Anglo tapes: Department of Finance records may provide answers to disturbing questions

Background: The secret paper trail may come to light as political pressure builds

Answers to some of the most disturbing questions raised by the Anglo tapes may lie in private records held by the Department of Finance and other public bodies such as the Central Bank.

The secret paper trail remains off-limits for now but may yet come to light as political pressure builds for an open banking inquiry. However, there appears to be little prospect of the Government releasing them of its own accord.

The very existence of these documents is in sharp contrast to the extraordinary lack of records in the Department of the Taoiseach, something that prompts frequent complaints from Enda Kenny.

“This was the single biggest financial transaction ever made in history of our State and there are no papers of any consequence relevant to that in the Department of the Taoiseach,” he said last week in Brussels. Quite how that could be so remains a mystery, and merits examination by the upcoming inquiry.


200,000 records
In the Department of Finance, however, there seems to be no end of files on the banks. When Finnish banking expert Peter Nyberg carried out his investigation into the debacle in private hearings during 2010 and 2011, the department collated more than 9,000 records for his team. All told, the Nyberg commission examined some 200,000 records from the public authorities, the banks themselves and "other sources".

Only a handful of records from the department have been made public thus far via the Dáil public accounts committee. In 2010, the PAC published on its website a total of 39 documents from the department in full and a released a further 15 which were provided with redactions. The department told the PAC of a further 55 “key” documents but withheld them on legal grounds.

The Anglo tapes provide a disquieting glimpse of the rot within the bank. This is a partial if tantalising view of a doomed, mismanaged bank careering off a cliff as top executives laugh among themselves and talk tough to the very people they expect to rescue the institution with taxpayers’ money. It is as compelling as it is stomach- churning.

Such documents as have been made public from the hoard held by the Department of Finance provide a similarly partial view of what was going on in Merrion Street as the apparatus of State was confronted with the possible collapse of the banking system in the fateful months of 2008.

'Brainstorming session'
For example, a one-page note is provided of a "brainstorming session" within the department on September 23rd, only a week before the guarantee.

While the €440 billion guarantee would protect all liabilities in the entire banking system, each of seven main options cited at this juncture suggest both AIB and Bank of Ireland (BofI) would continue "as now".

The first was to bring together EBS, Irish Life & Permanent (IL&P) and Irish Nationwide (INBS) alongside liquidity support for Anglo. The second included liquidity for Anglo and a break-up of INBS, whose commercial property would be nationalised and its retail division merged with IL&P and EBS. The third was for INBS to be “taken by” Anglo, with a State guarantee on the INBS loan book and liquidity support for the enlarged bank. It goes on and on. In passing, reference is made to “other possibilities” including a bringing together of AIB and BofI.

All very radical, yet nothing as compared with the eventual guarantee. Detail may be absent, though a certain level of panic seems to be afoot.

The records the department kept from the PAC may be even more alluring, including as they do a letter at the end of January 2008 to the department from the Attorney General on financial stability contingency planning and legal issues arising. There are many other references to the attorney in the list.

'Draft contingency legislation'
Nearer the guarantee – on Friday, September 12th – there is a letter from INBS to the Financial Regulator. On the Saturday there is a letter to the regulator from Anglo. On the Sunday there is an internal Department of Finance email on "draft contingency legislation with attached draft Government memorandum and draft explanatory memorandum". However, we do not know what was said in each case.

In April this year the chief of the department, John Moran, told the PAC that the department was reviewing whether to remove the redactions on the documents provided and whether to release the 55 "key documents". The outcome is still awaited but Mr Moran warned it would not be possible to forward legally privileged documents.

Amid the drip-feed of information from Anglo, the wait continues for the full story of what really went on when the people of Ireland took on the debts of a crippled banking system.