Irish finance minister understands public anger over bailouts

Former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan

Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan says he understands the Irish public's anger at the vast sums of money being thrust at the banking sector by the Irish government, and in particular at Anglo Irish Bank.

Delivering the keynote speech at the annual Michael Collins commemoration ceremony in County Cork yesterday, Lenihan said the public's fury was a quite reasonable response to the widespread recklessness and incompetence that fueled the banking crisis.

'Like others, I hope that anyone who broke the law will face its full rigors,' he added.

Defending the Irish government's support of the banks, Lenihan said their decision was based on expert advice that they needed to stand behind the banks to ensure a sustainable financial system is established.

'In the case of Anglo Irish Bank, we acted to ensure that the resolution of debts does not damage Ireland’s international credit-worthiness and end up costing us even more than we must now pay.'

Lenihan also tried to reassure the public about the cost of the enterprise. 'What I can promise is that as minister I will try to ensure that the burden is borne by those who can best afford it,' he added.

Lenihan said that both he and the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan, agreed matters concerning the banks needed to be resolved quickly and that whatever solution was found must keep the cost to the Irish taxpayer to an absolute minimum.

The minister also said he did not believe his health concerns were impairing his capacity to do his job. Lenihan is suffering from pancreatic cancer, but he said he had been to every cabinet meeting since January with the exception of a couple he missed while on European business.

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