COWEN DIGS A DEEPER HOLE; Seven Hours on the Golf Course - and They Didn't Mention Anglo Problems; A Social Outing in Full Public View A Social Outing in Full Public View; Cowen's Position 'Beyond Credulity'. Claim Opposition as He Denies Book's Claims
Byline: Senan Molony Political Editor
BELEAGUERED Brian Cowen came out fighting last night to quell the growing anger over disturbing revelations about his close ties with Sean FitzPatrick.
But the Taoiseach's extraordinary claim that although he spent seven hours with the bank chief, he did not discuss the crisis at Anglo, was dismissed as 'beyond credulity'.
In a statement forced out of him by his increasingly jittery Green coalition partners, Mr Cowen said the questions about a number of conversations he had with the disgraced banker - which the Taoiseach kept from the Dail - were 'malicious'.
'I want to utterly refute any suggestions of impropriety on my part,' Mr Cowen added.
He insisted that 'no discussions regarding Anglo Irish Bank took place', during a round of golf he played with Mr FitzPatrick in July 2008 - which had been organised by his friend, Fintan Drury, a former director of Anglo who had resigned the month before. However, with the Green Party meeting for a think-in today and Opposition parties gearing up to give the Taoiseach a forensic grilling when the Dail returns tomorrow, the tension is mounting.
Mr Cowen said the golf day-out was 'a social outing in full public view'.
The Taoiseach's statement , released at 9pm last night after pressure from the Green Party, added: 'There was nothing untoward, no hidden or secret agenda and no concessions, favours or interventions requested or granted.' The second issue causing controversy is a phone call he took from Mr FitzPatrick while in Asia for a St Patrick.'s Day visit in 2008, when he was finance minister.
He said: 'This related to concerns Mr FitzPatrick had about the market situation with the bank's shares.'
But Mr Cowen insisted that he had already been informed by the Governor of the Central Bank 'in early March' - before the phone call - over a crisis involving billionaire Sean Quinn's investments in Anglo.
He added: 'The exact scale and detail of the difficulty was not known at that point. Prior to talking to Mr FitzPatrick., I spoke with the Governor. Having listened to Mr FitzPatrick I told him I would refer the issue to the Governor of the Central Bank.'
The Bank and the Financial Regulator subsequently had a meeting with Anglo in the Central Bank Headquarters on Good Friday, March 21, he added.
Mr Cowen finished by saying: 'The continuing attempt to suggest that the Government's approach to Anglo was influenced by political or any inappropriate considerations is utterly without foundation.'
And he cited the banking report by Central Bank chairman Patrick Honohan which found no evidence or hint of 'corrupt regulatory forbearance' in Anglo's affairs.
Crucially, however, Mr Cowen offered no reason why he did not tell people about the close links with Mr FitzPatrick that continued when be became Taoiseach.
He also failed to explain why he said he would 'look into it' when Anglo bosses complained about the withdrawal of massive State deposits in the bank by the National Treasury Management Agency, which had become concerned about the reliability of Anglo's balance sheet in 2007.
Mr Cowen faced accusations yesterday that he had misled the Dail when he said he first learned of Mr Quinn's Anglo shares position from State officials. …