Seán FitzPatrick: in 2007 he openly criticised culture of 'corporate McCarthyism' facing entrepreneurs

'It would be very easy for me to say sorry. The cause of our problems was global so I can't say sorry with any degree of sincerity and decency but I do say thank you."

So spoke Seán FitzPatrick, the one-time crown prince of Irish banking, in a now infamous interview with RTÉ's Marian
Finucane on the Saturday after the government announced the €440bn bank guarantee last autumn.

As an insight into the mindset of a man whose €87m – or €84m depending on who you talk to – in secret loans over a period of eight years contributed to last week's decision by the minister for finance Brian Lenihan to nationalize Anglo Irish Bank, it was to prove hugely instructive. On Friday it emerged that the loan reached as much as €129m at one point in 2007.

Lenihan himself last week indicated that the revelations surrounding FitzPatrick's loans had "caused serious reputational damage to the bank at a time when overall market sentiment towards it was negative."

Some saw the decision to appear on the hugely popular radio programme as a typically bold decision by a man who has never been afraid to make his views known.

In retrospect, however, others believe it was a serious miscalculation which led him to become the 'whipping boy' for the Irish banking industry, several weeks before last December's revelations concerning his unusual loan arrangements had even become known.

At the time, FitzPatrick remained chairman of Anglo Irish, and a non-executive director of some of Ireland's most established companies, including Aer Lingus, Smurfit Kappa and Greencore Group.

In his resignation statement from Anglo and these other companies, issued on 18 December last, he revealed that as of 30 September, 2008, he had "fully secured loans, on normal commercial terms, with the bank totalling €87m which will be included in the annual report for 2008 in the note relating to Directors' Loans.

"This balance is substantially higher than in the 2007 report because in prior years I had temporarily transferred my loans to another bank before each year end. I had done this on my own initiative over an eight-year period," he said.

"The transfer of the loans between banks did not in any way breach banking or legal regulations. However, it is clear to me, on reflection, that it was inappropriate and unacceptable from a transparency point of view."

There is no denying that it was a hugely significant admission on his behalf. Little surprise to find that it was referred to again at Friday's extraordinary general meeting of the bank at which it was revealed that his loans stand at €84m, with overall loans to bank's directors standing at €179m.

At this meeting, the bank said its legal advice was that concealment of the loans did not breach company law, although this is being reviewed by the Stock Exchange, the Financial Regulator and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

While undoubtedly his most serious admission, this was by no means the first time FitzPatrick has provoked controversy, albeit on a far smaller scale.

In June 2007, the man who was subsequently to be found to have invested money from his secret loans into property funds, wealth-management products, Anglo shares, investment property, film finance and pension investments, openly criticized the culture of "corporate McCarthyism" surrounding entrepreneurs in Ireland.

It is an irony which will not be lost on the many Anglo shareholders who last week saw their shares suspended on the Dublin and London Stock Exchange, with an assessor to be appointed to decide what compensation, if any ,they will receive.

On Friday evening, Paddy Power was offering odds of just 1/3 that shareholders will receive between 1c and 10c per share.

Odds on Anglo shareholders receiving more than 10c stood at 4/1, while the bookmaker was offering 3/1 that no compensation will be given.

It is safe to say that FitzPatrick is no friend of Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, either.

When, in the run-up to last year's budget FitzPatrick called for the government to tackle the 'sacred cow' of universal child benefit, state pensions and medical cards for the over 70s, Gilmore told the Dáil that the best expression of the government's philosophy had come not from any of its ministers, but from FitzPatrick himself.

On Friday, Gilmore also called on the government to explain the position with respect to FitzPatrick. "It is known that he has substantial loans from Anglo. He is also reported to hold at least €6m in dated subordinated debt, which the government, inexplicably, included in the guarantee in September," he said. "This means that FitzPatrick will be able to collect a large cheque from the taxpayer."

Known as 'Seánie' to acquaintances,
FitzPatrick is described by those who know him as extremely affable and a smooth talker. He was instrumental in building Anglo Irish Bank up from a net worth of €5m in 1985 to a peak of €13.3b in the middle of 2007, with a reputation for niche lending and huge exposure to collapsing property values.

Shares in the bank closed on Thursday night at 21.7 cent, a 98% decline since
January of last year alone.

In his resignation statement, the man who in 1986 abandoned a brief career as a chartered accountant by opting instead for banking, outlined how he had spent the past 33 years "working hard to build a successful, respected bank", adding that "my remaining ambition for Anglo is that it would continue to progress with determination".

As the government prepares to present emergency legislation before a recalled Dáil next Tuesday to give effect to the nationalisation of the bank, FitzPatrick's emotions –and his plans for the future – remain unknown.

How others, from shareholders and employees, to government ministers, to taxpayers, will be feeling about FitzPatrick is somewhat easier to surmise.