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Rewind: A look at what the Anglo Tapes have meant for Ireland

Have you been living on a deserted island for the past two weeks? Catch up on everything Anglo in TheJournal.ie’s examination of what was said, who noticed and what can happen next?

Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/Press Association Images

THEY CREATED HEADLINES the world over, warranted comment from an apolitical president and the German Chancellor, provided news fodder in this country for a full two weeks and prompted moves for expedited investigations into the banking crisis, not to mention a Twitter faux-pas and a live blow-out between Vincent Browne and one of his favoured guests.

On top of all that, the Anglo Tapes also offered the Irish public its greatest insight into what happened in the lead-up to the capitulation of an entire banking system which plunged the nation into at least five years of austerity and political turmoil.

Since the Irish Independent splashed the headline – ‘Inside Anglo: The Secret Recordings’ – on 24 June, it has been a whirlwind of jaw-dropping quotes, political wrist-slapping, understated apologies and angry protests.

For those in need of a retrospective, we’ve taken a look back at the past 14 days – what was said, who said it, what impact it has had – and looking ahead – will all of this make any difference?

What was said?

That number is seven [billion euros] but the reality is we need more than that. But you know, the strategy here is you pull them [the Central Bank] in, you get them to write a big cheque and they have to keep, they have to support their money, you know.
If they saw the enormity of it up front, they might decide they have a choice. You know what I mean? They might say the cost to the taxpayer is too high…if it doesn’t look too big at the outset…if it doesn’t look big, big enough to be important, but not too big that it kind of spoils everything, then, then I think you can have a chance. So I think it can creep up.

Those were the words of Anglo’s head of capital markets John Bowe in the days leading up to the bank guarantee. They were also the words that showed Ireland – almost a fortnight ago – that the financial institution was trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the regulator.

But it wasn’t just the content and context that irked citizens, it was also the tone and language used.

“Just, as Drummer [CEO David Drumm] would say, ‘I picked it out of my arse’,” was Bowe’s response when asked how the figure of €7 billion was arrived at.

And the anger-inducing quotes kept coming. On Day Four of the Irish Independent’s exclusive, we heard David Drumm tell a laughing Bowe:

We need the fucking loans because we’re running out of money. ‘We gave you the term sheet. Can we have the money?

Get into the fucking simple speak: ‘We need the moolah, you have it, so you’re going to give it to us, and when would that be?’ We’ll start there.

The former CEO was also recorded threatening to ‘punch’ the then-Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan.

“I’ll probably punch him [Lenihan]. And I mean punch him, as if to say [to him], ‘What are you actually doing?’

Because you are creating an awful lot of uncertainty and can you just, can we move the game where you give us a little bit more clarity than you have given in relation to the availability of capital.

Anglo’s AGM on 1 February 2008 in the Mansion House, Dublin: David Drumm, CEO, and Sean Fitzpatrick, Chairman

What was the reaction?

There was reaction from pretty much everyone and their mothers as the articles kept coming. Eventually, David Drumm himself has to break his silence and follow Bowe and Peter Fitzgerald (the other voice on the initial tapes) in an apology about the “tone and language” used during what he described as a stressful time.

“I knew they were bad, bad, bad,” he told IrishCentral.com from his Boston home. “I cannot change this now but I can apologise to those who had to listen to it and who were understandably so offended by it.”

Back on home soil, political point-scoring was the game in the Dáil where the Taoiseach et al. reminded all and sundry that Fianna Fáil were in power the night of the guarantee.

In his first comments, Enda Kenny also promised to hold those responsible to account: “The buck stops with the government and I’m going to go after them.”

Meanwhile, Eamon Gilmore was “shocked”, Brendan Howlin was “personally sickened” and Alan Shatter ‘nauseated’ by the tapes.

The most-disappointed speech came from the President of Ireland himself. In a strongly-worded address, Michael D Higgins said the voices heard should not be seen as indicative of the “behaviours and attitudes” of the Irish people at large.

Did anyone else notice?

Unfortunately (in some ways), yes.

A well-timed press conference in Brussels meant questions were put to German Chancellor Angela Merkel about how two of the executives were caught singing the old Nazi version of the German national anthem.

She told reporters that she had “nothing but contempt” for the tapes, adding that they are “a real damage” to democracy, social market economy and “everything we work for”.

The German papers stood up and took notice too with this tabloid splashing it on their front page, and another broadsheet running an interview with our own Central Bank governor.

That piece, which was transcribed in full by the financial regulator, saw Patrick Honohan echo many of Merkel’s sentiments. In a surprisingly frank script, he described the conversations as “hugely embarrassing”.

In the interview with Marcus Theurer of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), he said there was one element to the recordings that the regulator was not aware of, indicating it could lead to criminal prosecutions.

So, what has the fallout been?

Protestors outside Leinster House, Dublin, show their anger at the government’s handling of the financial crisis and the Anglo Irish Bank scandal. Julien Behal/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Besides the embarrassment on a global scale, the release of the tapes poses many other questions for Ireland as it continues in its attempts to recover from the banking collapse.

