Ahern would testify at banking inquiry

Sat, Jan 23, 2010, 00:00

FORMER TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern has said he would have no difficulties giving evidence to the investigation into banking, nor having his testimony heard in public.

Saying he would appear if asked, Mr Ahern also defended his record while in government, attributing the crisis in banking to international factors and the banks’ over-exposure to borrowing on international markets.

“By and large we all know what happened. The banks borrowed money on the open market in the short-term. And as soon as things went, they had to pay that money up but they hadn’t got it to pay,” he said. “That’s what happened. I don’t think it will take too long [for an inquiry] to write up what the position is.”

Mr Ahern was speaking at the RDS where he was opening the Holiday World Show. It was his first major public engagement of 2010.

Asked would he have done anything differently during his term as taoiseach, Mr Ahern said he would have resisted the splitting of the regulatory functions of the Central Bank into a separate office.

“That was the popular thing then . . . I was ultimately convinced, though I was dubious, that the consumers’ interests were better served by splitting it.

“The greater issue was the protection and the regulation of the bank rather than consumers’ interests.” Mr Ahern also said that people were “jumping over developers” but also needed to remember they employed 200,000 people.

He also said that one of the first things that Brian Cowen had done when he became minister for finance was to abolish many of the property tax incentives. He also stood over many of the incentives that benefited property developers.

“When they were brought in, the place was in a disastrous way. Look at the quays in Dublin. There were reports around for 40 years that said the quays needed something done about them and nothing happened until we brought in the urban renewal status and gave the tax incentives.

“But like everything something runs its course. That ran its course and it was time to do away with them.”

Mr Ahern, asked if he regretted his comments in 2007 saying that those who moaned about the economy should go and commit suicide, replied that he had apologised two minutes later.

“The context of what I was saying that day was talking down the economy. What I was saying was you should never talk down your own economy. You should talk up your economy.”