COMMENT: Omerta at Central Bank as former duo take the rap

At 10.30am yesterday, two citizens were sentenced for doing something, a judge said, they believed was lawful.

Former Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan
Former Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan

According to the Central Criminal Court judge, they committed their crimes with the nod of a critical institution of the State. The judge said this institution either ignored the law or was ignorant of it.

Yet this body has not seen fit to comment, apologise, explain itself, or speak up on the men’s behalf.

The reputations of both men, former executives at Anglo Irish Bank, are ruined. They will serve 240 hours community service or face two years in jail. In contrast, the institution they initially ran their idea past was not in the dock.

Worse, the Central Bank has been content to watch these two men take the fall. It will not make any statement to clarify its role in the crime or, at the very least, assure citizens that it knew the law and abided by it.

Yesterday the Central Bank, now responsible for the Financial Regulator’s office, was asked for a response. In a short reply, it said it would not go beyond a comment Governor Patrick Honohan made at a press conference to launch its annual report on April 30.

At that event, Mr Honohan made vague comments that amounted to “that was then, this is now”. It was a “sorry story”. But he did not say the bank was sorry.

He repeated the sentiments at the Oireachtas Committee hearing on his report.

Mr Honohan referred back to a review published in 2010. But this did not address potential criminal behaviour, or other actions of the regulator, such as approving bond market prospectus for Anglo in May 2008, without any warning to potential investors about the ‘basket case’ it was.

His comments dealt with the structures in the office, rather than the part it played in a crime.

In April, Mr Honohan said there was nothing he wanted to disagree with in the comments of Judge Martin Nolan. And in this statement he implicitly accepted that it had given the green light to a crime, and that it was either ignorant of the law or it disregarded it.

The events of 2008 are not behind William McAteer, 63, the former finance director at Anglo and Pat Whelan, 52, the bank’s ex-head of lending. The pension entitlements of senior staff in the Central Bank and regulator’s offices are not behind them.

And the questions about how a former regulator, Patrick Neary, could be so publicly chastised by Judge Nolan, about his evidence and his “limited recall” in the witness box, is not something lost in the distance past.

There is a school-yard omerta when a teacher arrives into a classroom and asks for a culprit to step forward: Do not tell tales.

Likewise, if somebody is caught, the same code says you do not stand by, watching a classmate take the rap alone.

The silence of the Central Bank is a lesson to all citizens. It is prepared to watch two fellow bankers convicted in court while it will not even comment, or explain its role.

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