Public anger at bank still raw

Accusations by shareholders at yesterday’s Bank of Ireland annual general meeting of poor leadership, “undemocratic” election processes for board members, and excessive pay for management gave ample evidence that public anger towards the banks has not yet dissipated.

Despite early signs of a thaw in shareholders’ questions — beginning with two instances of people recognising the recent progress made by the bank — the gloves gradually came off.

One shareholder suggested that those most culpable for the banking crisis as a whole,“should be stripped of their Irish citizenship”, while John Flynn from Cork said the fact that nobody was being brought to book for the crisis was “bad for banking, bad for the economy and bad for the country”.

The prospect of trying to claw back bonuses made to previous management; Denis O’Brien’s 12-month stint as deputy governor between 2005 and 2006; and even the earlier start-time for this year’s AGM — 9.30am — were all thrown at the stage as criticism before talk moved on to more pertinent matters, such as directors’ pay levels and the prospects of shareholders’ dividend payments resuming inside the next three years.

The bank’s governor/chairman, Pat Molloy, explained that dividend payments were constrained by the terms of the company’s EU-approved restructuring plan and its ability to pay down the State’s recapitalisation investment, not to mention its ability to generate sustainable profits. But he rejected suggestions that there was a lack of leadership at board level — saying that “exceptional leadership” had brought Bank of Ireland “from where it was to where it is today.”

However, Mr Molloy was less outgoing when tackled by Independent TD Shane Ross about high pay levels for management and the prospect of future director bonuses.

Mr Ross said that the gulf between shareholders and management was “enormous”, the former seeing the Bank of Ireland story from the perspective of lost dividends and falling share value and the latter from the perspective of €800,000 remuneration packages.

“You don’t get it,” he told the board. In response, Mr Molloy said that the bank was fully complying with remuneration obligations as set out by Government.

Despite the criticism, however, Bank of Ireland still closed the day with a positive — its share price rising by nearly 2% to 11c.

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