Richard Bruton’s delay over Paul Appleby retirement

RICHARD Bruton waited an astonishing four days to tell the Taoiseach that Paul Appleby was retiring.

Despite being told the Director of Corporate Enforcement’s shock decision last Friday, the Enterprise Minister waited until the Cabinet meeting at 10.30am Tuesday to break the news to his shocked colleagues.

Mr Appleby will stay in his €146,000-a-year job – and keep the €225,000 lump sum and €75,000-a-year pension he should have seen reduced.

After announcing on Tuesday morning that he was to retire this month, Mr Appleby backtracked on the bombshell decision following negotiations with ministers.

The same day was the deadline for the Government’s early-retirement scheme under which civil servants can claim pensions based on their salaries before recent rounds of public sector pay cuts.

Continuing beyond this date would have reduced Mr Appleby’s pension by around €4,000 a year and his lump sum by around €6,000, to €219,000.

But there were red faces as the Government had to make an exception for Mr Appleby – who is heading the investigation into Anglo Irish Bank – within hours of Tuesday’s deadline.

Last night, when asked for the time and date when Enda Kenny was first personally made aware of Mr Appleby’s decision to apply, a spokesman said: ‘It was at that Cabinet meeting.’

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin insisted on Tuesday that he, too, had just heard the news.

But it has been assumed that – at the very least – Mr Bruton might have phoned or even sent a message to the Taoiseach to tell him about the imminent retirement of the man heading up the largest investigation of its kind in the history of the State.

Indeed, it now appears that it was only after the Taoiseach was told of the matter that it was resolved and Mr Appleby was persuaded to stay on at the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath warned that there were ‘more Paul Appleby’s’ waiting to happen.

He said: ‘The whole Paul Appleby story just undermines the ham-fisted way the Government has approached the retirement of public servants. People in senior positions, particularly in sensitive roles, should have been required to inform the Government several months in advance what exactly their intentions were.

‘Clearly that didn’t happen and now the Government is fire fighting.’

He added: ‘We will see more cases like Paul Appleby where the Government is just going to have to make this up as they go along.’ Mr Appleby was appointed to the role in 2001 to tackle the pervading culture of non-compliance with company law following banking scandals and tribunal disclosures.

His resignation had sparked fury, with one caller to RTÉ’s Liveline saying, ‘A man in such a high position should have the good of the nation as his top priority, like the captain of a ship should.

‘For God’s sake, see this investigation through.’ Last night, it was confirmed that a deal has been formally agreed and that he will be appointed as acting director of the ODCE.

A spokesman for Mr Bruton said last night: ‘The minister’s focus at all times has been on the investigation into Anglo, and the solution reached reflects the importance the Government places on this investigation.

‘It has been confirmed that Mr Appleby will be appointed as acting Director of Corporate Enforcement for a period of six months at his current salary level, subject to the normal abatement rules.

‘The minister is satisfied that it will now be possible to ensure a smooth transition to a successor for Mr Appleby and also to maintain the impetus in the investigation.’

And he added: ‘The minister is happy to confirm that he has received sanction for the recruitment of a successor to Mr Appleby.’

When asked why the minister had waited so long to tell the Taoiseach, the spokesman replied: ‘Mr Bruton met with Mr Appleby on Monday to discuss the matter and then raised it at Cabinet on Tuesday.’

Last night, the ODCE declined to make any comment. Mr Appleby’s resignation statement was still posted on the office’s website last night, without any reference to Tuesday’s U-turn.

AIB staff owe the bank €3billion

THE full extent of AIB’s recklessness became apparent last night when it was revealed that its own staff owe the bank more than €3billion.

Just over €2.5billion of the huge figure is made up of mortgages and home-related loans, while at least €500million consists of other types of credit from their employer.

Shocking as the figures are, bank sources have admitted the sums involved could be even BIGGER.

And as AIB considers redundancies to reduce its costs, the exercise could prove futile, if not impossible, with so much debt tied up with its employees.

One AIB insider last night claimed that around 1,000 employees – out of a total of 12,000 – account for an astonishing €1billion in unpaid mortgage debt.

Some staff on salaries of less than €35,000 reportedly have debts of more than €500,000, thanks to the bank’s profligacy during the boom.

