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Noel Dempsey: 'Everyday I regret the horrendous decisions we made in government'

The former Fianna Fáil minister gave a wide-ranging interview to RTÉ Radio 1 today.

Ireland's road build project Source: PA Wire

FORMER FIANNA FÁIL minister Noel Dempsey has said the experience of the financial collapse is “seared into his soul”, and that he still regrets the “horrendous” decisions made.

Like other former ministers from his party, Dempsey broke the low profile he has kept in recent years to appear on The Marian Finucane Show.

The Meath TD who served as transport minister before stepping down from political life said this was a deliberate decision, and he will not be returning.

He is currently heading up the Temple Bar Company, which wants to revitalise the city centre district, and has a pension worth ‘I think around €112,000′.

In a wide-ranging interview, he said all the positives elements of his three decades in politics are “almost blacked out” by the “cut, cut, cut” experience of his final three years.

Noel Dempsey: 'Everyday I regret the horrendous decisions we made in government'
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  • Former transport minister Noel Dempsey using various forms of tranpsort

    Source: PA WIRE
  • Former transport minister Noel Dempsey using various forms of tranpsort

    Source: /Photocall Ireland
  • Former transport minister Noel Dempsey using various forms of tranpsort

    Source: PA WIRE
  • Former transport minister Noel Dempsey using various forms of tranpsort

    Source: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie
  • Former transport minister Noel Dempsey using various forms of tranpsort

    Source: PA WIRE
  • Former transport minister Noel Dempsey using various forms of tranpsort

    Source: PA WIRE

“Those three years were horrendous for everybody,” he told RTÉ Radio 1, “Decisions that I was involved in and partaking in were horrendous for people.”

“I suppose you could console yourself, in inverted commas, that you were trying to do it to make a difference, and to make a difference in the longer term. You’d think you would have a problem solved one week, and two days later you’re back in a cabinet meeting having to make another decision that’s equally horrendous.”

There isn’t a day that passes that doesn’t, in some form or the other, come back into my head.

Dempsey also recalled a discussion with the late former finance minister Brian Lenihan on the banks, where Lenihan told him:

I honestly can’t make up mind whether or not I’m being told lies, or that people just genuinely don’t know how bad the situation is.

Dempsey also spoke about…

FictionGate.

Source: Broadsheet Ie/YouTube

It was one of the most iconic moments of Ireland’s economic collapse – two government ministers saying they had no knowledge of an impending bailout despite the Troika almost hammering down the door.

On Monday 15 November 2010, he and then justice minister Dermot Ahern dismissed reports of a bailout as “fiction”.

It was three days later when Patrick Honohan broke ranks and revealed on Morning Ireland that Ireland was entering a bailout.

Asked about his denial, Dempsey said:

Will I ever forget it?

He recalls seeing the television coverage, “of satellite vans in various places around Merrion Square”, but still being unable to confirm if a bailout was taking place.

Before speaking to the media, both he and Ahern called Brian Lenihan but were told to stick to a brief they had received on the Friday previous.

Ireland Financial Crisis The late Brian Lenihan holding Budget 2011. Source: Associated Press

Dempsey stresses that what they said was “exactly as we knew and understood it at the time”.

He explained that he and other ministers had been briefed previously on how the country would eventually run out of money, but there was to be no commitment to a bailout until the terms will fully agreed.

The army being brought out to guard ATMs at the height of the financial crisis

The Taoiseach recalled this possibility earlier this week, back at a time when the Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan warned him that capital controls could be needed.

“Enda might have been looking for a bit of drama,” Dempsey said.

No one ever said it to me, there was no discussion of that I can remember.

Fianna Fáil going into coalition with Fine Gael

Ireland New Government Eamon Gilmore, Enda Kenny, Gerry Adams and Micheal Martin at church service in March 2011. Source: AP Photo/Peter Morrison

The former minister doesn’t have high hopes for his old party’s chances next year, saying that while Fianna Fáil has made huge progress, it will take more than one election for the electorate to shake off their anger.

But could they, at some point, cast aside the civil war politics and enter a government with Fine Gael?

Dempsey stressed that it will be the electorate who will decide, but that he personally has no ideological difficulties with the proposal.

The only difficulty I have is one that I’ve heard expressed even on the Fine Gael side, that if [the two parties go into coalition], you hasten the day when you have left-right politics in Ireland. People will say, ‘what’s wrong with that, it works everywhere else’? One of the strengths of our system… is that there there have been no huge lurches from left to right.

He believes this is how some consistent elements of policy, such as the 12.5% corporation tax rate, have survived over the years.

His constituency office in Trim being vandalised in November 2010.

Ireland's financial woes Source: Julien Behal/PA Archive/PA Images

“What hurt was the problem that it caused for my secretary who was working in that office, although it didn’t happen during office hours, I have to say. What hurt was the devastation it caused for my family, my daughters and sons and that.

It wasn’t even spelled correctly. I’m hoping that it wasn’t an ex-pupil of mine.

The e-voting controversy.

General Election 2002 The electronic ballot boxes An electronic ballot box in 2002. Source: RollingNews.ie

Dempsey was the first to suggest e-voting machines (he also introduced the plastic bag levy and said postcodes would be in place by 2008), which were then introduced in 2002 and rolled out to the rest of the country two years later.

However, they proved to be faulty, and the €54 million project scrapped, with the machines being sold for scrap value at €9.30 each.

However, Dempsey stands by the concept.

They were still a good idea. I know I won’t be popular for saying it”

“We’re a modern country, we use machines, computers, all the time. We were trying to promote that we were this modern, innovative country.”

Dempsey said the rollout was too quick, and claimed that “certain vested interests” in the media were opposed to the machines due to the possibility of lost revenue from being unable to cover a length count.

Have Irish politicians learnt lessons from the financial crisis?

“I don’t think we have,” Dempsey said.

Watch: Brian Cowen explains THAT infamous bailout denial >

More: Noel Dempsey announces retirement >

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