COM­MENT

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - NEWS -

ASTRANGE si­lence could be heard on Wed­nes­day, in the hours af­ter for­mer An­glo Irish Bank chief ex­ec­u­tive David Drumm was con­victed of con­spir­acy to de­fraud and false ac­count­ing. Lis­ten­ing closely, you could make out what might be de­scribed as a smat­ter­ing of ap­plause. Where were the cheers? Where was the pop­ping of Champagne corks? Why are we not hap­pier?

I did a quick, wholly un­sci­en­tific, sur­vey of fam­ily and friends and found var­i­ous causes of ap­a­thy, dis­il­lu­sion­ment and scep­ti­cism – each one more de­press­ing than the next.

One rea­son is that no­body is go­ing to be­lieve this is re­ally over un­til Wed­nes­day week, June 20, when Judge Karen O’Con­nor pro­nounces her sen­tence. Drumm has, af­ter all, fought against his pros­e­cu­tion ev­ery step of the way and he’s not yet be­hind bars.

An­other rea­son is that this was a com­pli­cated se­quence of events – al­beit one whose con­se­quences were starkly sim­ple – and some ob­servers may have just lost the thread of it in the mid­dle of some golden cir­cle or other and felt un­able or un­will­ing to pick it up again.

An­other is that Drumm has come to be re­garded as the poster boy for the skul­dug­gery at An­glo but no­body be­lieves he acted alone or that the cul­ture he rep­re­sented didn’t spread far and wide. Where are the oth­ers? And on that same note, peo­ple are in­clined to won­der if any­thing has re­ally changed, from a reg­u­la­tory point of view, in the con­duct of risky money through risky chan­nels. Couldn’t this hap­pen again?

BUT the gloomi­est rea­son of all is that it’s been al­most 10 years, since the in­ci­dents de­scribed at Drumm’s trial took place. Sadly – shock­ingly – we have just got used to what hap­pened. Ou­trage about the kind of high­level fi­nan­cial chi­canery that cost us our eco­nomic sovereignty seems to have worn off.

And yet… look again at the col­lapse of An­glo Irish Bank, which cost the State €29bn. Look again at the bailout, which cost the State any sem­blance of au­ton­omy. Re­mem­ber again the grave faces of our Troika over­lords telling us ex­actly how much money, in eu­ros and cents, poor peo­ple should be made to sur­vive on. Look again at the con­vic­tion of David Drumm. Feel the ou­trage again.

Vic­tim im­pact state­ments are not al­lowed in cases such as this. Those are re­served for crimes against the per­son and play­ing any part what­so­ever in flush­ing an econ­omy down the toi­let is not a crime against the per­son, don’t you know. But what if the ca­su­al­ties of An­glo’s cat­a­clysmic demise were to get a chance to have their say? Who might we hear from? Let’s num­ber some of the vic­tims.

Peo­ple who lost their homes when the banks fore­closed. Peo­ple who lost their jobs when the econ­omy tanked. Peo­ple whose busi­nesses went un­der. Peo­ple who weren’t lucky enough to have their debt na­tion­alised. Peo­ple who were cut loose from so­cial ser­vices they ab­so­lutely de­pended on. Peo­ple who lost their self-es­teem along with their liveli­hoods. Peo­ple who lost hope al­to­gether and took their own lives. The be­reaved fam­i­lies of those peo­ple. Peo­ple who had to em­i­grate. Their fam­i­lies. Peo­ple who are to­day still em­bar­rassed to look their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren in the eye be­cause those blame­less young­sters will be pay­ing off this debt on our be­half in per­pe­tu­ity, long af­ter we’re gone. Peo­ple, cit­i­zens of a sov­er­eign repub­lic, who’ve some­how been led to be­lieve that gross in­equal­ity is per­fectly nor­mal. Every­body. All of us.

