There is no reason not to believe that Mr Cowen is being anything other than entirely truthful when he declares his ignorance in this matter. However, there are many reasons to find his answer entirely unacceptable.
Anglo Irish Bank exists today only because of a Government bailout. Without taxpayers’ cash it would be as dead as Woolworths, gone but not forgotten. It would be the same as Lehman Brothers, once a great power in the land but now just a toxic legacy of debt and deceit.
This intervention on its own is reason enough for Mr Cowen to know who each of the ‘e300 million’ men — let us call them the Anglo Irish Ten — are.
It is imperative that he should know who they are because, in a country with such a concentrated business community, it is impossible to believe that some of these high-rollers are not involved in other institutions or businesses that will require Government attention during this crisis.
When that time comes, Mr Cowen and the Government must know who and what they are dealing with.
In a country outraged with its bank executives and in a country where so many are losing their jobs and many more fear they may lose theirs; in a country where homeowners are jailed for failing to repay relatively modest debts because they have lost jobs and in a country increasingly riven by distrust and sectional interest, it is essential that this cadre of golden circle players be identified. The air is thick with suspicion and it must be cleared.
There are many other valid reasons for Mr Cowen to know who the Anglo Irish Ten are — not least that the State is owed at least e75 million because of this transaction — but let us concentrate on just two.
We are told that any prospect of recovery is dependent on the rejuvenation of investor confidence in our banking system. We are told equally that recovery is dependent on the restoration of Ireland’s reputation as a safe place to do business.
How could investors have faith in a system where a bank’s owner — in this instance the Government — can’t identify who was involved in a e300m transaction, dodgy or otherwise, just months after it took place? How could investors have confidence in a system or a country where the head of Government feels able to admit that he is unaware of who was at the centre of one of the many deals that undermined the reputation of Ireland Inc, despite having almost unique access to the files?
The sudden and unexplained resignation of Irish Nationwide chairman Dr Michael Walsh only thickens the fog hanging over our public affairs. Whatever sparked Dr Walsh’s resignation, the crisis of the day requires an explanation, innocent or otherwise. Yesterday’s statement did not do that and only deepens fears and suspicions, probably needlessly.
Tomorrow afternoon, just as the week’s business comes to an end, the Anglo Irish Bank annual report will be published. It may confirm our worst fears — that the bank behaved appallingly and recklessly and that our regulatory authorities stood by pathetic and silent. This will only add to the anger that intensifies each and every day that this financial crisis develops.