Another employee said: ‘As a member of staff, you were entitled to an almost automatic €20,000 a loan gold credit card, car loans, home improvement loans, overdrafts and, of course, a mortgage.’

The revelations are bound to fuel anger among taxpayers already incensed at being saddled with a €3.7billion bailout over and above the €3.5billion the bank received in public funds in May.

Speculation about the true state of the bank’s finances was raised to new heights last week when Finance Minister Brian Lenihan used the powers vested in him under the Credit Institutions (Stabilisation) Act in making his application to the High Court for the controversial €3.7billion cash injection.

The provision allowed him to exclude the media from the hearing, effectively screening the bank’s massive problems from the public which, some critics believe, is simply being asked once again to throw good money after bad.

Pressure on bank finances has intensified this month after it made a loss of €5.5billion in the sale of €9.3billion of propery development loans to the National Asset Mangement Agency at a 59 per cent discount.

Meanwhile, staff last night alleged that in addition to their perks, they were able to secure further credit from their branch, which would be unaware of what individual employees had received at staff level because of the way separate departments within the bank worked.

Last night, an AIB spokesman said: ‘We cannot comment on staff mortgages or other loans.

‘Staff who are customers are treated the same as non-staff customers.’

But with the bank still needing to raise a further €6.1billion by next February, the fact that such a large chunk of its debt is staff-related will shock many.

And it could prove to be crucial when the Department of Finance and AIB chiefs meet early next year to finalise details of the much-publicised redundancies at the bank.

The December 23 bailout by Mr Lenihan effectively nationalised the bank, in which the State initially has a 49.9 per cent control until the sale of AIB’s stake in Poland’s Bank Zachodni WBK.

Once the deal is completed, the State will end up with 92.8 per cent of the bank, which is to de-list from the main markets of both the Irish and
the British stock exchanges.

With AIB’s mortgage book valued at €27.1billion, insiders at AIB say staff exposure would be ‘in the region of seven to ten per cent’.

One AIB staffer said of the boom times last night: ‘You could pretty much have whatever you wanted. There were few checks done and many of us were able to get multiple mortgages, multiple car loans as well as personal loans.

‘It’s all been tightened up now but people have no idea just how much cash was swilling around in the good times.’

One of the perks the bank admitted to last year was the availability of 100 per cent mortgages for staff members who were first-time buyers.

The mortgages – condemned by TDs as inappropriate at a time of growing economic uncertainty – were being offered as part of a ‘special package to staff ‘.

UCD economist Morgan Kelly has warned that Irish banks could end up ‘drowned’ by the losses on mortgages.

Bank workers’ union the IBOA is so concerned about the increasing ‘anecdotal’ evidence of its members’ debts that it ordered a survey earlier this month.

The Financial Regulator has received a number of complaints about the way the bank is dealing with staff debt.

An anonymous AIB whistleblower has lodged complaints with both the regulator and the Department of Finance, and a string of serious allegations are now being investigated.

They include a claim that staff have been allowed to have mortgages more than 20 times their salary.

An IBOA spokesman said: ‘We are very concerned and feel it’s now time to get a better assessment of the problem.’

Harry Hallowes and his family ‘rift’

HE IS the archetypal loveable old eccentric. And with the newly acquired sobriquet of ‘Britain’s richest tramp’, Sligo-born Henry ‘Harry’ Hallowes has now achieved worldwide fame since he won the €3m rights to private woodland on Hampstead Heath that he has squatted on for 20 years of his life.

But it’s a life that has benefited from a certain amount of editing. The 71-year-old has, for example, spoken about a family ‘rift’ that stems from his parents’ decision to quit their native Sligo for a London bedsit in the 1950s.

Harry Hallowes jpg from BBC News website

Harry, who lives in a ramshackle hovel on the edge of London’s Hampstead Heath and whose ‘neighbours’ include Saudi royalty and rock star Sting, has said he has never forgiven them for leaving.

He has also said he hated the London flat they settled in and was ‘mystified’ as to why they ever left their idyllic Sligo home in Calry village.

And while he has vaguely mentioned a ‘half-brother’ in an interview, he has also said he is an ‘only child’.

All this, however, is news to his older brother Lionel, who lives in a €445,000 semi with 78-year-old wife Alice about an hour away in Middlesex.

‘He most certainly is not an only child and he does have a brother – me,’ he said last night.

