive until November. He left a right mess behind him.

AIB has already fessed up to more than €7bn of bad debts and the announcement from NAMA is likely to result in the bank having to write off billions more of its bad loans.

This will force the Government to inject even more capital into AIB and increase the State shareholding to over 70pc.

Meanwhile, Eugene Sheehy will be able to contemplate where it all went wrong as he draws his annual AIB pension of €458,000.

Sean FitzPatrick

Even before he was arrested and questioned by the gardai, Sean FitzPatrick had become the poster boy for the excesses of the Irish banking system. The brash, perma-tanned banker, who refused to say "sorry" when interviewed by Marian Finucane on RTE radio, has come to embody everything that was wrong with the Irish banking system during the Celtic Tiger years.

And with good reason. It is now clear that Anglo was a cowboy bank. A cancer eating away at the innards of the Irish financial system.

Brian Lenihan was expected to announce that Anglo, which had to be nationalised in January 2009 to save it from going bust, would be transferring €36bn of bad loans, almost half of its total loan book to NAMA.

When it publishes its annual results shortly, Anglo is expected to reveal loan losses of €14bn.

When this is added to the €4bn of bad loans it has already written off, Anglo will have written off a quarter of its total loan book. By the time the Anglo disaster has been fully cleaned up, the cost to the taxpayer will be as near as makes no difference to €20bn.

Despite presiding over a corporate regime of unparalleled recklessness and irresponsibility, FitzPatrick still qualified for an annual pension of up to €533,000, according to the most recent Anglo annual report.

While his 4.5 million Anglo shares are now worthless and the bank is pursuing him for over €70m of unpaid loans, there's no fear of Seanie ever starving.

Michael Fingleton

With NAMA set to insist on applying a 60pc "haircut" on the bad loans being transferred to it by the Irish Nationwide, it is clear that Michael Fingleton's building society was completely out of control during the boom years.

Fingleton, who ran the Nationwide as a one-man-band for 38 years, transformed what had been a member-owned building society into what was essentially a highly-leveraged property hedge fund -- and the Financial Regulator did nothing about it.

By April 2009, with Nationwide having written off €460m of bad loans, Fingleton was finally forced to quit.

When it reports its 2009 results shortly it is expected to report losses of €2bn.

But weep not for Fingleton. He walked away from the Nationwide with a €27m pension pot and a €1m "performance bonus".

dwhite@herald.ie

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