Columbo of the Dail
If you’re old enough, or if you like those old detective shows, you’ll remember the time in every episode when Detective Columbo would have reassured his prime suspect that he was not the prime suspect, step out the door, and then pop back in with a jarring “just one more thing”. Yesterday in the Dail, Sinn Fein’s Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, exploiting his technical group privileges just when Brian Cowen thought he had skated out of the thin ice. Apparently it was Matt Carthy’s wedding (Monaghan SF).
As the Deputy who made the approach to the Taoiseach that day [July 28, 2008] – I have already acknowledged his willingness and response – I have to put the question. We have been told the Taoiseach was in the company of Mr. Seán FitzPatrick and his acknowledged long-time friend, Mr. Fintan Drury. However, thinking back to two and a half years ago when I walked into that bar, I have no information nor can I offer any factual further comments—–
An Ceann Comhairle: Can we expect a question soon, please Deputy?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I am asking questions and with the same fairness, I would hope. Was there anyone else in the company? It is now some time later but my recall, from trying to work my way back through that two and a half years, is that it was apparent to me—–
Deputy Billy Kelleher: Would the Deputy go back a bit further?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: —–there were a number of people in the wider company and more than two. I was not introduced to them, I did not know them personally, I had never met Seán FitzPatrick before or since. Those are the facts.
It is important that the House knows the full truth of the matter. For instance, was any other official of the Taoiseach’s Department or any other Department or of a State agency or anybody else involved in the course of that day’s engagement, either peripheral to the golf outing or the meal or in any casual way over the course of the day, which would be relevant to this House to know and to have an understanding of what was taking place?
The Taoiseach: In reply to the Deputy’s first point about credibility, in doing one’s work one meets people from all walks of life. In July 2008 I attended a golf outing with Mr. Drury. Mr. FitzPatrick was also there and I played a game of golf. It is true that when we moved indoors Deputy Ó Caoláin came over to speak to me. That was a social outing. We were joined that evening by Alan Gray, an economic consultant, Gary McGann, the chief executive of Smurfit Kappa, and my Garda driver, who also attended the lunch. These individuals came for dinner but only three of us were on the golf course. When Deputy Ó Caoláin came over, I went to the wedding breakfast as he suggested. The reason I said that was not to muddy the waters. There was no suggestion of meeting surreptitiously in a corner or a room. As the Deputy can attest, we were in the open part of the area where one is served a meal after a golf outing. Those individuals joined us and we spent the evening there. That was it.
In regard to the second point raised by the Deputy—–
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: How many were at the wedding?
Deputy Dermot Ahern: Deputy Rabbitte put his finger on it. It is that ludicrous.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Taoiseach has not shed a scintilla of light on what he discussed over the course of that afternoon and evening. His denial of any mention of Anglo Irish Bank is not being bought.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy, allow the Taoiseach to respond.
The Taoiseach: I do not know if the Deputy knows the song “Suspicious Minds” but I cannot help him if he believes that one starts to discuss these issues when one plays a game of golf. It was the first day off after that Dáil session. The last Cabinet meeting took place on 23 July and we probably quit on the Friday. We met on the Monday of the following week. I assure the Deputy it was a relaxing day and my purpose was to play a game of golf and—–
Deputy Seán Barrett: Shoot the breeze.
The Taoiseach: —–shoot the breeze or talk in a social way with people with whom I was acquainted. While it might help the Deputy to believe me if I said I discussed a lot of things relating to Anglo Irish Bank, that did not happen. I will not say it happened just because it might make me more plausible to him. I have to explain it to him the way it was and that is it. I do not want to over egg the issue but these are the facts.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: In regard to the additional people who the Taoiseach acknowledged were in attendance for the evening meal, were they invited by the Taoiseach, Mr. Fitzpatrick or Mr. Drury? Can he indicate the raison d’être for the selection of the particular group of individuals who were not part of the golfing outing? Is that the normal group of people with whom the Taoiseach spends social evenings? He has to acknowledge the considerable question mark that exists in the public mind. In July 2008, Anglo Irish Bank put together a list of ten names in an attempt to boost its collapsing share price. Seán Fitzpatrick has denied that he was ever exposed to the details of that list or the names involved but his successor, David Drumm, has contradicted him by stating clearly that he was fully informed about the names and the intent and purpose of the list.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should ask a brief question.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: We have a situation whereby the outgoing chief executive and his smiled upon successor are at loggerheads. Both of them cannot be telling the truth. Clearly there is a major issue.
I recognise that innocent situations can present in all our lives but it is stretching credibility to claim that the Taoiseach was involved in a social engagement with a key player who has been accused by his successor of not telling the truth. We are to believe that, in the context—–
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has addressed that point.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: —–of all that was unfolding in Anglo Irish Bank—–
An Ceann Comhairle: He should not further elaborate.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: —–at no point in the course of a long afternoon and evening spent together did these matters arise.
This leads me to September 2008 and the evening when the Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan—–
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Will the Taoiseach elaborate on the other invitees to his party?
The Taoiseach: That would have been organised by Fintan Drury who organised the golf outing. It was about being able to sit down with people at the end of the day and having a chat about the economy. The Deputy will recall we had a mini-budget and saw recession on the horizon and a big slowdown in our economy. As Taoiseach, I was there chatting to see if there were ideas and to find out other people’s views of things and to see if things could be done which might be helpful. As the Deputy will know, those people would have some views on that. That was basically the total sum of it.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Banking never came up at all.
The Taoiseach: No. I will not say anything about where banking might have come up but it did not arise when I was present.