Ireland’s anger over Anglo tapes shifts in the right direction to Irish government’s Department of Finance and Central Bank


The Anglo Irish Bank office sign being taken down from its main Stephen’s Green location in Dublin in 2011.
The Anglo Irish Bank office sign being taken down from its main Stephen’s Green location in Dublin in 2011.

Public anger here at the Anglo Irish Bank tapes revelations is beginning to shift in the right direction at last.

As we hear more and more of the leaked tapes, it's becoming more and more obvious that the main villains of the banking collapse which led to the bankrupting of the country are not the frazzled, foul-mouthed executives at the top of Anglo Irish Bank.     

As we pointed out here last week, the Anglo Irish boss David Drumm and his top two executives who feature on the tapes were simply trying to save their imploding bank.  They were so desperate they were bending the rules and misleading the financial authorities -- and discussing it all in frat boy language that showed their contempt for the politicians, the civil servants, the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator who were all completely out of their depth.

The new tapes published last weekend showed just how clueless these public servants were, particularly in the Department of Finance and the Central Bank.

The Anglo boys were able to wrap them around their fingers, to the point where the authorities who should have been looking out for the country's interests were commiserating with the bankers about how awful the situation was, and how much pressure they were all under.  

There was an air of "we're all in this together."  Instead of probing and threatening, the public servants were pleading and cajoling.  None of them appeared to understand the scale and speed of the crisis that was engulfing Ireland or what to do about it.

The whole posture of the authorities was polite to the point of subservience to the bankers, even as the country headed towards the cliff.

So yes, the attitude, the behavior, and of course the language of the Anglo executives was appalling.  But the incompetence of those they were dealing with was far worse.  It was that failure at official level that eventually brought the country to its knees. 

At least the Anglo boys knew what was happening, and that is clear from the tapes.  In fact you could argue that if Anglo CEO David Drumm and his top execs had been running the Central Bank they would have tackled the crisis much more effectively. 

Even more shocking than the language of the Anglo boys and their cavalier talk of forcing billions out of the Central Bank which they would never be able to pay back, was the  "muddle through" attitude of the authorities. 

The people at the top who were supposed to be looking out for us taxpayers were either asleep at the wheel or overwhelmed by a situation they were not qualified to handle or not smart enough to understand.   

So public anger here which so far has been directed at the Anglo boys and their cowboy banking culture is now shifting as the wider picture of what was happening at the time starts to emerge. 

The realization that the Anglo boys were not the main villains is starting to dawn on people.  And those in the firing line are the top public servants who were supposed to be dealing with the situation at the time.

We already know that the Financial Regulator at the time, Patrick Neary, now in retirement on a huge pension, was a joke who was still telling the government and the Irish people that the Irish banks were robustly capitalized even when we were already up to our necks in the crisis.   

Just as bad were the people at the top of the Central Bank who the Anglo boys refer to as "clowns" on the latest tapes published last weekend in the Sunday Independent.

In particular, the performance of the former governor of the Central Bank, John Hurley, also now in retirement on a huge pension, was hopeless (he and Neary both "retired" in 2009, a few months after the state had to give the blanket guarantee to the banks).

Probably worst of all, however, were the top civil servants in the Department of Finance, the people who were advising the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen and his Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan on what to do.