Thursday 20 September 2018

We didn't promote cowboy speculators, former Taosieach Brian Cowen tells probe

Former Taoiseach and a former Finance Minister Brian Cowen arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House yesterday
Former Taoiseach and a former Finance Minister Brian Cowen arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House yesterday
Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD arrives at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry in Leinster House, Dublin
Former Taoiseach and a former Finance Minister Brian Cowen arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House yesterday
Brian Cowen Budget 2005
Brian Cowen Budget 2006
Brian Cowen Budget 2007
Brian Cowen Budget 2008

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen has dismissed suggestions of a cosy relationship between his government and property developers forged in the infamous tent at the Galway races.

"No, it's not the case at all. You couldn't get a winner in a Galway tent, never mind anything else," he told TD Joe Higgins at the Banking Inquiry

Mr Cowen said there was a lot of mythology about the "hospitality tent", but if there were big meetings and contracts being signed in the tent "why would you bring in the media to sit down beside you".

"The people were attending a race meeting and we, as a political party, a democratic party that has audited accounts, you know, there for everyone to see," he added.

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Mr Cowen insisted that people in the property sector had never influenced him as Minister for Finance.

"No is the answer. I am my own man."

He also accused Deputy Higgins as "setting me up as some sort of guy who's promoting cowboy speculators. I'm not Deputy, I'm not. I don't travel in those circles at all."

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The former Taoiseach strongly defended the €440bn blanket bank guarantee as the most decisive step the government could take on the night to deal with the problem.

"We had one shot at it. If we did not get it right, Ireland, we were told, would be set back 25 years. We had to go with the best information available to us at the time," he said.

Mr Cowen suggested that if he and his Finance Minister Brian Lenihan had made the wrong call, Ireland would be cast into financial turmoil.

During more than eight hours of testimony, Mr Cowen said as head of government at the time, "I accept full and complete responsibility for my role".

He insisted the Irish Government were "on our own" that night and there was no European assistance open to them.

Mr Cowen rejected the assertion by Fianna Fail TD Michael McGrath that he mismanaged the economy during his tenure at the Department of Finance.

"I don't accept there was mismanagement of the economy by us," he said.

He insisted that the government dealt with the financial crisis to the very best of its ability.

The former Taoiseach did say sorry to the Irish people for the "hardship and distress" the decisions he made brought in order to tackle the crisis.

"The human cost of dealing with this crisis, which we sought to mitigate as best we could, was the most difficult aspect of the decisions we had to make," he said.

He said he agreed with previous evidence from Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan that the primary responsibility for the crisis lay with the banks themselves.

There was reckless lending by individual banks made worse by a bonus culture. Mr Cowen said the €34bn cost of Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society would not be recovered, but had they collapsed the effect would have been catastrophic.

It was becoming clear that there was no solution free of risk, he added.

He also said there was "clearly a culture of deference in operation between the Financial Regulator and the Financial Institutions it was regulating".

Mr Cowen was repeatedly quizzed about a private dinner he attended with Anglo Irish Bank board members on April 24, 2008.


Mr Cowen said he was invited to attend a dinner by Anglo non-executive director Fintan Drury, who was a friend of his for 20 years.

He had attended the informal event without the presence of any of his officials. He had not been briefed or taken notes.

Mr Cowen said he had not met with the bank at any time while he was Minister for Finance and felt it would be "discourteous" not to accept the invitation.

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