Limited consequences for ex-board members Former Anglo non-executive directors Senior Business Correspondent

 

Anglo’s former non-executive directors continue in important roles elsewhere, writes ARTHUR BEESLEY.

STILL IN place, still at the top. The former non-executive directors of Anglo Irish Bank continue to hold high-ranking positions in many of the biggest and most prestigious Irish companies, some owned by the State, some with important regulatory and legal functions, others heavily indebted.

Having resigned from Anglo’s board last month, their continuation in other senior public and private positions implies that their manifest failures as bank directors have no bearing on their credibility as directors of other firms. It’s as if the whole thing never happened.

One month on from nationalisation, there have been no public indications that any of their other jobs are threatened by Anglo’s implosion.

The affair has blackened Ireland’s international reputation and leaves the Irish taxpayers, possibly for a generation, saddled with an as yet unquantified exposure to a cascade of souring debts granted on wildly optimistic terms. Legal actions against the bank – by extension the State – will continue for many years.

Yet the careers of the people employed and very well paid to oversee Anglo’s business proceed regardless. For all the political, financial and reputational difficulties spilling forth from the bank, some still occupy high-level positions within the State apparatus. Incongruous is not the word.

Does Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey think it appropriate that that former Anglo non-executive director Gary McGann should stay on as chairman of the Dublin Airport Authority? The authority runs crucial national infrastructure. Small beer it is not. Its turnover exceeds €600 million and its capital projects at Dublin airport have a budget of €2 billion.

Mr McGann remains chief executive of packaging company Smurfit Kappa, a business whose debt stands at some €3.18 billion and which depends on the confidence of international markets.

The company’s self-image is as a beacon of Irish business, a player of rank in the onward march of global commerce. Smurfit Kappa’s share price, by the way, is down 83.88 per cent in 12 months. This does not result from its connections to Anglo, but it illustrates the extent to which it is under pressure to convince investors about the prospects for the business.

Prior to his departure from Anglo, Seán FitzPatrick chaired the Smurfit Kappa board. Because his position had become untenable, Mr FitzPatrick left Smurfit Kappa and a number of other boards when the concealment of his director’s loans at Anglo was uncovered. Is Mr McGann’s role in Smurfit Kappa any more tenable following Anglo’s collapse into the bosom of the State?

If he did not know what Mr FitzPatrick was up to, he should have. If he did not know about the extraordinary share support operation the bank put in place last summer, he should have. All the worse for him if he did know about those extraordinary transactions.

Anne Heraty, chief of recruitment firm CPL Resources, is another former non-executive director. At the pleasure of Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan, she remains on the board of Bord na Móna. She is also on the board of Forfás, a public body that advises Tánaiste Mary Coughlan on Government responses to the “fast-changing needs of the global business environment”. Where is the credibility in that?

Ms Heraty is also on the board of the Irish Stock Exchange, prime regulator of the Irish equities market. The exchange board represents “wider market interests” and the interests of member firms, brokers who are suffering badly in the current malaise.

Another former non-executive director, Ned Sullivan, remains chairman of three major companies. One of those, Eircom, has debts exceeding €3.7 billion. As chairman of listed food company Greencore, Mr Sullivan last week praised in unqualified terms Mr FiztPatrick’s work as a Greencore director before his resignation last December. He also chairs McInerney, the house-builder.

Michael Jacob sits on several other boards, among them Dolmen stockbrokers. What do Dolmen’s clients think of that?

Another former non-executive, Lar Bradshaw, is chairman of Aras Healthcare group.

These people were present at Anglo’s demise, a collapse that still endangers the entire Irish banking system. Amid multiple regulatory inquiries into the unfolding Anglo scandal, their capacity to serve as directors elsewhere is sharply in the spotlight. Would they retain these directorships in any other Western country?