Banking Inquiry: Smoking guns yet to be found at inquiry

After a make or break fortnight which saw ousted ex-taoiseach Brian Cowen take centre stage, the banking inquiry has still to find any smoking gun for what caused the 2008 crash.

Banking Inquiry: Smoking guns yet to be found at inquiry

As a result, seven months in and with its star witness left relatively unscathed, the multi-million euro probe is itself facing legitimate public questions over whether it is worth all the hassle.

But the past fortnight of evidence from Mr Cowen and others has at least brought into sharp focus one point which cannot be disputed. As the country went bust, a small group of well-connected individuals swam and sank together, leading either to a deliberate attempt to hoodwink the public for personal greed or a dangerous breach of Chinese walls.

The most high-profile link is Mr Cowen and his Anglo socialising. In April 2008, just a month after Anglo’s calamitous St Patrick’s Day share price collapse, the then soon-to-be taoiseach attended a “social” event for close friend and retiring director Fintan Drury.

When Mr Cowen — who only met Patrick Neary, the financial regulator twice in four years — asked Mr Drury in July to find him experts to advise him on the wider economic issues but not Anglo. The former Anglo director decided to call then Anglo chair Seán Fitzpatrick, director Gary McGann, and economist Alan Gray for a round of golf.

Mr Gray was the only outside expert Mr Cowen called for advice on guarantee night. That same day, Mr Fitzpatrick and Anglo CEO David Drumm arrived at Mr Gray’s office seeking help. Mr Cowen was didn’t know that. NTMA officials — tasked with safeguarding taxpayers’ money — were not consulted, sitting in a side-room on guarantee night. They said on Thursday they had been saying for a year Anglo was bust. Locked out of the room, both figuratively and literally, because they didn’t have a good golf swing.

During his evidence Mr Cowen also dismissed Galway tent “conspiracy” theories.

The response misses the point. The Galway Tent wasn’t just physical, it was a mindset. During the boom, developers and politicians were drawn to each other. Construction equals jobs, equals voters.

Developer Derek Quinlan, who said “I too lost” on Thursday because he took the emigrant boat to Abu Dhabi, underlined the link when he confirmed he gave €20,000 to the UK Conservative party and attended Irish parties’ events — but never, ever lobbied.

That closeness causes difficulties when an economy dependent on a buoyant property market and a government getting advice from a property bank instead of its own experts hit a brick wall. Given these apparently innocent connections, is it any wonder banks’ health was not checked pre-guarantee, why Bertie Ahern — up this Thursday — believed the “soft landing” fairytale (despite Mr Cowen confirming government never compiled a report on its credibility) and why Anglo was guaranteed, despite state experts urging anything else?

No smoking gun yet, just a familiar web called groupthink.

More in this section