Banking inquiry: Contradictory evidence to be examined

Oireachtas investigation will review conflicting accounts provided by witnesses


The Oireachtas banking inquiry will spend this month trawling through some of the contradictory evidence provided by witnesses questioned during its eight months of hearings.

There were conflicting accounts of major moments in the State’s financial collapse – not least which night in September 2008 the bank guarantee was agreed and when the decision to enter an EU-IMF bailout programme was made.

Having completed the public part of the inquiry, committee members will now write to the contributors concerned highlighting the differences between their statements and those from other witnesses, and asking them to clarify any contradictions arising.

The witnesses will be given a strict timeframe in which to respond to the issues noted before the inquiry begins work on its report.

Here, we look at some of the contradictions that came up in evidence from some of the inquiry’s key witnesses.

On the night of September 29th 2008, was there a draft guarantee circulated by the banks?

Allied Irish Banks’s former chief executive Eugene Sheehy said he had no record of a draft guarantee being distributed on the night in question. “If we wrote something down we might have handed it over, but it certainly would have been a very informal piece”.

Bank of Ireland’s former chief executive Brian Goggin said: “I certainly have no memory of any guarantee being drafted by Bank of Ireland on that night and furthermore I have absolutely no recollection of having any piece of paper with me when I was in Government Buildings for lots of hours that night.”

Former secretary general of the Department of Finance Kevin Cardiff said that to the very best of his recollection “it was one document and it came from the banks. It certainly wasn’t generated by us and then handed to them.”

Former taoiseach Brian Cowen said: “Yes, well my recollection of this relates to something similar to what Kevin Cardiff was . . .

“So I don’t recall that being a very big document. It was, you know, maybe four or five lines maybe, from memory now.”

Did Mr Cowen overrule then Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan on the night the guarantee was issued?

The inquiry heard that Lenihan, now deceased, was in favour of nationalising Anglo Irish Bank rather than issuing a broad guarantee.

Asked if Lenihan was overruled on the subject of a guarantee, Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan said: “Yes. I am not playing political points here. A proposal was brought to the Government. The Minister for Finance did not, in the end, insist on an alternative approach. He is in the room. All the people around him are saying: ‘I do not think we should nationalise’.”

Cardiff said: “I don’t know what, what, what happened. I can only tell you what the Minister said, and he didn’t put it in the form of overruling.”

Lenihan’s former adviser Cathy Herbert said: “It did not emerge as a problem. If he felt overruled I would have known.”

Cowen said: “It wasn’t an atmosphere where I was overruling people. We had a long discussion about it. It wasn’t in any way acrimonious . . . why would it be?

“We were both on the same side trying to do the best we could in a difficult situation.”

Did Cowen have his mind made up on the night of guarantee?

Cardiff said Cowen had shown from early on that he wanted a blanket guarantee introduced for the banks.

“But the taoiseach raised the issue of a broad pre-emptive guarantee early [on].

“It seemed to me [that he already had a preference for this approach going into the meeting or that it was at least] the baseline approach against which every other option would be considered.”

Cowen said: “No, I hadn’t my mind made up going into the meeting . . . He [Kevin Cardiff] said it ‘seemed to him’, one of two things, it seemed to him I had my mind made up, which I didn’t, or that I was putting the baseline scenario against the guarantee.”

When did the two pillar banks become aware a blanket guarantee was being put in place?

Bank of Ireland’s Goggin insisted he knew leaving Government Buildings that night that a blanket guarantee to the six banks was being introduced – despite both having favoured a four-bank one.

“At that juncture it is my recollection that we were informed a blanket guarantee was being provided. When I left at 3.30am, there was no ambiguity about what was being done on that night. A blanket guarantee.”

AIB’s Sheehy said: “We returned to the room and at 3.30am we were told we were no longer needed. When we saw the guarantee document for the first time the following morning, we could not understand why Anglo and Irish Nationwide were included. All our discussions that night were based upon a premise that Anglo was to be taken down.”

Did the European Central Bank warn Brian Lenihan that Anglo could not fail?

Jean-Claude Trichet insisted there was no warning to the Irish Government ahead of the guarantee. “No message to Brian, no message to the Government of Ireland, ” he said.

Cardiff said: “You have two conflicting accounts. One is from Mr Trichet himself and one is my recollection of what the governor of the Central Bank told us and my recollection is backed up in writing by a note taken on the day we heard.”

Honohan said: “They would have been at the highest level in the ECB, between my predecessor and Trichet. The message that came back was, ‘You have to look after your own banks. We don’t have a European system’.”

Former Central Bank governor John Hurley said: “Arising from contacts with the ECB, the view at the time was that Ireland was expected to stand behind its banks, and a Lehmans-type situation was to be avoided.”

Did the European Central Bank force Ireland into a bailout?

Cardiff says the country was bounced into the decision by on- and off-the-record briefings by ECB officials. “The push we got, as I said, in some ways was direct. We knew who was doing it; we knew what they were saying.

“In other cases though, the pressure came indirectly via some misinformation, via anonymous media briefings reportedly coming from official sources, which acted to accelerate market pressures and create enormous pressure on Ireland to enter an EU-IMF programme quickly.”

Cowen said: “I did not like the continuous anonymous briefing against Ireland, which I saw as an attempt to bounce us into a decision before we had further clarification.”

Trichet said: “I don’t imagine for one second that there would have been any press briefing on what Ireland should do or not do, it is not the way the ECB operates and I have absolutely no memory of anything which would look like that.”