Ethical vacuum - Unfinished business at the banks

IF five years ago — after the Dermot Weld-trained Ansar became the first horse in a decade to retain the Galway Plate — you were to suggest in a buzzing, self-congratulating Ballybrit tent, that Seán FitzPatrick would declare himself a bankrupt, your host might have asked why you bothered to get out of bed in the morning.

He might also, inappropriately, but very revealingly, have wondered how you can live with yourself; why you don’t put an end to your pessimism in the most irreversible way.

Yet, if the script plays out as is expected, the disgraced former Anglo Irish boss, who has come to epitomise the greedy, reckless, privateering facilitated by light-touch regulation that has set this country back decades, will file a petition — cost €650 — to the courts today asking to be declared a bankrupt.

He has debts of around €150 million — he owes €110m to Anglo Irish — and assets of around €80m.

The process requires Mr FitzPatrick to list his assets and sign an affidavit certifying that the list is complete and accurate. If it is not he can face a criminal prosecution. In that event, or in any other circumstances that might involve him in a criminal prosecution, he can join the queue and apply for free legal aid.

The logical conclusion for Mr FitzPatrick, if he is declared a bankrupt, should be a spectacular reduction in his standard of living. However, just before we take up a collection, it should be remembered that half of his pension pot is ring-fenced for his wife.

If he was as assiduous as some of his colleagues were in squirrelling away retirement cash — Nationwide’s Michael Fingleton walked away with a pot just shy of €28m — that figure could be spectacular.

In those circumstances, the hardships brought by bankruptcy would be very different to the hardships inflicted on those who have lost jobs, families struggling with mortgages because one partner has lost their job or young people struggling to find a job of any kind.

Mr FitzPatrick may be the focus of considerable anger but it must be remembered he was only one of many reckless bankers and hope-for-the-best developers who must be delighted that he is the target of so much bile. It keeps them out of the firing line.

But, as every revised and more disheartening set of figures on non-performing loans published by NAMA confirm, Mr FitzPatrick’s behaviour is representative of the ethical vacuum at the centre of Irish banking rather than an exceptional betrayal of the sector’s norms. He was not by any stretch of the imagination the only banker leading us, and more particularly a government expected to rescue them, up the garden path.

And remember too, Mr FitzPatrick is being called to account because of his spectacular personal debt, not because of his behaviour at Anglo Irish.

Some days ago Fine Gael’s Michael Noonan promised a purge of banking’s top management. That this has not already been done by the banks, the Financial Regulator, the Government or the justice system is revealing and very disturbing. Until it does happen, any attempt at national renewal, and the great optimism and energy that will require, is held up by a lingering and corrosive injustice.


Lifestyle

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