Central Bank of Ireland

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Central Bank of Ireland
Banc Ceannais na hÉireann (Irish)
Logo Headquarters
Logo Headquarters
Headquarters Dame Street, Dublin, Ireland
Established 1943
Governor Patrick Honohan
Central bank of Ireland
Website www.centralbank.ie
Preceded by Currency Commission (currency control)
Bank of Ireland (Government's banker)1
Succeeded by European Central Bank (1999)2
1 Even after establishment of the Central Bank, Bank of Ireland remained the government's banker for many years.
2 The Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland still exists but many of its central bank functions have been taken over by the ECB.

The Central Bank of Ireland (Irish: Banc Ceannais na hÉireann) is the financial services regulator of Ireland and historically the central bank. The bank was the issuer of Irish pound banknotes and coinage until the introduction of the euro currency, and now provides this service for the European Central Bank.

The bank was founded in 1943 and since 1 January 1972 has been the banker of the Government of Ireland in accordance with the Central Bank Act 1971,[1] which can be seen in legislative terms as completing the long transition from a currency board to a fully functional central bank.[2]

The bank's head office is located on Dame Street, Dublin, where the public may exchange non-current Irish coinage and currency (both pre- and post-decimalization) for euro.[3] The Currency Centre at Sandyford is the currency manufacture, warehouse and distribution site of the bank.

Functions and objectives[edit]

The Central Bank Reform Act, 2010, created a new single unitary body – the Central Bank of Ireland – responsible for both central banking and financial regulation. The new structure replaced the previous related entities, the Central Bank and the Financial Services Authority of Ireland and the Financial Regulator. The Act[4] commenced on 1 October 2010.

Eurosystem effectiveness and price stability[edit]

It is responsible for maintaining price stability through monetary policy formulation at ECB level. They aim to enhance the effectiveness of participation in monetary policy formulation through the provision of quality briefings for the ECB Governing Council, and are also responsible for the effective implementation of monetary policy.[5]

Financial stability[edit]

They contribute to financial stability domestically and across the euro area. A key focus is the resolution of the financial crisis and monitoring overall liquidity for the banking system.[6]

Regulation of financial institutions and markets[edit]

To minimise the risk of failure by ensuring compliance with prudential and other requirements. They take a risk based approach supported by open and challenging dialogue with firms by assertive staff, underpinned by a credible threat of enforcement. The purpose of securities market regulation is to promote an efficient and fair securities market.[7][8]

Consumers of financial services are protected[edit]

The objective is to protect customers and investors through conduct of business rules and other measures.[9]

Economic advice and financial statistics[edit]

Economic analysis and research designed to inform economic policy making across a range of areas. A key priority is to provide authoritative economic advice to the Irish Government by ensuring that such advice is relevant and timely.[10]

Payment system and currency[edit]

Ensuring that payment and securities settlement systems are safe, effective and efficient and that access to such systems is not restricted. They also manufacture, issue, store, process and authenticate Euro bank notes and coins.[11]

History[edit]

On the independence of the Irish Free State in 1922, the new state's trade was overwhelmingly with the United Kingdom (98% of Irish exports and 80% of imports in 1924), so the introduction of an independent currency was a low priority. British banknotes (British Treasury notes, Bank of England notes), and notes issued by Irish banks circulated (but only the first were legal tender) and coins remained in circulation.

Under the terms of the Coinage Act 1926, the Finance Minister was authorised to issue coins of silver, nickel, and bronze of the same denominations as the British coins already in circulation – however the Irish silver coins were to contain 75% silver as compared to the 50% silver coins issued by Britain at the time. These coins entered circulation on 12 December 1928.

Under the terms of the Currency Act 1927, a new unit of currency, the Saorstát Pound (Free State Pound) was created, which was to be maintained at parity with the British Pound Sterling by a Currency Commission which would keep British government securities, sterling cash, and gold to keep a 1–1 relationship.

The Central Bank[edit]

The Central Bank Act 1942 which came into effect on 1 February 1943 renamed the Currency Commission the Central Bank of Ireland, although the organisation did not at that time acquire many of the characteristics of a central bank:

  • it was not given custody of the cash reserves of the commercial banks
  • it had no statutory power to restrict credit, though it could promote it
  • the Bank of Ireland remained the government's banker
  • the conditions for influencing credit through open-market operations did not yet exist
  • Ireland's external monetary reserves were largely held as external assets of the commercial banks

This seriously limited the banks' ability to run an independent monetary policy.