Despite six years of austerity measures and parallel protests across Europe – particularly in fellow bailout nation Greece – there have been no public service walkouts on a grand scale or regular anti-government rallies in Irish streets.

Some groups tried to shake up that obedience in the wake of the leaks and a demonstration was organised outside the Dáil last Wednesday. Although they grabbed attention, only about 200 people turned up to march from Leinster House to Pearse St garda station, where they delivered formal letters calling for charges to brought against three Anglo Irish Bank staff. A rowdy crowd, sure, but still too small to worry Kenny, Gilmore and the Cabinet.

The revelations in the tapes have also spelled bad news for other banks. Both AIB and Bank of Ireland were mentioned throughout conversations between Drumm and Bowe, with the former being described as playing “fast and loose with lending money to every cowboy in town”.

As a result, Enda Kenny was quizzed by Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams about the government’s methods of investigating banks – and whether there are tapes from Irish Nationwide, Irish Life and Permanent, EBS, AIB and Bank of Ireland.

“I dunno,” was the Taoiseach’s somewhat unsatisfactory response. “I did ask for all files when I got this job… And there are none… That’s why we need this parliamentary inquiry”.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan plans to write to those institutions to ask them to hold on to any recordings of telephone conversations, as they may be used in an Oireachtas banking inquiry.

What’s the story with that inquiry then?

The Anglo Tapes have given impetus to the government to re-examine the possibility of increasing the powers of Oireachtas committees in order to carry out a full investigation into the banking crisis.

Although the electorate rejected the proposal in last year’s referendum, the idea has been mooted again as people’s appetite for answers is whetted.

Noonan has said we will have to “wait and see” what proposals Minister Brendan Howlin brought to Cabinet on the issue. However, any banking inquiry run by the PAC under proposed legislation (going through the Dáil this month) will be restricted to an ‘inquire, record and report’ system which can only make findings that are uncontested.

As the politics of that inquiry rumble on, a garda investigation – now more than four years old – continues. Many of the main protagonists in the tragedy have hid behind the probe, unable to comment on revelations. Former chairman Alan Dukes, who was accused of “singing dumb” on the matter by Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, told TheJournal.ie that the Central Bank and the Department of Finance were “perfectly aware” that an investigation into the toxic bank was being carried out by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) as far back as 2009.

“The Central Bank was perfectly aware that the investigation was going on, as was the Department of Finance and we’re not making any comment about that because all of that material is evidential material in relation to pending litigation,” he added, repeating Noonan’s earlier words of warning.

The Finance Minister told reporters this week that it would be dangerous if “ready and free” access to gathered documents was allowed.

He also claimed that people “shouldn’t be mucking around in Garda business” as there could be a “risk of contaminating evidence, and contaminated evidence is not admissible in court”.

And that’s where the story has been left. Angry citizens, displeased politicians, silent bankers and what must be an exhausted team of gardaí investigators will, in the words of Michael Noonan, just have to “wait and see”.

The odd touch

(YouTube: William Finnegan)

As with every big story that hits our TV screens and makes front-page headlines for a number of consecutive days, there are always spin-offs of a lighter nature.

Whether we look for the silver lining or the comic take, an alternative angle on what has been happening is welcomed by a somewhat-jaded audience.

Step up, Vincent Browne.

The popular TV3 presenter got into a war of words with Irish Independent journalist Fionnan Sheahan on the second day of the exclusives, with the political correspondent coming out on top after taking umbridge with how he and his colleagues are treated when they appear as guests.

“You spend so much time showing your bias against Independent newspapers, it is getting sickening at this stage. Can you not just acknowledge it is a good story and move on? Is that too much for you?” he asked.

I’m sick of your attitude towards the Irish Independent and Independent newspapers. I do [have a problem]. When you bring a colleague of mine on here a couple of weeks ago and just kick him around for your fun. So can you not just acknowlege in this case Vincent that it is a perfectly good story and talk about it.

And that one had legs too. TV3 insisted there was no truth to a report in the newspaper that the editor was now banned from the station and ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’. Regardless, Sheahan is understood to be “enjoying the notoriety”.

Finally, what’s a breaking story these days without a bit of a Twitter scandal?

The 140-character mishap was provided this time by the account of Fine Gael’s Jim Higgins. The MEP took to the micro-blogging site at about 2.40am on the 25 June to tell Anglo to “f**k off”, describing the tapes as “disgusting”.

There was a twist in the tale though as the politician claimed his account was hacked, adding that the “foul-language tweet” was not from him.

He may not have taken credit for the post, but the sentiment hit an appropriate note and – without assuming too much – was probably repeated across Irish households once or twice in the past two weeks.

Read: Patrick Honohan gives unexpectedly frank answers about bank crisis…

More: President Higgins: Anglo Tapes “are not the voices of the people of Ireland”

Video: Howlin angrily pushes camera away as he is confronted over bank inquiry

Daily Edge: How much would you pay for an Anglo Irish Bank umbrella?

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