Tomorrow, the unthinkable will finally happen. Seán FitzPatrick, poster boy for the boom and bust, will be thrust into the process of bankruptcy.
FitzPatrick has debts of around €150m, and assets accounting for €80m. His biggest creditor is his former employer, Anglo Irish Bank, which is owed €110m. FitzPatrick has offered to do a deal on his debts. The other creditors are willing to consider a deal, but Anglo's not for turning.
The former banker was in a position to run up debts of that magnitude through director's loans of up to €100m, which he hid in another bank annually, and which are now the subject of a criminal investigation.
If the state-owned bank were to cut a deal that would extinguish some of FitzPatrick's debt, there would be a public outcry. He could claim, with some justification, and a large dollop of irony, that the decision to bankrupt him is political. It was the politics of light touch regulation that provided him with the wings to fly close to the sun, and now the politics of public opinion is ensuring he will be subjected to a humiliation that is rare in this country. If he is made bankrupt, he can be thereafter referenced in officialese as "Seán FitzPatrick, a bankrupt".
Bankruptcy is rare in this country, because is it expensive and cumbersome. Usually, it's not in a creditor's interests to bankrupt somebody as costs are high, and less of the debt is likely to be recovered. In 2005, for instance, there were just nine bankruptcies in Ireland while there were 47,291 in the UK. Things have moved on since then, but the figure is still minuscule.
FitzPatrick won't give his former employer the satisfaction of bankrupting him.
He will tomorrow apply for the petition himself.
If he does so, he will have to stump up €650 for the petition, and pay for newspaper advertisements to alert the public to the court sitting at which his petition will be heard. Thereafter, a form of humiliation awaits.
He will have to sign an affidavit listing his assets. A false declaration would make him liable for criminal prosecution. He will be obliged to list the assets in his family home that could be sold to meet his debts. Items like expensive art or jewellery could be included in such a list. Any income he has will have to be paid to an official assignee, whose job it is to manage the bankruptcy. All of the assets, except for "necessities" up to a value of €3,100 will have to be handed over the assignee.
Necessities cover something like tools which a tradesman may require to continue working. In FitzPatrick's case, perhaps, his laptop and printer might be classified as necessities, and he could get to keep them.
In the event he ever has to face a criminal prosecution, it seems likely he would have to apply for free legal aid, unless a benefactor is permitted to fund his defence. If he does have to apply for free legal aid, he will have to take his place in the queue, like all other defendants, and be satisfied with the counsel he is assigned.
The bankrupt is permitted living expenses, which may be increased if approved by the court. There is, however, no way FitzPatrick will be able to continue living in the manner to which he has become accustomed.
His wife or grown children are free to do what they want with their money, but any significant gifts would have to be notified to the assignee. If FitzPatrick has managed his assets in such a way as to protect them from bankruptcy, he will have to tread carefully if he wants to avoid prosecution.
The bankruptcy endures until it is discharged. With debts of the order of €70m, it's unlikely he will ever be in a position to discharge them. Under Irish law, you can remain a bankrupt in the grave.
A bankrupt is banned from becoming a company director. If FitzPatrick were to attempt to start up abroad, he would have to apply for permission to leave the jurisdiction for work purposes. His bankruptcy file, which will lay bare his finances and will impinge on aspects of his personal life – like listing the assets in his home – will be a public document, and, no doubt, the subject of much interest.
It all adds up to a public humiliation, particularly for somebody who was previously regarded by others and himself as a master of the universe. Beyond the confines of his family and close friends, his plight will elicit little sympathy.
He was a central figure in the banking culture that ruined the country, and has come to be perceived as the personification of that culture. This also suits the hundreds, if not thousands, of others, in banking, developing, the so-called professions, and politics who bear culpability. For them, FitzPatrick is a handy man to have around when the anger is palpable.
FitzPatrick's fate is rare in this country not just because of the archaic bankruptcy laws. Those who have attained the elevated station that FitzPatrick occupied during the bubble are hardly ever subjected to a severely reduced standard of living, irrespective of what they have done.
Bankers and politicians have walked away with fat pensions. The biggest developers are destined to be saved by Nama. Even in the criminal sphere, a corrupt politician like Ray Burke still draws a pension which is about three times what the average industrial worker earns. If the state – through Anglo Irish – was not FitzPatrick's biggest creditor, he would have managed to continue living in considerable comfort.
Instead, he has been hoist on his own petard. He had long been an advocate of rampant capitalism as evidenced by how he ran Anglo, and his frequent complaints about excessive regulation of business during the bubble.
The central tenet of capitalism is that risk can bring rewards, greater risk, great rewards. Reckless risk can bring incredible rewards or catastrophe and the latter is what has befallen the poster boy.
In other developed countries, none of this is unusual. Here, however, the culture of business ensured that few of the big boys ever reaped what they had sowed when the harvest turned bitter. There was always something on which to fall back. Not for FitzPatrick. He is destined to live in reduced circumstances. And his woes may not end there.