In 1953 Governor Joseph Brennan resigned, following disagreement with the Government over opinions on economic and financial policy published in the Bank’s recent Annual Reports. The mid-1960s saw the Bank take over the normal day-to-day operations of exchange control from the Department of Finance. The Central Bank broadened its activities over the decades, but it remained in effect a currency board until the 1970s. In 1976 a liquidator was appointed to Irish Trust Bank Ltd and in 1982 Merchant Banking Ltd also collapsed. Staff over the years have gone on strike, the longest of which was in the winter of 1984/1985. The Bank assisted the Government in the administration of the Insurance Corporation of Ireland plc which failed in 1985 and threatened its parent Allied Irish Banks.[12] It took over the policing of the Irish Stock Exchange on 1 November 2007, assuming day-to-day responsibility for detecting and investigating market abuse.[13] In 2013 it outsourced its Information Technology function to Hewlett Packard[14]

Decimalisation[edit]

The 1970s was a decade of change, which began with the decimalisation of the currency which came into effect on 15 February 1971, when the decimal coinage was released into circulation (although 5p, 10p, and 50p coins were released a few years earlier, as they had exact equivalents in old currency units). Decimalisation would have provided an ideal opportunity to break the link with Sterling, but there was not much demand for this at that time. In 1972 however, the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates broke down, and in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis inflation in Britain increased dramatically, and economic theory would suggest that a smaller economy whose currency is pegged to a larger one will suffer the larger economy's inflation rate. At the same time moves to create a money market in Dublin and the transfer in 1968 of the commercial banks' sterling assets to the Central Bank made it possible to contemplate a break in the link. In the mid to late 1970s, opinion within the bank was moving toward breaking the link with sterling and devaluing the Irish currency in order to limit inflationary effects from abroad.

At this time, however, an alternative option became available. In April 1978, the European Council meeting in Copenhagen decided to create a "zone of monetary stability" in Europe, and European Economic Community institutions were invited to consider how to create such a zone. At the following Council meeting in Bremen, Germany in June 1978 the basic features of the European Monetary System were outlined, including the creation of the ECU – European Currency Unit, a basket of the Community's currencies used to determine exchange rates, and the forerunner of the euro.

The European Monetary System[edit]

The Irish government had to decide whether or not to participate in the EMS. If the EMS had included all the European Community's currencies, it would have provided stability for 75% of Ireland's external trade, but in the event Britain, which still accounted for 50% of Ireland's external trade, decided to stay out of the EMS. Despite this, on 15 December 1978 it was announced that Ireland would participate in the EMS. Countries were given the option of either a 2.25% or 6% margin of fluctuation within the EMS' Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), and Ireland took the narrower margin. The EMS started on 13 March 1979, and towards the end of the month Sterling started to gain in value against the EMS currencies because of rising oil prices, and by 30 March Sterling breached the upper fluctuation band limit of the Belgian franc and the Irish currency could no longer track Sterling. After over 50 years, the parity of the Irish and British currencies was broken, and the Irish currency became known as the Irish pound (or Punt).

The initial experience of the EMS was disappointing. It had been expected that the Irish Pound would appreciate in value against Sterling, and hence reduce inflation in Ireland, but in practice Sterling appreciated considerably in value thanks to its status as a petrocurrency and to the tight monetary policies of the new British government of Margaret Thatcher. By late 1980 the Irish Pound had fallen in value to less than 80 British pence, and Irish inflation was higher than British. Economic policy in Ireland was inconsistent with a "hard currency" policy, and the Irish Pound also failed to hold its value against the central rate of the Deutschmark, although it did appreciate in value against some of the other EMS currencies.

Eventually the EMS settled down (notwithstanding a crisis in 1992 when the Irish Pound was devalued by 10%), and Irish inflation was consistently the same or lower than Britain's inflation rate from 1987 onwards.

Towards the Euro[edit]

The idea of a single European currency goes back to the Schumann Plan of 1950. The first blueprint for how to go about implementing the currency, the Werner Report of 1970 was not proceeded with, but the ultimate aim was always kept in mind. The Delors Report endorsed by the Madrid Summit of June 1989 envisaged a three-stage process to monetary union, and this was given legal authority by the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 (enacted into Irish law as the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland by 70% of those voting in a referendum on 18 June 1992). This envisaged the start of monetary union on 1 January 1999 and the introduction of notes and coins on 1 January 2002. The Central Bank began production of euro coins in September 1999, producing over a billion coins, weighing about 5,000 tons, with a value of 230 million euro before the introduction into circulation of the euro coins in January 2002. Production of euro banknotes began in June 2000, with 300 million notes worth 4 billion euro being produced in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 euro. Euro banknotes produced for the Central Bank are identified by having the serial number begin with the letter T. The Bank did not initially issue €200 or €500 euro banknotes, but has since begun to do so.[15]

Banking system collapse resulting from property bubble[edit]

Despite growing evidence[16] of an unsustainable property price and construction bubble during the mid-2000s, corrective regulatory action was delayed and timid. After the bubble burst, Irish banks faced mounting losses on a scale which exposed them to a collapse of confidence following the Lehman's bankruptcy in September 2008; they then suffered acute liquidity pressures which had to be met by Central Bank support, including emergency lending. Management abuses, which the CBOI did not restrain, were also revealed at Anglo Irish Bank, which had to be nationalised in January 2009.

