This morning’s Sunday Independent story that back in January 2009 when he was still leader of the opposition that Enda Kenny had been in informal contact with Anglo Irish Bank’s CFO, Matt Moran, raises several questions for Mr Kenny. Some of these questions have already been posed by Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin.
When the Anglo tapes first came into the public arena at the end of June, Mr Kenny moved quickly to politically insinuate that the tapes suggested an “axis of collusion” between Anglo Irish and Fianna Fáil, even though the tapes did not suggest any improper or informal contacts between any Fianna Fáil ministers and Anglo bosses.
During the course of Leaders Question on June 25th, Enda Kenny was quite strident and aggressive in his exchanges with the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin with the Taoiseach repeatedly mentioning Martin’s role in the Bank Guarantee (notwithstanding the fact that it was not Anglo who had sought the guarantee and that the bank was not even represented at the meeting in Government Buildings on the night of September 28th, 2008).
Typical of the exchanges is the following line from the Taoiseach:
“Deputy Micheál Martin was part of that environment. I am not suggesting he was involved directly in any of it—– (Interruptions) —-but he was a member of the Government and the people are entitled to know why the Government had incorporeal meetings at 3 a.m. They are entitled to know about the political environment in which all of these agents operated.”
Even after Martin had finished asking his two questions, the Taoiseach continued his political allegations of collusion during his subsequent exchanges with Deputy Gerry Adams and Deputy Mattie McGrath.
During his two questions McGrath asked the Taoiseach if the Minister for Justice and Equality had known about the tapes and if the government intended to set up a criminal inquiry and a robust investigation?
Towards the end of his replies to McGrath, indeed just as the time for Leader Questions was ending and Deputies were starting to prepare for the next business the Taoiseach volunteered the following curious little revelation. McGrath had not asked if he had any contact with the bosses in Anglo, indeed the topic had not been raised, yet the Taoiseach felt the need to put the following titbit on to the record:
“I had the doubtful privilege of calling into Anglo Irish Bank with Deputy Bruton, when he was the party’s spokesman on finance, a couple of weeks after the guarantee went through. We met all of the principals in the bank’s building on St. Stephen’s Green.
We were given a wonderful presentation by people who were very well remunerated in their positions and received very large bonuses. As has transpired, all of that presentation was a tissue of fabrication and untruths. The questions we asked on that occasion, from the Opposition benches, were very realistic in the context of the pressures people were under and the stories, rumours and allegations that were flying around about that bank. They were all utterly denied.
I make that point for the politicians who are interested in what happened here.”
Is this just a case of Mr Kenny’ showing how unlike John Bruton, his predecessor as FG leader and Taoiseach, he is? Some years back Mr Bruton infamously defended his evasiveness in the Dáil with the line: “you didn’t ask me the right question”. Are we to believe that where Bruton was cautiously meticulous in only answering the specifics of the question asked, Kenny is more effusive? To judge from other Leaders’ Questions sessions before and since, hardly so.
It now appears that Mr Kenny was endeavouring to get something on the record regarding his contacts with Anglo bosses just in case these precise revelations were to emerge.
This brings us to Minister Frances Fitzgerald’s protestations this morning on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics that it is ridiculous to suggest that the Taoiseach might have any questions to answer as he was only leader of the opposition back in January 2009. The presumption here is that Mr Kenny knew little or nothing about what was going on back in January 2009 so what could he have told or said to Anglo’s Mr Moran?
Two points here:
First, if the conversations with Moran, who it seems hails from the same part of the world as Kenny, were so inconsequential why did the Taoiseach not make even a passing reference to them in his June 25 dump out of unrequested information? Perhaps because these were one to one conversations without Richard Bruton present?
Second: the notion that Mr Kenny was completely clueless in January 2009 does not hold water. Unlike the current government, the last one – particularly the late Brian Lenihan was scrupulous in keeping the opposition informed and briefed. Lenihan knew the enormous scale of the issues with which he was grappling. He was not going to allow himself open to the charge of a lack of transparency or openness in dealing with decisions that would affect the economy for decades. It should not be forgotten that Fine Gael had, in the wake of the Sept 28 guarantee, been broadly constructive in its approach.
We get a glimpse into openness of the contacts between Lenihan and Kenny at the time from the following comment by Lenihan at the conclusion of the Second Stage debate on the Bank Guarantee legislation (Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Bill 2008).
“When I telephoned Deputy Kenny at 7 a.m. this morning and explained to him the circumstances in which the State found itself in regard to financial stability, he responded without hesitation that he would support any measure the Government brought forward.”
This contrasts with the paucity of the briefings offered by the current government to opposition spokespeople on February 6th when the government expected the Dáil to pass the legislation winding up Anglo Irish (by then called the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation) with only 10 minutes prior sight of the Bill itself.
Only after much cajoling from both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin did the Taoiseach eventually concede to giving the opposition an extra 30 minutes to read the legislation before debating it.
While Kenny’s informal contacts with Anglo Irish in 2008 and 2009 are clearly no where near the scale of Nixon’s pre 1968 back channel communications with the Vietnamese, they do raise some important question for the Taoiseach to answer now.
Rather than issuing bland blanket denials he needs to set out in tabular form all the contacts he and his colleagues had with Anglo Irish bank and its agents between early 2008 and before the 2011 election.
Will he heed Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s call elsewhere to tell us what he knows about “direct” contacts with Anglo? He also needs to say if he is willing to agree to co-operate with an independent Leveson style investigation into the banking crisis.