Cowen confirms FitzPatrick talks

Sun, Jan 9, 2011, 00:00

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has insisted the financial problems at Anglo Irish Bank were not discussed in a meeting he held with the bank’s chairman Seán FitzPatrick before the bank guarantee scheme.

According to extracts of a new book on Anglo’s role in the financial crisis, Mr FitzPatrick had several contacts with the Taoiseach in advance of the announcement of the bank guarantee scheme at the end of September 2008.

In the extracts of The FitzPatrick Tapes, published in the Sunday Times today, the former chairman said he played golf and had dinner with Mr Cowen at Druids Glen in Co Wicklow on July 28th, 2008.

Mr FitzPatrick said the bank’s affairs were not discussed at this dinner.

He also said he telephoned Mr Cowen, who was then minister for finance, in March 2008 to discuss Anglo’s collapsing share price and voice concerns over issues with Seán Quinn’s holding in the bank.

The Green Party is demanding an explanation from Mr Cowen the previously undisclosed talks. Party leader John Gormley has requested a meeting with the Taoiseach tomorrow specifically about the latest revelations.

In a statement to the newspaper, the Taoiseach confirmed he played golf and had dinner at Druids Glen with the Anglo chairman and Fintan Drury, a friend of Mr Cowen's who had resigned as a director of the bank. However, he also insisted Anglo’s troubles did not come up in conversation. "It was a social occasion and the affairs of Anglo Irish Bank were not discussed," the statement said.

He also confirmed the telephone conversation in March 2008. "I told him I would refer the issue to the governor of the Central Bank and I did so."

Labour’s finance spokesman Joan Burton called on Mr Cowen to provide further details of all his meetings with Mr FitzPatrick.

“I am deeply concerned at the further revelations today,” she said. “It is surely beyond belief that there was no discussion at these encounters of the rapidly deteriorating position of the bank.”

Ms Burton said the decision to introduce the guarantee came at a huge cost to Irish taxpayers. “The public is entitled to a full account of the Taoiseach’s state of knowledge of the true position of the bank’s balance sheet in the period before that fateful night.”

Fine Gael’s justice spokesman Alan Shatter said the Garda should interview Mr Cowen to clarify a number of matters about his relationship with Mr FitzPatrick.

“It is now clear, and confirmed by the Taoiseach, that he had prior knowledge of the difficulties that had arisen surrounding the Quinn shareholding, and so had the governor of the Central Bank,” he said.

Mr Shatter also said there had been a total breakdown in trust in government if the Green Party had not been briefed about the conversations between Mr Cowen and Mr FitzPatrick.

Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman, Pearse Doherty said the Taoiseach needed to outline the full extent of his knowledge of the problems at Anglo in the run up to the banking guarantee. “The Taoiseach’s claims that he played a round of golf and had dinner with Mr Fitzpatrick but that the situation in Anglo Irish Bank was not discussed is severely lacking in credibility,” he said.

Mr FitzPatrick stepped down as Anglo chairman in December 2008. He was declared bankrupt in July 2010.