Banking inquiry needs finger on pulse of public expectation

Michael Fingleton, former chief executive of Irish Nationwide, appears at inquiry

Former chief executive of Irish Nationwide Building Society  arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry. Photograph: Eric Luke

Former chief executive of Irish Nationwide Building Society arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Four more days. That’s all that’s left of the Oireachtas banking inquiry in terms of public hearings. Some nine months after the committee began taking testimony in the bowels of Leinster House, 15 witnesses remain to be heard by it, while a number of written statements from people not required to appear will also be published.

Their testimony could turn out to be some of the most interesting since the inquiry began its work last year.

First up this morning will be Michael Fingleton, who led Irish Nationwide Building Society for 38 years. He ultimately led it to financial ruin but not before pocketing a tidy €1 million bonus ahead of his departure.

He subsequently said he would repay the bonus and taxpayers will be eager to hear if this happened. There’s no evidence to suggest it has.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty and Fine Gael’s Kieran O’Donnell will lead the questioning and it will be interesting to see how hard a line they take, given that they have to tip-toe around certain meaty issues because of pending legal cases involving Fingleton.

Fingers, as he is affectionately known, has maintained a careful radio silence for the past six years other than a classic “doorstepping” by RTÉ’s David Murphy at Dublin Airport in 2010.

We can expect him to be well briefed and he is expected to tell the committee that Irish Nationwide was solvent on the night of the bank guarantee and did not need a bailout. It will be interesting to see if he can keep a straight face when giving that evidence.

Fingers is also expected to take a swipe at the regulator and assert that AIB and Bank of Ireland simply wanted Irish Nationwide off the pitch around the time of the guarantee, hence their ambivalence to the building society being included in the scheme.

He is not expected to offer an apology to taxpayers or Irish Nationwide shareholders. This is of no consequence as it would have no value at this remove. Fingers will be followed by the building society’s former chairman, Michael Walsh, and John Stanley Purcell, its finance chief prior to the crash.

With perfect timing, Purcell last week launched a High Court challenge to the Central Bank’s investigation of his role in alleged regulatory breaches at the failed financial institution.

The committee will also hear from former Anglo executives Matt Moran, Peter Fitzgerald and Tom Browne, who was threatened with a visit from gardaí some weeks back for failing to furnish a written statement by the stated deadline. Browne is now in compliance and is set to appear next week.

Gary McGann, who has just stepped down as head of Smurfit Kappa and is set to be the chairman of the merged Paddy Power and Betfair business, will appear on Thursday to answer for his time as a non-executive director of Anglo.

The inquiry will conclude on September 10th with appearances from Ajai Chopra, who led the International Monetary Fund delegation in its bailout talks with Ireland in late 2010, and the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, who will discuss the recovery phase of the financial crisis. The committee is clearly hoping to close its hearings on a positive note.

We’ll then have to await its report. The date has yet to be confirmed but, all things being equal, it will probably be published in January. There are a few loose ends to be tied up before then. A number of contradictions have emerged in evidence. Some important, some less so. Witnesses are being offered the opportunity to clarify these points before the report is finalised.

The report will no doubt walk us through the various events that led us to the financial crash and piece together much of the jigsaw of the major set pieces around the management of the crisis, namely the night of the guarantee and the troika bailout negotiations.

However, to make it sing with taxpayers, it will need to offer up some meaty recommendations for the future. No pressure. Twitter: @CiaranHancock1