Michael Fingleton defends his banking record

Michael Fingleton has claimed he always acted with “complete integrity and honesty” in his 38 years as Irish Nationwide Building Society (INBS) boss and has branded an inquiry into the governance of the former lender as “an artificially trumped up case” to deflect blame from the Central Bank and the Department of Finance.

Mr Fingleton was making his opening remarks in the Central Bank inquiry into the governance of INBS in the time leading up to its winding up in 2011.

He told the inquiry chairperson Marian Shanley that he was “surprised and disappointed” that the inquiry had decided to proceed.

He said the financial regulator had detailed knowledge of Irish Nationwide at all times and claimed that it was only in 2008 — when the market had changed and INBS had taken action to restrict its lending programme — that the regulator heightened its interest in the lender.

Mr Fingleton said that INBS spent less than €300m in 2008 to honour its contractual commitments and protect its assets, and reduced its exposure by nearly €1bn in the same year.

Mr Fingleton said current Central Bank governor Philip Lane “should be compelled” to attend the inquiry as a material witness, adding that he has sought — and will continue to seek — Mr Lane’s appearance to give evidence.

Mr Fingleton claimed that Mr Lane, before taking up a role with the regulator, had told the Oireachtas banking inquiry that individual lenders may take certain risks and that it was up to the Central Bank to stop such a practice.

Mr Fingleton also claimed that the Central Bank had failed to communicate, to the banks and other financial institutions, information it had back in 2006 that could have had a significant effect on lending stability in the Irish banking system ahead of the financial crisis.

As well as Mr Fingleton, the Central Bank’s inquiry is looking at the roles of former INBS executives William McCollum, Tom McMenamin, John Purcell, and Michael Walsh.

In his opening remarks, Mr Fingleton claimed he was denied evidence from interviews between the regulator and INBS employees but that it was clear from such interviews that the Central Bank had decided to hold a public inquiry into the lender long before current members of the committee announced one.

Regarding interviews with INBS staff, Mr Fingleton claimed that employees had been told by investigators they were only after “the big fish” and had been advised to “dish the dirt”. He added that there had been no allegations of him being in breach of any regulations made to him personally.

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