Taoiseach Brian Cowen launched an emotional defence of his political reputation today after being accused of economic treason over the multi-billion euro bailout of rogue lender Anglo Irish Bank.
Opposition leaders unleashed a blistering attack on Mr Cowen over his decisions as former Finance Minister and later as the country’s leader which, they said, have saddled the Irish taxpayer with a €40bn clean-up bill.
Amid highly-charged allegations in the Dáil that he saved Anglo from collapse to protect the wealth of government cronies, the usually thick-skinned Taoiseach vented his anger at the charge.
“I will not be accused of seeking to cause treason to my country,” he said. “I find that beyond the pale.”
To applause from his own Fianna Fáil benches, Mr Cowen berated Labour leader Eamon Gilmore over the accusation, claiming he would never insult another Irishman in the same way in the Dáil.
“You are quite entitled to disagree with me but don’t question my patriotism to my country,” he said.
Mr Gilmore incurred the wrath of the Taoiseach with an allegation that Anglo was brought under the State’s bank guarantee in September 2008 in the interests of well-connected property speculators rather than the country.
“I believe that decision was made to save the skins of a number of individuals - some of whom are connected to Fianna Fáil – whose property interests and whose prosperity was bound up with the fortunes of Anglo,” he said.
“If my belief is correct – and I have not been convinced to the contrary - then that decision was an act of economic treason for which this country is now paying very dearly.”
Mr Gilmore said there was good reason to cover the main high street banks in the €440bn scheme at the time but not a “piggy bank” for property speculators, which has since been controversially brought under State control.
The Labour leader asked the Taoiseach to publish all the advice he received at the time the Cabinet approved the guarantee of six home-grown lenders to save the banking system from collapse.
But Mr Cowen said there was no published advice because they were sitting around a table at an overnight emergency meeting with public officials, including the Central Bank and Financial Regulator chiefs.
The Taoiseach also denied he was lobbied that night or any other night on behalf of Anglo or those whose wealth was tied up with the bank.