Their Annual Report, which was published just three months before the Government was forced to unconditionally guarantee the deposits of the Irish-owned banks,said: "The banks have negligible exposure to the sub-prime sector and they remain relatively healthy by the standard measures of capital, profitability and asset quality. This has been confirmed by the stress testing exercises we have carried out with the banks".[17][18]

The next Annual Report had virtually nothing to say about how and why the Irish banking system was brought to the brink of collapse.[19] Although there were four Central Bank directors on the board of the Financial Regulator, the Central Bank maintained it had no powers to intervene in the market. Yet, the Central Bank had the power to issue directives to the Financial Regulator if it thought it was conducting its business in a way that was contrary to overall Central Bank policy aims. None were issued.[20][21]

In July 2009, a senior Central Bank official told the Oireachtas Enterprise Committee that shareholders (later corrected/clarified to refer to institutional investors) who lost their money in the banking collapse were to blame for their fate and got what was coming to them for not keeping bank chiefs in check. The official did admit that the Central Bank had failed to give sufficient warning about reckless lending to property developers.[22]

A report by the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee said it was “exercising inadequate supervision” and a proper analysis of loan books of the banks was not done.[23]

The Financial Regulator[edit]

In 2003 a new separate division of the Central Bank, with its own Chairman, Chief Executive, and board, was established as the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority. This was as a compromise between those who favoured a fully independent regulator and those who believed the Central Bank should maintain full control of regulation of the financial services industry. This division of the Bank authorised and regulated all financial institutions (including insurance undertakings, collective investment funds and credit unions) in Ireland.[24][25]

Under the 2003 arrangements the Central Bank provided the Financial Regulator with services. The Regulator’s industry panel, which provided the Regulator with feedback on its charges and policies said in April 2007 that they had ‘‘major concerns with the quality and cost of the services’’ provided to the Regulator by the Central Bank.[26]

In January 2009, the chief executive officer of Financial Regulator, Patrick Neary, retired early over the handling of the investigation into the €87 million secret directors' loans at Anglo Irish Bank.[27][28]

Following the banking collapse of 2008–9, the Government[29] re-unified the organisation under a Central Bank of Ireland Commission to replace the board structures of the Central Bank and the Financial Services Regulatory Authority which became effective on 1 October 2010. A July 2009 editorial, in the respected, Sunday Business Post, said "returning the key powers of regulation to the Central Bank will be useless unless there is a fundamental change in the culture of the organisation. This does not require a complete change of personnel, but a change of key personnel."[30] There can be no denying that the spinning off of the Financial Regulator from the functions of the Central Bank in 2003, was an outright failure.[31][32]

The operations of the Financial Regulator were severely criticised in a report marked "strictly confidential and not for publication", as being poor value for money. The report stated that there were too few specialist staff, compared with its peers.[33] There were also serious shortcomings in the crucial supervisory area.[34][35] and the report was particularly critical of the regulator’s senior management structure, concluding that a clear management and oversight framework, which ensures that issues are escalated through the organisation, was "not fully in place".[36]

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, in a report in the Financial Times said that his decision in 2001 to create a new financial regulator was one of the main reasons for the collapse of the Irish banking sector and "if I had a chance again I wouldn’t do it".[37] "The banks were irresponsible," he admitted "But the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator seemed happy. They were never into us saying – ever – 'Listen, we must put legislation and control on the banks'. That never happened."[38]

The April 2009, the new Financial Regulator, Matthew Elderfield, outlined his shock at the poor level of financial regulation he discovered when he started his job the previous January and "it is clear to me we need to undertake a fundamental overhaul of the regulatory model for financial services in Ireland.[39] He also said that there was a "critical absence of intellectual firepower within his staff"[40]

Criticism[edit]

Irish Trust Bank went into liquidation in 1976 after the Central Bank failed to spot accounting scams and the taxpayer was left to pick up the tab for its debts. The Managing Director and shareholder fled Ireland and went on to become the owner of London's Chelsea Football Club and then Leeds United .[41]

From the mid-1970s up to the early 1990s, it was aware of, but took no action to stop, an organised large-scale tax evasion scheme organised by Ansbacher Bank for the benefit of wealthy and powerful Irish people. Included in those who were breaking the law were a director of the Central Bank and the architect given the commission to design their headquarters (in contravention of planning permission).[42][43][44][45][46]

In 1982, PMPA then the largest motor insurer in Ireland with about 300,000 policy holders and 32 per cent of the entire market, had to saved from total collapse by the State. A 2pc levy was imposed on all non-life insurance premiums at the time to cover the collapse of PMPA which ended in the early 1990s. The subsequent administration of the company lasted 30 years.[47][48]

The Insurance Corporation of Ireland was a wholly owned subsidiary, of the CBOI supervised Allied Irish Banks, when it collapsed in 1985. This was that had arisen due to severe under pricing of policies being written, adequate reserves were not being maintained and it was not monitoring the true profitability of the business. This collapse occurred at a time of deep economic recession in Ireland (Government debt in 1985 was 116% of GDP). But the Irish taxpayer bailed AIB out of its difficulties at the urging of the Central Bank. The Irish Government did so as the Central Bank claimed that it could put AIB's core banking business in jeopardy. The cost to the Irish taxpayer was £400 million at the time (€1245 million in 2013 figures). In a move that angered many, AIB paid a dividend to shareholders the following year.[49][50][51][52]

