Since I don’t follow the news, I sometimes come to things late. I am just reading up about how Sean Fitzpatrick, the godfather in charge of one of history’s worst banks, Anglo Irish, was found not guilty of illegal share dealing in the Dublin courts two weeks ago.
For those of you not in the know, Fitzpatrick became the chief executive of one of Ireland’s smaller banks, Anglo Irish, in 1986. When he retired to the position of chairman in 2005, it was world renowned as one of the most profitable banks in the world.
Very profitable banks should make you worried.
Anglo Irish, built on the adventurous bankrolling of speculative property deals went bankrupt in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash. We won’t know for quite a while but it’s losses, absorbed by the Irish State, might be in the €60 billion territory.
In the summer of 2008, the then billionaire Sean Quinn found himself in a tight spot. He had taken a 29% stake in Anglo Irish bank. He had bought the shares when they were worth over €18 each. By the time June rolled around they were worth about €11. He had to reverse his trade, but doing so would release a third of the shares into the market, devastating the company Fitzpatrick loved so dearly. So he called his friends and took them out to golf. He invited ten of Anglo’s highest rolling customers to take out €30 million loans, with no commitment to repay and no collateral and use these funds to take the shares off Quinn’s hands. If the shares rose in value, they could claim the dividend. If the shares sunk in value, these buddies were not going to be held liable. The one critical thing was that shareholders were to be kept in the dark.
After all, people have a dreadful way of misunderstanding these sorts of things when they see it; they jump to think it is a tawdry, corrupt, illegal thing instead of friends looking out for friends. It’s community in action!
His defence rested on the fact that his knowledge of this bail-out was limited. Anglo was “Seanie’s Bank” during the good times, but now in the bad times it seems we are to believe he had the distant management style of a lofty absentee landlord. He never got his fingers dirty. Even over insane deals from which he directly benefited.
When they are winning, these Captains of Industry are heralded as geniuses. After their losses, it is amazing how the same visionaries are now rendered as passive, helpless, ignorant even. The contradictions of celebrity capitalists.
No one has a good grasp yet on the character of this man that has left such a dent in Irish society. But David McWilliams does recount an interesting interaction he had with him late one night at a UCD-alumni ball in November 2008. This was after it all went pear-shaped. The rumours on the street were that one of the two main banks, AIB or Bank of Ireland, would be drafted in to take over Anglo. (This was before we had come to terms with the fact that all the banks were rotten.) On the prospect of Bank of Ireland coming in, McWilliams claims this was Fitzpatrick’s response:
“No fucking Protestant is going to take my bank. No fucking Protestant is coming near us. Those establishment fuckers and Bank of Ireland have been running our country before we came along and those fuckers are not going to bring me down. None of them are ever going to look down on us again. We are the outsiders and this is our moment and those fuckers don’t own us anymore.”
A few weeks ago I argued here that sectarianism in Ireland is a form of racism that pollutes the church and the society. While all we have is McWilliams’ side of the conversation, there seems to be something alarmingly fitting and truthful about this story. When pushed into the corner by his own reckless greed, a billionaire who arguably did more to harm Irish people than any “Brit” or any “Prod” alive today finds himself spouting hellish bile about Irish Protestants, who after all are his neighbours, his golf-buddies, his colleagues.
I doubt he’ll ever agree to an interview with me for my thesis now. But then again, I’m a “fucking Protestant” just waiting to own him.
Your Correspondent, Will content himself with owning Seanie’s debt