As Fianna Fail deputies and the media debate the performance of Brian Cowen as Taoiseach over the next few days, the question of the September 2008 guarantee will come up time and again. The Taoiseach has defended himself strongly against accusations that any relationships he had with bankers led to his government’s decision to offer a near-blanket guarantee to the liabilities of the Irish banks. He has repeatedly argued that this decision was taken in the national interest.
This still leaves open the question of why it was considered in the national interest to offer such an extensive guarantee. On this subject, Mister Cowen has tended to answer that they took this decision based on the best advice available. The next few days would be a good time to provide evidence for this statement. As it stands, there is a lot of evidence that plenty of contrary advice was given. For example, as has been noted here on a number of occasions, the government’s expensively-hired outside advisers, Merrill Lynch, were not enthusiastic about such a guarantee.
In relation to the Department of Finance’s policy advice on this issue, a useful example of the Department’s stance is document 36 from the PAC collection. The document is a slide presentation from February 2008 titled “Overview of Financial Stability Resolution Issues”. Page 11 states in bold:
As a matter of public policy to protect the interests of taxpayers any requirement to provide open-ended/legally binding State guarantees which would expose the Exchequer to the risk of very significant costs are not regarded as part of the toolkit for successful crisis management and resolution.
In bold and with “not” underlined. It certainly seems as though the Department officials were on the record as being against the form of guarantee provided. Evidence on who exactly proposed the form of guarantee that was provided would be welcome.
I also think it’s worth keeping in mind when government politicians condemn those who opposed the guarantee (i.e. the Labour Party) as having been irresponsible, as Peter Power did on the The Week in Politics last night, that this opposition was shared by the government’s own advisers.