In 2000 the Dáil Public Accounts Committee "DIRT" enquiry, into the facilitation of wide spread tax evasion by the banking industry, was of the view that the Central Bank had an inappropriate and outmoded approach to supervision in the context of the growing sophistication of banking and the changing role of banks. It also found there was an insufficient concern with ethics and supervision other than from the standpoint of a traditional and narrow concern with prudential supervision in the Central Bank.[53][54] The Chairman of the inquiry was "shocked and horrified" at the "careless and reckless" manner in which the Governor had quoted false statistics to the Public Accounts subcommittee.[55]

The Central Bank was warned by the German regulator, BaFin, as early as 2004 that Sachsen LB's troubled Irish subsidiaries were involved in highly risky and under-scrutinised transactions worth as much as €30bn or 20 times the parent bank's capitalisation. Despite the warning, in 2007 the CBOI approved another Sachsen investment vehicle and two months later the stable of off-balance sheet companies needed a €17.3bn bail-out from the German association of savings banks to keep Sachsen afloat.[56][57]

The Irish Brokers Association said there was "intense frustration and annoyance" about excessive red tape and the CBOI refusing to listen to them in 2005.[58]

The same year the Central Bank was criticised for publishing a report, which it was said, read a bit like a promotional brochure for the money lending industry. It included a section devoted to arguing why moneylenders should be allowed to charge as much as they do. (188%-plus collection fees of up to 11%.)[59]

The New York Times referred to Ireland as the “Wild West of European finance” in April 2005 which was seen to underline the fragility of the Country's Financial Regulation system.[60][61][62][63]

The Australian Authorities warned the Central Bank of the activities of person connected with the largest bankruptcy in that country's history. The CBOI did nothing, he went on to commit a US$500 million fraud and pleaded guilty in the US despite the crime being committed in Ireland.[64][65][66][67]

Their consumer panel stated that the Central Bank was slow to respond to consumer issues and '"appears to seek complexity and obstacles rather than to seek consumer-oriented solutions to current and emerging problems"'. And it warned that this approach can undermine consumer confidence in the "efficacy of the regulatory process. "[68]

The same month in 2006, a government-appointed panel that consists of banking and insurance representatives revealed widespread dissatisfaction with the Central Bank’s skills base.[69][70]

Their industry panel, which provides feedback on its charges and policies said the levy on financial institutions for industry funding is perceived by industry as cumbersome and bureaucratic[71]

They did not give their consumer panel a copy of the report of the working group set up following the collapse of a stockbrokers,[72][73] where some investors were waiting over 7 years to have their claims processed.[74] When the panel managed to get sight of it, they said it was "extremely deficient"[75][76]

In July 2007, the Comptroller and Auditor General called for an independent review of the inspection process for financial institutions carried out by the Central Bank. The Comptroller urged the introduction of clearly defined risk categories for individual areas of financial services, so that the appropriate level of supervision required for each institution can be implemented in line with the risk involved.[77]

Transcripts of phone calls by their senior staff suggest they gave tacit approval to the illicit movement of deposits between Irish Life and Permanent plc and Anglo Irish Bank plc. "Okay, that's grand, right I think that's everything". The CBOI refused to say whether staff might face disciplinary procedures or sanctions if the transcripts were validated and investigated internally.[78]

The CBOI knew that Allied Irish Banks were overcharging consumers in FX fees but failed to act for a number of years.[79][80] They gave a parliamentary inquiry the "false impression" that they were unaware of it.[81][82] The whistleblower who gave them the information was requested to come to a meeting with the CBOI but was only invited to withdraw the allegations of wrongdoing and at the same time found himself removed from his position at Allied Irish Banks without any reason given. After his case was highlighted in the media, the CBOI officially apologised on how the authorities treated him, eight years after alerting them of overcharging.[83]

The same whistleblower also sent a report entitled ‘Special Investigation Goodbody Stockbrokers – Trading in AIB Shares’ to the CBOI, in which questions were raised about the legality of a device used to trade in AIB shares through offshore locations in blacklisted tax havens Nevis and Vanuatu. No action was taken.[84]

In 2008 as the Irish economy collapsed, it spent €115,000 on one staff party.[85]

The Central Bank could have spotted Bernie Madoff's gigantic fraud, when he started using Irish funds to cheat ordinary investors out of billions in what is considered to be the largest financial fraud in U.S. history. Madoff had to supply large amounts of information to the CBOI which would have been enough to enable the Irish regulator to uncover the fraud much earlier than late 2008 when he was finally arrested in New York.[86][87][88]

In early 2009, the Financial Services Consultative Consumer Panel, tasked with monitoring the performance of the Central Bank, said that most consumers have lost “significant amounts of money” due to the inadequacies of the financial regulatory structure. It also criticised the "deficient" response of the CBOI to threats to consumers, including the Irish property bubble.[89] In response they said "It is clear that the actions we took were insufficient and were not taken early enough,"[90][91][92]

Then leader of the opposition and future Taoiseach Enda Kenny. and finance spokesman Richard Bruton called for the board and senior management of the Central Bank to be sacked.[93][94] Independent Senator, Shane Ross said that the CBOI was an institution that had lost the faith of the international markets "They think it is actually genetically flawed. That is the problem we’re going to have to attack next."[95]

