Withheld document titles hint at influences on bailout exit decision
The Government refused a FoI request for material on Ireland’s bailout exit. Certain conclusions can be drawn
Brendan Howlin, Minister for Public Expenditure & Reform sharing a joke with Michael Noonan, Minister for Finance yesterday at Government Buildings. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Contact with Angela Merkel’s office in Berlin by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and between Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and his counterparts in the German and French governments, are among the final entries in Department of Finance documents leading up to the Government’s decision last year to exit the troika bailout programme without a precautionary line of credit.
The documents show that the Government’s Economic Management Council (EMC) – which comprises the Taoiseach; Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore; Minister for Finance Mr Noonan; and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin – played a key role in the decision while Noonan conducted the talks in Europe and the US.
A Freedom of Information request to the Department of Finance for all documents held by it created since July 2013 and concerned with the Government’s decision not to seek a precautionary credit line when exiting the troika bailout, was responded to with a blanket No.
Under the Act, the department said, it was entitled to refuse access to records which, if disclosed, could be expected to have a serious adverse effect on the financial interests of the State or the ability of the Government to manage the national economy.
The documents were also refused on the grounds that they were part of the Government’s decision-making process. The list of documents that fell within the request but which were refused gives an outline of how the important decision, which was announced by the Taoiseach in the Dáil on Thursday, November 14th, 2013, came to be made.
The file does not begin until late in September 2013. The deliberations, therefore, were made entirely against the backdrop of a general election and change of government in Berlin.
They also came against a backdrop where, in July 2013, Noonan had said he would like to agree a “backstop” credit facility with the troika when exiting the bailout programme. The documents and dates listed are:
Tuesday, September 24th
A 14-page draft paper is prepared for the EMC on the options for the Government when exiting the troika’s bailout programme. In Germany, talks are ongoing about the formation of a government after a general election campaign during which further financial support for Ireland had formed part of the political debate.
Thursday, October 17th
John Corrigan, chief executive of the National Treasury Management Agency, writes a one-page letter to Noonan. The budget has been announced, the Taoiseach has said Ireland will be exiting the bailout on December 15th, and Noonan, at the Fine Gael annual conference in Limerick, days earlier, has said Ireland has its own €25 billion backstop in cash held by the NTMA.
Monday, October 21st
A note as senior officials from the Central Bank and the Department of Finance discuss the bailout exit strategy. Noonan is about to head to Europe for some key meetings on Ireland’s exit strategy, and will go the following week to Washington DC.
Tuesday, October 22nd
A two-page report is drafted after a meeting in Strasbourg between Noonan and European Commission vice-president Olli Rehn.
Wednesday, October 23rd
A two-page report is drafted after Noonan meets with European Central Bank president Mario Draghi in Frankfurt. The next day, the Taoiseach tells reporters as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels that he will not accept conditions for the credit line that are as stringent as those in the troika programme.
Monday, October 28th
Reports of meetings between Noonan and International Monetary Fund deputy managing director David Lipton (two pages), and Ajai Chopra of the IMF, the former mission head to Ireland (one page), in Washington DC.
Tuesday, October 29th
One-page report of a meeting with US treasury secretary Jack Lew.
Wednesday, October 30th
A three-page draft paper by the EMC on the Government’s options for exiting the troika programme is updated in Dublin.
Thursday, October 31st
A two-page note from a meeting between troika representatives and senior Irish officials prior to the 12th troika review of the Irish programme.
The next day Gilmore says the Government has yet to decide if it will seek a precautionary line of credit.
Monday, November 4th
Noonan gets a three-page letter on the matter from governor of the Central Bank Patrick Honohan.
Tuesday, November 5th
A one-page report of a meeting between Noonan and the leader of the euro zone group, Jeroen Dijsselbloem. Noonan tells the media after the meeting, which is described as his final consultation on the matter with European and IMF parties, that the credit line decision is now “finely balanced”. This newspaper quotes European sources as saying they now expect Ireland to go it alone.
Wednesday, November 6th
A three-page draft EMC paper on the Government’s options. A one-page note of a telephone call between Noonan and Wolfgang Schäuble, who has been returned to the position of minister for finance in the new German government. A one-page note of a telephone call between Noonan and French finance minister Pierre Moscovici.
Friday, November 8th
A one-page note of a call between the Taoiseach and the “German Chancellery”.
Tuesday, November 12th
A 16-page draft of the EMC policy paper is prepared. Also, a one-page note is drafted of a telephone call between Noonan and the Finnish finance minister and head of that country’s Social Democratic Party, Jutta Urpilainen. Both were in Brussels for a meeting of EU finance ministers, who were discussing the situation in Greece.Urpilainen was one of three finance ministers who, in 2012, voiced opposition to retrospective assistance to Ireland for having bailed out its banks.
Wednesday, November 13th
A 17-page memorandum for Government is drafted on the exit strategy. The next day an early-morning Cabinet meeting is hastily convened, the decision to exit without a credit line is agreed and the Dáil is quickly informed. The Cabinet meeting was briefed by Honohan and Corrigan, and it was reported afterwards that they had been involved in trying to gauge opinion in the bond markets and elsewhere to assist the strategy decision.