Outrage on rise in Ireland over 'arrogant' failed bank execs

Taped phone calls mock government
By Sam Cage
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 07/03/2013

DUBLIN (Reuters) — Ireland's deputy prime minister laid in to "arrogant" executives at a failed bank who mocked government efforts to tackle the country's economic crisis amid growing public outrage at the latest revelations in tapes of bank executive phone calls.

In the tapes published by the Irish Independent newspaper, the collapsed Anglo Irish Bank's then-head of capital markets John Bowe was asked how it had come up with a figure of seven billion euros ($9.17 billion) for a rescue, responding that he had "picked it out of my arse."

The bank eventually cost taxpayers some 30 billion euros during the financial crisis, almost one-fifth of the country's annual output.

"We've had continuing negotiations with the ECB (European Central Bank) and with European Union partners. What has come out of these tapes doesn't make our job any easier — it makes it more difficult," Ireland's deputy prime minister Eamon Gilmore said on Tuesday.

"I mean the degree of arrogance, the degree of hubris, the degree of couldn't-care-less-about-the-taxpayer, about the Irish people, that seemed to be part and parcel of the culture of that bank," Gilmore, attending a meeting in Luxembourg, said.

In Dublin, the story dominated television and radio news for a second day, with almost all national papers splashing the story on their front pages.

"How come nobody's in Jail?" read the lead headline in the Irish Sun.

"We need action... not your sympathy," said the Irish Daily Mail, in an appeal to Prime Minister Enda Kenny, whose initial reaction to the disclosures was to say he understood the anger of the Irish people.

The Irish Independent released more details including Bowe singing the German national anthem and laughing as he discussed the prospect of German money flowing in after the guarantee on deposits.

"These guys in the banks lose billions and nothing ever happens," said Noel Newman, a 78-year-old retiree in Dublin. "On the tape they were laughing, joking. The way they said it was disgusting. Unbelievable."

Many Irish, but particularly public service workers, have had their salaries cut by 20 per cent or more in order to meet fiscal deficit targets as part of the loan guarantees for the country's international bailout.

The unemployment rate has trebled since the crisis to 14 per cent after the bank-and-land speculation property bubble burst.

Bowe and the other executive, consumer banking chief Peter Fitzgerald, said they regretted the conversation but denied any wrongdoing or intention to mislead the central bank.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, in an interview with state broadcaster RTE, described the duplicity of Anglo management in their public and private comments as "highly unethical and clearly immoral."

The 2008 blanket guarantee on bank liabilities led to an 85-billion euro ($111 billion) IMF/EU bailout and provoked widespread anger in the country of 4.6 million.

Ireland wants funds from the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund to help reduce its debt burden from bailing out its banks, but any application will be decided on a case-by-case basis and could be complicated by questions over the bailout.


The opposition has called for a full inquiry into the collapse of the financial system and the timing has embarrassed the government in the last week of its six-month EU presidency.

"The government must stop its mock outrage, establish an inquiry immediately," said Pearse Doherty, a senior member of opposition party Sinn Fein.

The bloc's finance ministers agreed last week that the ESM will be able to help recapitalize banks that ran into trouble in the past — which Ireland views as vital to shore up its finances — but it will not give blanket permission for the funding.

Anglo, which was liquidated earlier this year, brought a premature end to the political career of former Prime Minister Brian Cowen, who was finance minister during the years of reckless lending across Irish banks.

Three of the bank's former executives — not including Bowe and Fitzgerald — will go on trial next year on fraud charges.

But despite all the disclosures, many voters remained skeptical that the country's close-knit elite would do what it takes to bring friends of friends to justice.

"If it was any other country they would have been in prison by now," health -care worker Mary Mullerby, 62, said. "White-collar crime is something you get away with in Ireland."

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