The one time head of Financial Regulation, had companies he is a director of, fined a total of €3.35 million by his previous employers the Central Bank, for risk control and reporting failures.[96][97][98]

Ernst & Young was hired, to advise the Central Bank of Ireland on the €440 billion bank guarantee scheme in January 2009,[99] despite the fact that Ernst & Young[100][101] was being investigated[102] arising from its audits of Anglo Irish Bank[103] and had also refused to appear before a parliamentary committee following the collapse of the same bank after receiving "legal advice".[104][105] Their then head of financial regulation told the same committee that "a lay person would expect that issues of this nature and this magnitude would have been picked up" by the external auditors.[103] At the same time the lowest tender was not chosen for the fit out of new offices in Spencer Dock in Dublin's docklands.[106]

Following the failure of existing regulatory structures to prevent excessive lending to the property sector,[107] consultants Mazars, which were brought in to review operations said that "regulatory expertise was lacking in some areas."[108] Responding to the highlighted weakness, Brian Lenihan, the Minister for Finance, said "substantial additional staff with the skills, experience and market-based expertise will be appointed. Those recruited will also have the expertise to regulate the international financial services sector."[109] He also announced that all consumer functions will be '"re-assigned"' to other agencies.[110]

In July 2009, the CBOI blocked insurers and banks from making any critical statements containing "any references" to them by means either of "public press statements" or un-approved public references, whether "written or oral."[111]

Two reports of an investigation into the "wholly inappropriate sale of perpectual bonds" by Davy Stockbrokers to credit unions failed to involve any of the credit unions affected, leaving them "in the dark and powerless to add any value to the findings of this investigation". The CBOI then declined to give them access to the reports. The Chairman of one the Credit Union's who suffered large losses told his members "The failure to publish the reports is to place the complaints process in a shroud of secrecy. Such a failure of openness, transparency and fairness can only serve to undermine confidence in the complaints process, forcing those with grievances into the courts. Such a course of action is not in the interest of any of the stakeholders."[112]

The next month, the head of the German Financial Regulator told the Bundestag Finance Committee that the failure of the "terrible" Depfa Bank, which was completely supervised by its Irish equivalent, lead to the collapse of its German parent which forced Berlin to bail it out at a cost of €102 billion. The committee was told that the alternative was a run on German banks and the eventual collapse of the European finance system and "You would have woken up on Monday morning in the film Apocalypse Now"[113] The bank had just 319 employees[114][115] but was allowed to guarantee loans valued at 14 times Ireland's Gross Domestic Product.[116] A former Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland was a director of Depfa.[117] Regulatory failure was acknowledged and this is a source of continuing friction with the German authorities.[118][119]

The CBOI admitted that it had issued private warnings to over 30% of credit unions about their arrears levels, but refused to provide full updates on what percentage of credit union loans are in arrears or how quickly they are increasing.[120][121] This raised questions about their commitment to openness.[122][123][124]

Transparency International[125] have questioned whether the Central Bank should continue to have an exemption from Freedom of Information legislation.[126] Compliance experts[127][128] have said "The most offensive confidentiality provision in Ireland is the one which protects the Central Bank"[129] Both the Financial Services Ombudsman and Information Commissioner,[130] are among others,[131][132][133] who called for a lifting of the confidentiality applied by the Central Bank to much of its work.[134][135] Other EU regulators have a policy of transparency.[136][137]

The director general of the Free Legal Advice Centres in October 2009 said, the code of conduct on mortgage arrears produced by the Central Bank was "deeply disappointing", and did not offer enough protection for consumers.[138]

The Irish Times, the country's "newspaper of record" said the organisation "has a death wish and its regulatory edict verges on the Pythonesque, eating into what is left of its credibility."[139]

In a speech, the Governor of the Central Bank implied that "ignorance and inattention" were to blame for regulatory failure.[140]

The Consumer Consultative Panel, in December 2009 said that they were unable to function for almost a year because officials ignored requests for meetings and "we believe it is unacceptable that the board of the financial regulation section has failed to take responsibility for their stewardship of the organisation during the last six years. They did not understand many of the sectors and financial products it regulates.[141] These failings undermines their ability to enhance or enforce corporate governance in the wider financial services sector. It also warned "that the reforms announced to date were not sufficient to avert more crisis' in the future."[142][143]

Following a February 2010 review by the Comptroller and Auditor General, the organisation admitted that it paid for 52 spouses of staff to go on foreign trips over a two-year period.[144]

The next month opposition politicians described an advertisement seeking to appoint a consultant to oversee its art collection as insensitive and inappropriate at the dept of the credit crunch depression.[145]

The Central Bank should give an annual statement to the Dáil on bank supervision to make regulation '‘more accountable’’, the Comptroller and Auditor General said in March 2010 after highlighting shortcomings in financial regulation leading up to the financial crisis .[146][147][148]

At the same time the influential German newspaper Siddeutsche Zeitung described as "remarkable" the CBOI's handling of a whistleblower's revelations that the Irish subsidiary of Unicredit Bank had 40 times the permitted level of deviation of minimum liquidity requirements. They also did not inform the parent bank and the relevant regulatory authority on the continent.[149][150][151]

