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

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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. 

The chief clown among those was the then secretary general at the Department of Finance (the boss of the department), David Doyle, now also safely in retirement on a fat pension, who was in charge for most of the boom. 

His right hand man was a guy called Kevin Cardiff, then assistant secretary and head of the Financial Services division in the Department.  He went on to take over as secretary in 2010.    

You may remember that Cardiff was the guy who was in charge when there was a €3.6 billion error in the figures computed for the Irish national debt a couple of years ago, an achievement that gained him considerable notoriety.  

Despite this, the present government shifted him into a cozy job in Europe as Ireland's representative on the European Court of Auditors, the body that checks up on EU spending!  This happened at the start of last year and came with a salary of €276,000 which of course will be in addition to his big Irish civil service pension. 

So Cardiff is now out of the spotlight even though he was a key player in the financial catastrophe in Ireland.  He was there at the marathon meeting in Government Buildings on the night of September 28, 2008 when Cowen and Lenihan took the decision to give the banks the blanket guarantee that eventually bankrupted the country. 

And he was there two years later when the decision was taken to take the bailout from the IMF.   But he's not on the tapes (so far anyway), and he's singing dumb on what went on at the time. 

Someone who is on the tapes which were published last weekend is Ann Nolan, who was Cardiff's right hand woman as second secretary in the department and ran the Financial Services division responsible for the banks. 

On the tapes she can be heard laughing and commiserating with the Anglo executive John Bowe about the dire situation facing Anglo at the end of 2008.  The clear implication is that she was out of her depth and being played along by Anglo.  Yet she is now said to be the favorite to take over as the new Financial Regulator in Ireland! 

Another person to emerge on the tapes published last weekend was Con Horan, who was the point man in supervising Anglo for the Financial Regulator at the time.   What is most revealing about what he says on the tape is the tone, rather than the content. 

His questioning of Anglo executive Bowe about the way Anglo was overusing the blanket guarantee to get funds in the markets was almost apologetic.   Horan, by the way, is now on secondment from the Central Bank and is working at the European Banking Authority.  

So these three civil servants, all of who were up to their necks in the banking collapse and failed to perform adequately, are all still active in senior financial supervisory roles.

Nolan went on to play a lead role in the bailout and looks after the National Asset Management Agency (the bad bank for property) for the department.  

You couldn't make this stuff up.  Don't laugh, it's the Irish way of doing things!

Of course, as Drumm has said, we also need to hear the tapes from the other banks, and we now know that these tapes exist.  

The two main banks here, AIlied Irish and Bank of Ireland, were major players in the property lending madness, and both had to be rescued by the Irish taxpayer.  Their role in the catastrophe was at least as big as that of Anglo, yet their top executives at the time are not being held up to public ridicule like Drumm.  It's not surprising that he feels he is being turned into the fall guy. 

But it's hard to have any sympathy for him when you hear the bravado and bull that he talks on the tapes ("Another day, another billion!") as his bank played fast and loose with the rules and risked not just its own future, but that of the Irish economy and the country. 

Those billions he so casually joked about are part of the reason now why Irish people are emigrating, losing their jobs, being squeezed by taxes, waiting for months for hospital treatment and so on. 

Yes, the Anglo boys (and the other Irish bankers) have a lot to feel guilty about.  But much more guilty are the clowns (to use Drumm's description) who were in charge here at the time, particularly in the Central Bank and the Department of Finance. 

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