The Anglo tapes - Irish need to hear similar conversations from AIB and Bank of Ireland too


Angry protesters gather at Anglo Buildings in Galway (Photo: Galway Indo)

The Anglo Irish tapes has been the biggest story here for ages, an Irish Independent exclusive that has enraged the country and led to calls for a public inquiry and prosecutions.

But when you strip away the bad language and the macho talk, what the tapes reveal was not really that surprising. 

Anglo was going down the plughole at the time in 2008, with a billion euro a day being withdrawn from the bank by big depositors and institutions that were nervous about the bank's exposure to the Irish property market which was then in the early stage of its steep decline.

Anglo had about a week or two left before it would be completely bust.  So naturally "the lads" at the top were desperately trying to save themselves and the bank.    

The macho language and posturing was bravado covering rising panic as they realized the situation was slipping away from them unless they could get emergency funding in fast from the Irish or European Central Bank, or somewhere else.

For example, they knew the €7 billion they were asking the Irish authorities for -- a figure one of them says on the tape he pulled out of his arse -- was unlikely to be enough.  But it's also clear that none of them really knew how big the hole in the bank was going to get.   

The truth is that at the time no one did, because everything depended on how far the Irish property market was going to fall.  It was a moving train, and getting a fix on it was not easy.

Property prices in 2008 up to September that year (when the tapes were made) fell by around eight percent; the market had peaked and turned the previous year, 2007.   

Clearly international investors believed Irish property was seriously over-valued and were pulling their money out of Irish banks, but how far would prices fall?  Was it possible to know then that the whole thing was a bubble and that by 2012 property prices would have fallen by well over 50 percent?   

Anglo Irish was exposed on a massive scale to the property market.  But in 2008 it was still possible to claim that the problem it and the bigger Irish banks were facing was temporary liquidity rather than solvency.  We're all geniuses in hindsight, but that needs to be remembered.

What really enraged the Irish public last week was the revelation on the tapes that the Anglo lads had apparently tried to con the Irish authorities.  They asked for €7 billion, knowing it was not going to be enough, so that the Irish Central Bank would have "skin in the game."

In other words, when the lads would come back looking for more the Irish authorities would feel they had to keep giving.  Which is exactly what happened.        
That and the cavalier attitude, the macho language and the contempt for the Irish authorities, is easy to characterize as outrageous or criminal.

But a lot of it is merely the Irish version of the way the banking Masters of the Universe talk to each other.  And as far as the language is concerned, if the private phone conversations between other senior bankers -- or politicians or editors -- were recorded at times of high stress they might not be very different in tone. 

Of course that did not stop many politicians and newspaper columnists here getting all sanctimonious last week, trying to outdo each other in outrage. 

Forget about the language and the macho banter about billions.  What is involved here is much bigger than the phone chatter between the senior Anglo executives as the pressure mounted.

The bigger picture which still remains hidden is not what was going on in Anglo, it was what was happening in the Big Two Irish banks and at official level at that time. 

It wasn't just Anglo that bankrupted the Irish state (although it played a major part). The property gambling of the other Irish banks was also to blame, as well as the vast overspending by the Irish state (all based on property taxes) during the boom.   

The main reason Ireland went down was the insistence by the European Central Bank, heavily influenced by the Germans, that the cost of the banking catastrophe here had to be borne entirely by the Irish taxpayer.