High risk and sloppy lending practices at the Irish Nationwide Building Society were reported to the Central Bank by external accountants over a long period but did not change its behaviour. The former head of compliance, became a whistle blower by reporting "dodgy practices". Separately the Vice Chairman told the CBOI of his concerns in great detail,[152] but again they did nothing.[153][154] It required a €5.4 billion[155] Government bailout, leaving it effectively in State ownership.[156][157] A letter which they received concerning the legality of the illicit loans by the Building Society to Sean FitzPatrick had "gone missing".[158] Management at Irish Nationwide used to arrange meetings with the CBOI for late on a Friday afternoon, knowing that the regulator's staff would not want for the encounter to last for more than an hour because it would nibble into their weekend.[159] In a damning report following Nationwide's collapse, the Regulator was found, for decades, to "have understood and delineated the critical INBS issues well before they caused trouble, but equally failed fully to use its powers under the [Building Societies] Act by pursuing these issues, being apparently mollified by bland assurances" and the CBOI "did not meet standards which might be reasonably expected".[160]

The chief executive of Financial Regulation was asked at a parliamentary committee "In regard to baseline qualifications, if your staff is regulating the financial sector, should it not be the case where they should have the bare minimum required in the market as well, a qualified financial adviser status, or they've gone through certain industry exams. It's obviously important to have." But the chief executive disagreed: "I don't agree with that. But I think I'm conflicted because I've never taken a professional exam in my life."[161]

Reports[162][162][163] on the financial crisis did not ask the opinion of their consumer consultative panel, who in a statement said it was "very disappointed that, in particular, the report by the Governor did not refer to the work of the panel in highlighting many of the failings of the regulation in the past number of years."[164][165] Fresh areas of concern included the lack of minute-taking at senior levels in the Financial Regulation section and among its sub-board. "If this is the situation that prevails, then this has to be a source of concern regarding the standard of governance."

One of the reports noted that the Central Bank had found substantial departures from credit policy during inspections of banks, but failed adequately to follow up on its concerns. Secondly intrusive demands from regulatory staff could be and were set aside after direct representations were made to senior regulators.[166][167]

Two months later, it emerged that their regulatory section authorised the Quinn Group (which subsequently went into administration) to borrow €169 million from Anglo Irish Bank in order to buy Anglo Irish shares (which subsequently had to be nationalised at a cost of €5,500 for every man, woman and child in the State[168]).[169] Its actions were described as "like the Vatican running an abortion clinic."[170][171][172][173] At a meeting with the Chairman of the Quinn Insurance, the Regulator didn’t think it was “fair or appropriate” to “tackle” the tycoon on his investments.[174] The subsequent collapse of the Quinn Group cost the public €1.65 billion.[175]

On her September 2010 state tour to Russia, the President of Ireland Mary McAleese, highlighting the importance of competence, criticised the Central Bank for its role in the run-up to the financial crisis which resulted in tens of thousands of people in mortgage arrears.[176][177]

The same month the Central Bank described as "heroic" the response in the run-up to the blanket guarantee of Ireland's toxic banks. The chairman of Nama and former Revenue Commissioner, said he believed there was only a "quite late engagement," by the Department of Finance with the financial crisis. "The Department relied on the Financial Regulator and the Central Bank and was let down by them," he added. Two months later, Ireland lost its economic sovereignty when it was bailed out by the EU/IMF/ECB troika.[178] The British Government were tipped off, by the Regulator, of the position concerning Anglo Irish Bank before the Irish Cabinet was informed.[179] Whitehall then refused to release documents showing the extent that the CBOI passed market sensitive information to London, citing [Britain's] "public interest".[180]

Almost simultaneously external reviewers highlighted the "unacceptable” pace of investigation into how the financial system in Ireland came close to collapse “leaves a lot to be desired”. This was in contrast to the United States and Iceland, which have moved faster to examine what went wrong. “Furthermore, there has been very little outcome from ongoing investigations into dealings at some of our major institutions" by the Central Bank."[181][182]

Criminal prosecutions by the Garda Síochána against managers in banks who committed offences are being undermined as CBOI staff were aware of the alleged offences, took no action to stop them and thus provided an arguable defence to those who committed wrongdoing, as they could reasonably claim they were acting with the approval of regulatory authorities at all times. One line of inquiry being investigated by detectives is that they did not inform the Department of Finance of all facts they knew about the banking industry. Two arrests were made following a complaint made by two officials of the Central Bank.[183][184][185][186]

The European Commission in a November 2010 review of the financial crisis said "Some national supervisory authorities failed dramatically. We know that in Ireland there was almost no supervision of the large banks."[187] Two months later, EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso in an angry exchange in the European Parliament, with a vehemence that shocked his audience, said that "the problems of Ireland were created by the irresponsible financial behaviour of some Irish institutions, and by the lack of supervision in the Irish market."[188]

