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Amid criticism of Brian Hayes' attendance at Golfgate dinner, the Banking Culture Board says it's not getting involved

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall says ‘it’s a bit rich’.

Image: Sam Boal

AN ORGANISATION SET up to improve banking culture in Ireland will not be drawn on the controversy around bank lobbyist Brian Hayes’ attendance at the Oireachtas Golf Society event last week.

The Irish Banking Culture Board (IBCB), an industry initiative funded by the five main retail banks, told TheJournal.ie yesterday that the controversy was “a matter for Mr Hayes” and his employer, the Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland (BPFI).

Former Fine Gael junior minister and MEP Hayes confirmed over the weekend that he attended the event at the Station House Hotel, which took place in breach of government public health guidelines.

Hayes, chief executive of the BPFI, the main lobbying body for Irish banks, apologised for his attendance and said the event should never have happened.

He told the Business Post on Sunday, “I don’t think I should consider my position, no.

“I’m a private citizen, I’m no longer a public official and we all have to take learnings from this right the way across society and we all have to challenge all our social interactions wherever it happens.”

Public outrage over the event led to the resignations of agriculture minister Dara Calleary and Seanad leas-Cathaoirleach Jerry Buttimer.

The BPFI has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Now, the IBCB is refusing to be drawn into the controversy around Hayes’ attendance.

Set up last year with the goal of restoring public trust in the banking sector after the tracker mortgage scandals, the IBCB is chaired by former Court of Appeal judge John Hedigan.

The 14-member board comprises five representatives of the banks along with a majority of non-bank members, including representatives of the Financial Services Union, the Irish Farmers Association and financial adviser and campaigner Padraic Kissane.

Asked if it had any concerns about Hayes’ presence at the dinner or whether it was detrimental to board’s stated goal for the banking sector to “demonstrate cultural change” by becoming “a more positive and proactive servant of communities”, a spokesperson for the board said it was a matter for the BPFI.

The spokesperson said, “Brian Hayes is not a member of the Irish Banking Culture Board. Any issues relating to his attendance at the golf society event in Clifden are a matter for Mr Hayes and the BPFI.

The IBCB considers that in order to support the national effort in meeting the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic everyone should adhere strictly to guidance provided by our public health officials.”

The perception of oversight

Commenting on the matter, Róisín Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats and the party’s finance spokesperson, said, “It is a bit rich for the Irish Banking Culture Board to try to wash their hands of accountability in this situation.

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“The purpose of the board is to institute cultural reform in the banking sector, and Mr Hayes is very much a part of that culture as the banks’ chief lobbyist.”

Hayes also told the Business Post at the weekend that the three unnamed guests who attended the dinner in Clifden with him were school friends who were not in public life.

Spokespersons for Permanent TSB, AIB, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank have all told TheJournal.ie that no representatives of those banks were present at the event.

But Shortall said, “It was clearly wrong that Brian Hayes breached public health advice and ignored the restrictions. It was inappropriate for him, as a representative of the banking industry, to be fraternising with Oireachtas members and vice versa.

“As a public figure he should have known better, and the assertion that he is a private citizen simply doesn’t hold up. The public deserves answers about this event, and Mr Hayes should make it clear why he was there and who his three guests were.”

Green Party spokesperson on finance Neasa Hourigan said that it was “problematic” that the IBCB had decided to “wash their hands of it.”

The Dublin Central TD said that the board’s response to questions from TheJournal.ie raises “serious questions” about “how well it understands the perception of the banking industry” in Ireland.  

The impression of that golfing get-together is that there’s a golden circle in Ireland of the great and the good who meet and chat and have a social interaction and that somehow, that is still going on, despite the fact that we now have things like lobbying registers.

“There needs to be the perception of oversight [in the banking sector] and of correct behaviour and I think for them to wash their hands is problematic,” she said. 

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