DRUMM is among nine in­di­vid­u­als to have faced charges in con­nec­tion with An­glo Irish Bank so far. For­mer fi­nance di­rec­tor Wil­lie McA­teer, head of trea­sury John Bowe, and for­mer Irish Life & Per­ma­nent chief ex­ec­u­tive De­nis Casey were all con­victed in 2016 for their role in the same €7.2bn fraud on which Drumm has just been tried. McA­teer was jailed for three-and-a-half years, to be served con­cur­rently with a two-and-a-half year sen­tence he got last year in for re­ceiv­ing a fraud­u­lent €8m loan. Bowe got two years and Casey got two years and nine months.

Those jail terms are roughly com­pa­ra­ble to the three-year sen­tence handed down at the Cir­cuit Crim­i­nal Court in Fe­bru­ary to two home­less men who bur­gled sev­eral un­oc­cu­pied of­fices in Dublin 2 and stole €1,167 in cash, some mo­bile phones, and cor­po­rate tick­ets to Punchestown Races. One law for...

For­mer head of lend­ing Pat Whe­lan was sen­tenced to 240 hours of com­mu­nity ser­vice in 2014 over the grant­ing of il­le­gal loans to de­vel­op­ers to buy shares. The fol­low­ing year the chief op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer, the for­mer com­pany sec­re­tary and an as­sis­tant man­ager were given cus­to­dial sen­tences of 18 months to three years. One was re­leased a few months later and the other two had their con­vic­tions over­turned on ap­peal.

Seán Fitz Pa­trick, for­mer An­glo chief ex­ec­u­tive and later chair­man, has been pros­e­cuted un­suc­cess­fully three times. Most re­cently, a year ago, he was ac­quit­ted on 27 charges un­der the Com­pa­nies Act on the di­rec­tion of Judge John Aylmer, who ruled that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion had been flawed.

You can un­der­stand why peo­ple might have grown tired of all this, and might have sort of given up hope of see­ing any of th­ese Masters of the Uni­verse get­ting their come­up­pance. And in a way that very dis­il­lu­sion­ment is what makes Drumm’s con­vic­tion all the more im­por­tant – all the more timely and nec­es­sary. What might have al­layed the anger against Drumm in the past would have been an ac­cep­tance of re­spon­si­bil­ity for what he’d done in wil­fully de­ceiv­ing peo­ple about the for­tunes of his stricken bank back in 2008. But he didn’t. He fled to the US; he re­sisted ex­tra­di­tion; he pleaded not guilty; he put up an ex­pen­sive and en­er­getic de­fence.

IN AN in­ter­view with Niall O’Dowd of Irish Cen­tral in 2011, Drumm com­plained of a ‘witch hunt’ against him and said that, in 2008: ‘I worked as hard as I could. I did my best work­ing with reg­u­la­tors and with the bank and the board, all of us did.’ Yet later we would all hear him on tape re­fer­ring to the fi­nan­cial reg­u­lar as ‘f ****** Freddy the f ****** fly’ and to the Cen­tral Bank as ‘that f ****** shower of clowns down in Dame Street’.

He has con­tin­ued to claim, all along, that he wore ‘the green jersey’ and did his pa­tri­otic duty. ‘Judge him with what con­fronted him at the time, not with 20:20 arm­chair hind­sight,’ his bar­ris­ter Bren­dan Gre­han told the jury, mak­ing a dog’s din­ner of a metaphor.

It’s the au­dac­ity of the man, the im­punity. He seemed to be­lieve – and not un­rea­son­ably, given what we’ve seen so far by way of prece­dent – that the charges wouldn’t stick. Is it any won­der the rest of us thought they wouldn’t stick as well?

Af­ter so many years of wel­learned cyn­i­cism, it’s a re­lief to be able to see ju­rispru­dence look­ing its best like this. It’s a re­lief to be able to point at white-col­lar crime and say jus­tice is done and is seen to be done. Now let’s see what hap­pens next.

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