Five years elapsed before they forced Davy Stockbrokers to inform investors, who lost tens of millions of Euro, that "the instrument sold was not compliant with the Trustees (Authorised Investments) Order at the time of its sale as it was not listed on a recognised Stock Exchange" and it "dealt as principal in both the purchase and sale and was in breach of the rules of the Irish Stock Exchange by not disclosing this fact on its contract note". The effected parties had settled their claim against the stockbroker, before receiving the notification, and it was suggested they could have received much more compensation if they had ensured that their adverse findings about the case was communicated. The full report was not published and no regulatory action was taken.[189]

Within days, after the arrival in Ireland of the International Monetary Fund, they admitted that the stress tests on banks, that the CBOI conducted 4 months earlier[190] "failed to convince financial markets"[191] and the level of capital that the banks needed which they recently described as at "shock and awe" safety levels would be increased by 50 per cent.[192] Two months later, a European Commission document revealed, that a second stress test on Irish Banks, would be "peer reviewed" by the Banca d'Italia and the French Commission Bancaire "to strengthen the external credibility of the process". This would be in addition to the consultants hired to help the Central Bank, at a cost of nearly €40 million,[193] Boston Consulting Group, Blackrock Solutions, and Barclays Capital.[194] However Boston Consulting, expressed reservations about the process-saying it would have preferred to carry out more file reviews of bank assets, blaming "time and resource constraints imposed by the Central Bank."[195] A secret internal investigation was held following repeated claims by a whistleblower that the stress test data was "doctored" and "dressed up" to ensure that Bank of Ireland, Allied Irish Banks and Irish Life & Permanent passed, but the investigation found there was no reason for concern. Independent TD Stephen Donnelly said "Perhaps the Oireachtas Financial Committee could look into these allegations on behalf of the Dail. It is not appropriate for the Central Bank to be the only body investigating serious allegations against it by one of its own employees."[196] Moody's and Standard & Poors[197] credit agencies subsequently said Irish banks would need further large cash injections from the taxpayer.[198][199] Subsequently the European Commission found that the CBOI engaged in "financial nationalism" to ensure that Irish Banks passed the Stress Tests.[200] University College Dublin research found after the stress tests failed to properly assess the true condition of the country's banks the Governor made "the costliest mistake ever made by an Irish person."[201]

The €50 billion of emergency funding given to Irish banks by the Central Bank of Ireland could pose a threat to the very solvency of the Central Bank itself, a report by Citi concluded in January 2011.[202][203][204]

In March 2011, the Free Legal Advice Centres criticised the CBOI for failing to regulate hire-purchase agreements saying "that some of the worst credit practices take place on garage forecourts when people are sold hire purchase for a car."[205]

Comparisons with the Bank of Finland—the equivalent of the Central Bank of Ireland—which has a much more complex banking system to safeguard, show it halved its staff since the introduction of the Euro to 650. The CBOI more than doubled its headcount to 1400 by 2012 since the introduction of the single currency, many of whom are on an average salary of €80,000 a year[206] and work 32.5 hours per week or 6.5 hours a day.[207][208] The level of its business travel expenses, featured in the best-selling book "Wasters",[209] increased by 46% in one year.[210][211] At one time, the Governor was said to be one of the highest paid Central Bankers in the world.[212] An "endemic culture of rewarding failure" has meant that not one person in the Central Bank has been sacked for their role in the worst financial and economic crisis in Ireland's history, a leading economist said in August 2011.[213]

Investors blasted the CBOI in October 2011 after losing tens of million of Euro in what a High Court Judge described as "a sort of an Irish ponzi scheme" saying regulators should have spotted the problems earlier. An inquiry was carried out, on how the Central Bank handled the affair.[214][215]

In March 2012, it fined a stockbrokers for failing to report trades to allow them prevent market abuse and failed to establish "adequate policies and procedures". A Director and shareholder of that firm who was present when most of the regulatory breaches took place was then appointed Head of Stockbroking Supervision at the Central Bank.[216]

The decision to continue printing euro notes in Dublin when those notes could be printed much more cheaply on existing presses elsewhere was described a colossal waste of money in April 2012. Its senior officials also earn more than their counterparts in the United States.[217]

Early in 2013, Fianna Fáil called on the CBOI to publish a top secret report that found major and numerous problems with Irish stockbrokers. They said "it was essential investors had confidence that their money was being handled properly." The report warned there will have to be mergers of firms to ensure the industry survives, but this process will have to be done in a controlled way—because any instability in the sector could pose a danger to many people's savings, and prevent new businesses from raising money at a time when banks are not lending.[218][219]

The Government wanted the CBOI to "do more" to tackle the issue of mortgage arrears. "In our view, the Regulator is not moving as strongly as it could be. The money is there. The legislation is there. Now is the time to get on with it," a government source said in February 2013. In response the CBOI cautioned against interference and confirmed that officials haven't been directly confronted on the issue, but clear signals have been sent that the Government wanted more action.[220]

Two months later the National Treasury Management Agency chastised the Central Bank for saying that Irish insurance and pension funds held just €11m of Irish government bonds, down from €945m at the start of 2012 suggesting that Irish investors were ditching the bonds just as the Government was trying to return to the markets. "These figures do not reflect the true level of Irish government bonds held by domestic pension funds and insurance companies" The CBOI took down their statistics from its official website the day after their publication but refused to say whether their data was correct.[221]

