We have not come very far. Once upon a time, a taoiseach couldn't remember contacts with a developer until it was effectively dragged out of him. Today, it is meetings between a taoiseach and a banker which are regarded as being horribly toxic.
For taoiseach number one, read Bertie Ahern, the man who couldn't remember meetings and phone calls with developer Tom Gilmartin, star witness at the Mahon tribunal.
Gilmartin was regarded as toxic because he was spreading allegations about corruption. While some of his allegations stacked up, others are being deliberated on by the tribunal. For a number of public figures, he emerged from the past to wreak havoc. Over a decade ago, Ahern was forced to change his story about the number of times he met Gilmartin when hard evidence was put before him.
Now, Brian Cowen finds himself in a similar situation. His game of golf and subsequent dinner with Seán FitzPatrick has emerged at a time when he thought he had put FitzPatrick to bed. It's déjà vu all over again. Two years after the nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank and FitzPatrick's activities emerged, has Cowen come clean on the range of contacts he had with the banker?
What exactly was discussed on the 19th hole is probably irrelevant at this stage. The optics, however, are everything. Here was another example of how Anglo had the inside track with the government.
The nature of the meeting says a lot also about how the country was run. The Taoiseach, the Taoiseach's friend who had recently resigned from Anglo Irish Bank (Fintan Drury), a key economic brain in the country (Alan Gray), a current Anglo board member (Gary McGann), and FitzPatrick himself, sat down to discuss the economy.
What is even more surprising is that there wasn't more contact between the two men.
For one thing to emerge from the book at the centre of the storm, The FitzPatrick Tapes, is that everybody knew everybody, and sure, who cares about basic rules and procedures – isn't that the way we do things in this country?
The book, based on a number of interviews with FitzPatrick, presents a far from flattering portrayal of how things were done, particularly at a time when the economy was powering ahead from the late 1990s onwards.
Take your garden-fence corporate play of a merger of companies. FitzPatrick relates events surrounding Anglo's attempted merger with First Active Building Society in 1999. The deal would have given shareholders of both entities great gains, and would also most likely have thrown large numbers of staff onto the dole in a rationalisation programme.
The deal would have seen FitzPatrick become chief executive of the merged entity and the top Anglo executives take the other key roles. As a fig leaf to the First Active board, FitzPatrick suggested that its chairman, John Callaghan, head up the board of the new entity. All very sensible stuff in the cold world of capitalism where increasing shareholder value is the name of the game.
In the end, it didn't happen because the Anglo chair, Tony O'Brien, wouldn't agree to step down.
"I had breakfast with him and I said, 'Lookit, Tony, you have got to do the big thing here. You have got to resign.' He said, 'Sean, that is not up to you, it is up to the board.'"
O'Brien didn't resign. The deal was scuppered. On such egos shift the corporate plates operated by the great and the good.
Other tales of FitzPatrick's encounters with the egos of the elite presents much mirth for mere mortals. In 2002, when the Tiger was wagging its tail, FitzPatrick got a phonecall from Dermot Desmond inviting him to attend a Uefa cup match between Blackburn Rovers and Celtic, of which Desmond was a major shareholder.
The party travelled by private plane to England for the game. FitzPatrick was star struck.
"We went to the match. We met Alex Ferguson, and a great singer, a great Celtic fan, Rod Stewart. We met everyone. We were in the directors' box. The whole lot… great craic, in and out, it was one celebrity after another. We get back into the plane at 11.30pm to fly back to Dublin. Dermot says to me I want to ask you a favour."
What corporate shenanigans was the billionaire up to? Did he want FitzPatrick to break the bank for a daring raid? According to FitzPatrick, it was more to do with big egos than big business. Desmond told the banker he was trying to stop solicitor Noel Smyth from becoming captain of the exclusive K-Club, where membership cost nearly €40,000. There was a lot of animosity between the two men.
He needed 30 votes. A man like FitzPatrick, plugged into all those developers, would be in a position to bring influence to bear.
"He said: 'Will you give me a hand with that, Seán?' I said, 'Yes I will'."
While these boys were obsessed with prestigious roles in posh golf clubs, another central figure in the Irish economy was more interested in earthy pursuits. Seán Quinn's €1bn gamble on Anglo shares plays a central role in the bank's downfall. He always liked to portray himself as a simple man, working hard, an image that served others like Bertie Ahern very well in his day.
In a speech soon after his company took over the health insurance firm Bupa in 2007, the billionaire portrayed his lifestyle as follows: "I don't use a mobile phone. I play cards in a house at night where you have to go out to the front street to go to the toilet."
In the book, FitzPatrick recalls his first meeting with Quinn to sort out the industrialist's growing stake in the bank.
"He was one of those hail-fellow-well-met, ah sure I will go down there and play the old cards, five or six lads for 10 bob, or whatever it was… He was always producing all that and would nearly be blessing himself. Everything will be all right. He was very human but… I didn't easily like him."
The Quinn story was to the fore in the collapse of the bank, and FitzPatrick's revelations add an extra dimension to what we know.
The problems around Quinn's involvement with Anglo illustrate perfectly how things were done in the country. Quinn had secretly built up a stake in the bank of over 25% through an instrument called contracts for difference, which allowed for major leveraging and secrecy.
The stability of the bank required that the shareholding be diluted. But to do so publicly might cause panic buying of the shares. So in July 2008, bank executives put together 10 developer clients of the institution to privately buy the shares. They became known as the "Maple Ten". The bank loaned the money for the purchase, which was highly unorthodox. The whole affair was highly irregular.
Worse still, the financial regulator was informed of the plan. The regulator didn't ask the names of the 10 clients involved. According to FitzPatrick, the deal, which involved loaning €1.5bn, didn't come up at the bank's board meeting.
"We never actually discussed it, hard and all as that is to believe. It was a problem that the board was dealing with for a long time and suddenly there was light at the end of the tunnel that this was going to be dealt with."
Nobody on the board asked to see the bank's legal advice on the transaction.
According to FitzPatrick, the Irish Stock Exchange was also aware of the deal. The authors independently confirmed this to be the case. Everybody was in on what was effectively a scam, except the shareholders who had invested their money in the bank. The deal broke all the rules of capitalism, but, so far, none of the criminal code. And guess who's picking up the tab?
The board and regulatory authorities were not the only ones to lose any sense of curiosity about what was unfolding in Anglo at this time. Brian Cowen is another who appears to have been hoping all the problems in the bank would just go away.
When the bank's shares were collapsing in March, FitzPatrick rang Cowen to inform him of the perilous state of the bank. Cowen was on St Patrick's Day duties in Malaysia.
"He just said, 'yeah', he was taking it all in." Neither, according to the parties involved, did Cowen show any curiosity about the fortunes of an institution capable of dragging down the banking system in the later meetings in Heritage House and Druids Glen. Neither did Cowen instigate a rigorous investigation into the bank.
The lack of curiosity was in keeping with the shabby way business was done and it shines through the book in every chapter.
The Anglo board, for instance, included no executive from the risk department for over two years at the height of the property bubble. The non-executive chairman of the risk committee on the board was Cowen's pal, Fintan Drury, who had absolutely no background in financial management.
Ireland is a small country where everybody knows everybody else. Yet the failure to observe even sensible precautions in avoiding the dangers of crony capitalism is still a major feature of the corporate landscape.
An analysis conducted by the thinktank Tasc last year showed that a network of 39 people held directorships in the top 40 companies and state-owned bodies in the country. Between them, these individuals held 93 directorships.
FitzPatrick may have been at the centre of this web, but, even in his absence, it persists.
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