Cowen criticised over silence on Anglo

 

THE GREEN Party has said it will continue in Government despite Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s failure to disclose two contacts with the former Anglo Irish Bank head Seán FitzPatrick during 2008.

Leader John Gormley said the party had been unable to find any evidence of impropriety on the Taoiseach’s part and on that basis would continue in Government until the Finance Bill had completed its passage through the Oireachtas next month.

Mr Gormley criticised the Taoiseach, however, for not revealing the two contacts earlier – the first was a phone call he received from Mr FitzPatrick in March 2008 informing him; the second a golf outing and dinner with Mr FitzPatrick in July 2008.

At a news conference following a two-day meeting of the party in Malahide, Co Dublin, Mr Gormley also stopped short of endorsing Mr Cowen.

He also expressed frustration at the second think-in meeting of his party in recent months being overshadowed by controversies surrounding Mr Cowen.

He and party whip Trevor Sargent qualified their remarks by saying they would also wait and see how Mr Cowen would respond to questions from Opposition leaders on the issue today in the Dáil.

“We do believe Brian Cowen should have put the matter in public domain much earlier,” Mr Gormley said.

He noted the party’s programme manager Donall Geoghegan had contacted Kevin Cardiff, the secretary general of the Department of Finance, and established that no representations had been made by Mr Cowen on foot of the contacts.

“We are not Sherlock Holmes. We have done what we can in the circumstances,” he said. “As far as possible, we have tried to establish any impropriety and we have been unable to find any evidence.”

Mr Gormley said it was regrettable that the controversy had dominated coverage of the meeting.

“The last time we met as a group at the last think-in, we were talking about what’s referred to now as Garglegate .

“Now we are talking about Golfgate. We are concentrating our efforts on that when we, a policy-driven party, want to talk about policy and we are talking about the minutiae of a golf game.”

At the think-in, several delegates argued that the party should leave Government immediately. However, senior figures in the party said there was no evidence of wrongdoing, and also asserted that they should not be expected to deal with an internal Fianna Fáil matter.

“There is an expectation among some Fianna Fáilers that we will do their dirty work. We won’t unless something major happens in the Dáil [today],” said one parliamentarian who wished not to be named.

The two contacts occurred in 2008, some months before the Government guaranteed all the deposits and bonds of the State’s main financial institutions.

Mr FitzPatrick telephoned Mr Cowen, the then minister for finance, in March 2008 to inform him of problems associated with the 28 per cent shareholding of the bank built up secretly by businessman Seán Quinn through contracts for difference.

In July that year, Mr FitzPatrick, Mr Cowen and the latter’s close friend Fintan Drury played golf and had dinner together.

Speaking about his party’s election hopes, Mr Gormley predicted that the Greens would be in contention for the last seat in constituencies and that all its TDs would be returned.

Earlier, two Sinn Féin councillors, Dessie Ellis and Larry O’Toole, made an effort to enter the meeting to protest about the continuation of Government. They were turned away by a party staff member at the door.