‘I’m not a half brother either and if he wants to have a DNA test, then that’s fine by me.’ The retired 73-year-old butcher and father-of-four said he was also mystified at a suggestion by Harry – who returned to settle in London in the 1980s after more than 20 years working and living in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Monte Carlo – of a family rift.

Lionel said: ‘There was never any falling out and I can’t understand why he keeps saying there was or why he can’t even acknowledge he has a brother.

‘Both his mother and father adored him and throughout their lives, they could never understand why he turned his back on them.

‘In turn, they both died without him either saying goodbye or explaining to them what happened to him.

‘Right up until the point they died, they would ask after him and want to know why he hadn’t been in touch with them or if I had any news.’ He added: ‘Harry had been travelling in New Zealand and his father was still alive when he returned to London in the late 1980s but he still did not get in touch.

‘He just walked out on the family and except for a few letters, we never heard from Harry again.’ He said there is no mystery as to why his parents left Sligo. They did so because of a lack of jobs in their native Calry, where Lionel Sr had worked as a cabinet maker and It was this work that led to him being one of the pall bearers at Sligo poet WB Yeats’s September 1948 funeral.

He recalled: ‘My parents worked very hard to make ends meet. We were poor but we managed to get by, at first with any money my parents earned and then with the money I earned.

‘But then I decided to go to London to work and raise a family of my own, and the others followed after me.

‘Like so many people at the time, they also had little choice but to leave Ireland and try to find work in England.’ While his parents were in Sligo, it was Lionel, who describes his brother as an ‘oddball’, who helped them out financially.

Little help, however, appears to have come from Harry who seems to have just drifted from one job to another.

He was fired for stealing a chip basket for his mother on one occasion – an incident Lionel thinks contributed to his long-lasting animosity towards authority.

But for all that, Lionel says he never had any ambition – something Harry has astonishingly blamed on his parents in recent interviews.

Little more than a month after arriving in London in 1956, Lionel married in a service attended by Harry and then embarked on a successful career as a butcher at a string of shops around west London.

And as well as raising his own children, he continued to look after and support his parents until their deaths – Mamie in 1977 and Lionel Sr in 1989.

However Harry, who had worked as a wholesaler’s apprentice at Woods on Grattan Street, Sligo and Foley’s soft drink suppliers, typically didn’t stick around London for long after his arrival with his parents in around 1957.

Because – as he has told reporters – he was disgusted at the family’s ‘filthy bedsit’ dwellings in London, he went to live in a caravan with an aunt, Hilary Goodison, in Hampshire before eventually emigrating to New Zealand around 1958.

And other than a few letters home, that was effectively the last Lionel or his parents heard of Harry – until news that he was at the centre of a squatter’s rights battle broke in 2005.

Then property developers Dwyer International began proceedings to evict Harry from a half-acre strip of land they wanted to donate to the Corporation of London in their bid to get planning permission for a e33m block of flats.

Dwyer dropped the case against Harry – who counts former Monty Python star Terry Gilliam among his army of fans and friends – after his solicitors presented evidence that he had lived there for more than 12 years and could therefore not be removed.

Shortly after the story broke in the British papers, Lionel – who was raised as a Protestant but converted to Catholicism before he married his Catholic wife in 1956 – went to see his brother but received a frosty welcome.

He said last night: ‘The first thing he had a go at me about was the fact that I converted to Catholicism and married a Catholic woman, and – as he put it – “crossed over to the other side”.

‘I thought he was joking but he was very serious and quite annoyed.

‘The reunion didn’t take very long.

I think I left after about 15 minutes.

‘But before I did, I told him he could call me if there was ever anything I could do for him and although I have asked him to Christmas lunch with my family, I have not heard from him since.’ As to what prompted Harry’s decision to drop out of society and spend the rest of his life living rough, Lionel believes it might have been connected to crop work he carried out in Australia.

He said: ‘My family have tried to figure out what happened to him and we are convinced something did. When he was in Australia, I know he was involved in cropspraying. I think that could have affected him.’ As to his younger brother’s million-euro ‘fortune’, he added: ‘He’s more than welcome to it.

‘I wouldn’t live the way he has lived, but then he seems to enjoy it and has always been a bit happygo-lucky about things.

‘I don’t think he’ll do anything about the land, and even if he does – it’s got nothing to do with me or my family.’