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Former banking regulator says sorry for financial crisis

Patrick Neary
Patrick Neary

Ireland's former banking regulator has said "sorry" for his role in a crisis which led the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

Patrick Neary, who retired as chief executive of the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority in 2009, admitted the watchdog did not do enough to prevent the crash.

He said: "With hindsight, the supervisory measures taken by the authority were not sufficient to meet challenges posed by the crisis and the recession that emerged.

"I am deeply sorry about that."

Mr Neary, who was appointed chief of banking supervision in Ireland in February 2006, was being cross-examined by Ireland's Banking Inquiry, a parliamentary investigation into the causes of the economic collapse.

The ex-regulator retired with a 630,000 euro pay-off and an annual pension of 143,000 euro.

Before the inquiry, he said banking supervision under his watch was based on European standards, and benchmarks set out by the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Mr Neary told TDs and senators on the inquiry that Irish banks were run by experienced directors and had well-staffed risk management teams in the years leading up to the crash.

The watchdog trusted the lenders to do the right thing, he said.

"There was trust and reliance placed on the boards and management of the banks to conduct their affairs prudently and properly," he said.

"That was part of the model of supervision that was put in place by the authority."

He added: "That clearly failed."

The former regulator suggested the banks were to blame for what he called a lending crisis.

"Banks, I believe with hindsight, should have known what they were doing," he said.

Mr Neary described banking supervision at the time as a "principles-led approach".

"I would never try to defend ourselves by saying we did not have the power," he told the hearing.

Mr Neary said he "could have found a way" to intervene.

"I think when push came to shove the regulator, if it had set a hard, well-defined limit (on lending), I think we would have been able to bring some control on to the situation," he said.

There were rules at the time on the scale of bank lending but there was "a lot of trouble with the interpretation" of that regulation, he added.

Mr Neary said he had a "heightened awareness" of the surge in mortgages during the property splurge and that he now believes the banks lent too much.

But he denied the regulator was reckless in allowing the lenders to act as they did.

"The authority placed itself, unfortunately, so as it could be viewed as a service provider rather than a detached strong regulator," he said.

Mr Neary added: "I think very few people would dispute the style of regulation the authority adopted did not address the situation that pertained in Ireland during the period before the crisis.

"I think few people would dispute a far more intrusive form of regulation was required."