Former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive Seán FitzPatrick, one of the most controversial figures of the Irish economic boom-and-bust period, died of cardiac arrest on Monday aged 73.
The Co Wicklow accountant-turned-banker oversaw the rise of a small Dublin lender into the country's third-largest bank, valued at more than €13 billion at its peak in 2007, before Anglo collapsed in the 2008-09 financial crash, landing losses of €29 billion on Irish taxpayers.
Mr FitzPatrick took on the dominant players of Irish banking, AIB and Bank of Ireland, and turned Anglo into a competitive force that helped bankroll the Celtic Tiger era. He drove Anglo's growth from having a loan book of just €600,000 in 1986 to more than €34 billion by the time he moved from the role of chief executive to chairman in 2005. The bank financed some of the country's major property projects as the lender of choice for builders and developers.
His career was blighted by the bank’s failure as the 2008 financial crisis sparked a run on Anglo’s deposits, leading to the €400 billion Government bank guarantee and Anglo’s eventual nationalisation in January 2009.
The deepening cost of covering Anglo’s losses to the State was a major contributory factor in the government being forced to seek an international bailout in 2010, the same year Mr FitzPatrick filed for bankruptcy with debts of almost €150 million.
He resigned from Anglo at the height of the crisis after it emerged that he concealed tens of millions of euro worth of loans over several years. This later led to criminal charges, but he was acquitted following one of the State’s longest criminal trials in 2017. In 2014, he was found not guilty of illegally supporting the bank’s share price in a scheme involving loans to 10 wealthy customers to buy the bank’s shares.
Mr FitzPatrick divides opinion, with the public opprobrium over the part he played in the banking crisis contrasting with praise for his role in Ireland’s pre-Celtic Tiger economic recovery.
Businessman Paul Coulson said that it was a "gross oversimplification" to lay blame for the collapse of Anglo and the wider financial system at Mr FitzPatrick's door. "He became a convenient scapegoat. And, as a result, the good things got forgotten."
Financier Dermot Desmond said Mr FitzPatrick was a "decent and honorable Irishman who played a major part in Ireland's economic recovery, from the dark days of the pre-Celtic Tiger depression".
“Unfortunately, Seán and some of his colleagues were unfairly vilified while the reputations of their counterparts in other Irish financial institutions were left untarnished.”
Mr FitzPatrick died in St Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin surrounded by his family after becoming ill last week. His funeral takes place next Tuesday in his home town of Greystones.