Michael Fingleton insists he ‘paid a personal price’

Former Irish Nationwide chief executive Michael Fingleton has insisted he “paid a personal price” for the impact of the economic crash, despite receiving a €1m bonus in 2007 and walking away in 2009 with a massive €27.6m pension pot.

The controversial Celtic Tiger figure made the claim as he insisted “80%” of what is written about him is “totally wrong”, that his building society never gave preferential treatment to “celebrity” customers and that the firm – which cost the State €5.4bn to bail out – was solvent and did not need to be saved.

Speaking at a hotly anticipated bank inquiry meeting, one of Ireland’s leading bankers before the economic crash said he has “paid and continues to pay” a “personal price” for what happened due to his high-profile during the boom.

The former Irish Nationwide chief said despite helping to grow the company for over 30 years and the fact it had €4bn in cash reserves in September 2008, the company became the victim of “competitive opportunism” from AIB and Bank of Ireland which wanted it nationalised.

Responding to questions from Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath about whether he feels he has been “wronged”, Mr Fingleton said: “Certainly I do, certainly I do”.

He said “80%” of what happened under his watch has been “misrepresented” and denied the firm was effectively his “personal fiefdom”.

The bank inquiry was legally prevented from asking the former banker in any detail about a controversial €1m bonus he received in 2007 and an infamous gold-plated watch he was given on retirement which Government has told him to return, with committee chair Ciaran Lynch twice blocking questions on the issues.

Mr Fingleton also declined to clarify how much he receives per year from his €27.6m pension.

However, responding to questions from Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty, Mr Fingleton said all bonuses were decided by a committee – not him – and that the wealth of his pension pot was based on his own personal skills at growing investments.

The banker said in the early 1990s he made the decision to “personally manage” his pension fund, which at the time was between €3-4m, and that he subsequently grew this “tenfold” with Irish Nationwide “only” paying for the initial input.

Unlike the public apologies from other Celtic Tiger figures, Mr Fingleton said “I don’t regret any decision I took” and said he only had difficulties with the fact the State ultimately bailed out Irish Nationwide by €5.4bn in 2010.

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