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Being tough on bankers ... and Fine Gael: How Peter Mathews will be remembered

Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan is among those to have paid tribute to Mathews, saying Ireland is “a poorer place” without him.

Peter Mathews in 2011
Peter Mathews in 2011
Image: Eleanor Keegan/RollingNews.ie

THE DEATH OF former TD Peter Mathews (65) was announced earlier today, leading to many tributes and people remembering his contribution to politics.

The financial consultant and political commentator was elected to the Dáil as a Fine Gael TD in the Dublin South constituency in 2011, but left the party in 2013 after voting against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

Mathews was elected in the five-seat Dublin South constituency in the 2011 general election. However, he failed to be re-elected as an independent TD in the three-seat Dublin Rathdown constituency last year. He ran in the February 2016 election despite announcing he had oesophageal cancer the same month.

The circumstances under which he left Fine Gael have somewhat overshadowed his contribution to politics, but for many he is better known as a vocal commentator during the aftermath of the economic crash and bank guarantee.

He clashed with Fine Gael on a number of occasions, ruffling some feathers in 2011 when he said he had more experience than Finance Minister Michael Noonan.

In March 2012, the Fine Gael and Labour members of the Oireachtas’ all-party finance committee were beaten by 11 votes to nine on a motion put forward by Mathews seeking a hearing with the then Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan about the controversial Anglo Irish Bank promissory notes deal.

Mathews, still a member of Fine Gael at the time, tabled the proposal but voted against it in line with the party whip. It was an embarrassing defeat for the government.

In January 2013, meanwhile, Mathews was “spoken to” by then government chief whip Paul Kehoe over his attendance at a Ballyhea anti-bank bailout protest meeting.

An unlikely ally

MEP and former TD Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan paid tribute to Mathews today, saying his death “shocked and saddened” him.

“We came from very different backgrounds and very different political perspectives but we both arrived at the Dáil on the same day, first-time TDs after the February 2011 election, with similar ambition on one major issue – challenge the bank debt that had been forced on the Irish people.

For me it was personal, given that I had a young family on whose shoulders the bulk of this debt was loaded. For Peter though I think it was even more so, not just because he had kids and even grandkids of his own who would likewise now be forced to pay for the lack of backbone of our own government in not challenging this odious debt, but because he was himself an accountant and a banker and thus saw this as a huge stain on his profession.

Flanagan said he thought Mathews was “a natural for promotion to the Cabinet”, given his financial expertise, but this wasn’t to be.

He was critical of Enda Kenny’s decision to consign Mathews to the back benches, saying Fine Gael knows “how to deal with upstarts with knowledge and intelligence – silence them”. Flanagan said he believed this “rejection” by the Taoiseach “left a deep scar” on Mathews’ belief system.

“Ireland is today a poorer place without Peter,” he added.

Kenny said he was “deeply saddened” by Mathews’ death, adding he “served his constituents with commitment and energy” – both when in Fine Gael and as an independent.

Bank officials 

In a grilling of bank officials by the Oireachtas Finance Committee in September 2013, Mathews didn’t hold back. He said the banking sector “abandoned its prudential principles” and “created a credit asset bubble”.

Source: Hugh O'Connell/YouTube

“How dare a banking sector think that they’re entitled to collect all the loans that are secured on that asset which they have helped to pump up, consistently, for six years. That’s wrong,” he stated.

Mathews said the then Socialist TD Joe Higgins was right when he said it was wrong for “€70 billion of private losses” to be absorbed by the public.

twee Source: Twitter

The decision to not put Mathews on the Oireachtas banking inquiry committee, given his financial knowledge, was criticised by opposition TDs.

Finian McGrath, now an Independent Alliance junior minister, described the move as “a major mistake”.

Mathews’ proposed motion to compel bank executives from the period 2001 to 2008 to appear before the committee was also voted down.

Kicked out 

pm-10-2 Source: Oireachtas.ie

In his final months as a TD, Mathews was ejected from the Dáil chamber on a number of occasions.

He frequently clashed with the then Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett after raising unrelated issues during the order of business, such as Bank of Ireland’s restrictions on over-the-counter lodgements and the IBRC loans controversy.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Mathews will also be remembered for his pro-life views, which ultimately saw him leave Fine Gael in 2011.

In his letter resigning from the party, he wrote: “Unfortunately I have been placed in a position by the leadership of the party that has led me to this decision.”

At the time he told RTÉ News he signed a document pledging to support Fine Gael policy when he joined the party but said: “I pointed out at the time that I would not be signing a blind political loyalty to some areas that might be more important and more core …  life and death matters.”

Read: Former Fine Gael and Independent TD Peter Mathews has died aged 65

Read: For perhaps the last time, Peter Mathews was sent packing from the Dáil today

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