Embarrassingly, the next day they issued a silver €10 commemorative coin in honour of James Joyce that misquoted a famous line from his masterwork Ulysses.[222]

The International Financial Services Centre in Dublin is losing out on major international banks because of how the Central Bank regulates them. The former chief executive of the National Treasury Management Agency said he was "dismayed" to see banks, including big names such as Goldman Sachs, handing back their banking licences. He went on to say said the country was "shooting itself in the foot in many ways", and the IFSC was of huge benefit to the country,employs 30,000 people and could have grown further.[223]

Following the disclosure of taped conversations of executives of Anglo Irish Bank discussing the bank guarantee, which cost Ireland its economic independence, the Irish Independent called the Central Bank "incompetent" in June 2013.[224] The transcripts showed the executives referring to the Central Bank as "our buddies in Dame Street"[225] as being a "shower of clowns"[226] who were "effectively egging us [Anglo] on" to break the law.[227] German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the calls were "contemptible".[228][229] Senior politicians expressed astonishment when the Central Bank announced it would not be making criminal complaints either to the Gardaí or the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement over the tapes.[230]

An internal whistleblower revealed problems with the CBOI's outsourcing of its IT infrastructure. “Ask yourself this, what would be the consequences of any type of [data leak]? Even if the breach did not touch the money transfers and was only information, much of it is commercially sensitive and the possible liability [to the taxpayer] large,” After their outsourced computers crashed, Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, said "I wonder if Irish people would be happy to know that all the data for the most important bank in the State is being held in a private company’s control centre which has experienced one power blackout already this year?”[231] Months later following another IT crash, a staff member wrote to a TD claiming that the “IT system has been unstable since being moved, (separate to the process failures), yet they continue to move more and more systems out while the instability continues”.[232]

Ireland is hoping to be the home of Sharia Islamic finance in Europe. Enda Kenny told the Irish Funds Industry Association that he was doing everything he could to “ensure” Dublin became “a centre of excellence for Islamic finances”.[233] These efforts received a setback when a product approved by the CBOI as Sharia compliant, was found by to have violated Islamic law in Malaysia and could warrant a penalty of up to 8 years in jail.[234]

The Irish League of Credit Unions in response to the consolidation of the sector, accused the CBOI of acting beyond its statutory powers and “cloak the proceedings and the challenge to its decisions from public scrutiny" and added that it was “important that State regulators operate openly, clearly and accountably”, and it warned the Central Bank against trying “to scare the public or exaggerate risk for the sake of achieving unarticulated policy objectives." The cost to the State of the rationalisation is expected to be in the region of €1 billion.[235]

Following the collapse of Ireland's oldest and third largest stockbroker, Bloxham Stockbrokers after the firm had been discovered to be cooking its books for five years, the CBOI refused to answer questions about regulatory failure or confirm that it will publish a report outlining what went wrong and how to make sure something like this does not happen again. They did not refer anyone to the Gardaí or the Director of Public Prosecutions.[236][237]

The CBOI were aware of "corporate governance issues" at Ireland's largest credit union in Newbridge County Kildare for 8 years before it had to bailed out by the state at a cost of €54m.[238][239][240]

Debt experts authorised to strike deals through the Insolvency Service of Ireland, were threatened with criminal prosecution by the Central Bank unless they became regulated by themselves notwithstanding that both accountants and lawyers are already regulated by their own respective professional associations. The extra red tape made some of the experts jobs "unworkable" resulting in delays for borrowers trying to resolve their debt problems.[241]

In November 2013, the organisation was caught napping at the wheel when its regulation failed to detect "accounting issues" at the country's largest car insurer RSA/123.i.e. The problems had being occurring for at least 2 years and its foreign parent had to inject €235m to keep its Irish subsidiary in business.[242][243][244]

The CBOI was found out to be producing "useless" mortgage statistics after it emerged it excluded large numbers of non-performing home loans from its figures[245] and its Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears[246] was on the side of protecting the lender not the public.[247][248] A Central Bank-initiated scheme to assist indebted families have their debts restructured was a spectacular failure as just one in ten chosen for the scheme actually ended up with a deal. [249]

List of Governors of the Bank[edit]

The main entrance to the Central Bank of Ireland head office

The Governor of the Bank is appointed by the President of Ireland on advice of the Irish government.

  • Joseph Brennan (1887–1963) (Governor: 1943–53)
  • James J. McElligott (1890–1974) (Governor: 1953–60)
  • Maurice Moynihan (1902–99) (Governor: 1960–69)
  • T. K. Whitaker (1916- ) (Governor: 1969–76)
  • Charles Henry Murray (1917–2008) (Governor: 1976–81)
  • Tomás F. Ó Cofaigh (1921- ) (Governor: 1981–87)
  • Maurice F. Doyle (1932–2009) (Governor: 1987–94)
  • Maurice O'Connell[250] (1936- ) (Governor: 1994–2002)
  • John Hurley (1945- ) (Governor: 2002–09)
  • Patrick Honohan (1949- ) (Governor: 2009–present)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 53°20′40″N 6°15′48″W / 53.344569°N 6.263269°W / 53.344569; -6.263269