Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Lenihan's letters appear to only vindicate Europe

Prior to his death it was Brian Lenihan's belief that the letters sent to him from the president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, would vindicate him in the minds of the Irish people. They would explain his role in the 2010 bailout and the pressures he was put under.

He held back from publishing them for honourable reasons, saying that he was reluctant to release them during a period when Michael Noonan was negotiating for a reduction in the interest rate. He explained to those close to him: "It might affect what they (the present Government) are trying to do in Europe. So, I won't let them out."

I have it on good authority that the Jean-Claude Trichet letters were in French. Brian Lenihan is said to have kept them at home in a plastic bag, so sensitive were they in terms not just of Mr Trichet's intense pressure on him, but also because of his isolation within his own government and the failure of other ministers to read the crisis correctly, or to act in the national interest, defending Irish sovereignty instead of giving in to Mr Trichet's threats, threats that were exercised on behalf of European banking and certainly not in the Irish national interest.

There was a betrayal of Mr Lenihan by his own colleagues leading to his failure in the biggest test of his life. He suffered undeserved ignominy at home and in face of the clear duplicity of Europe, not just represented by Mr Trichet but by Olli Rehn and others whose concern was to salvage European banking, a never-ending, extravagant and failed process that has brought Europe to its financial knees.

The 'Irish Times' on Saturday stared into the pit in which the letters lay, and found nothing new. There is nothing indicating that Mr Trichet wrote them in French. There are no direct quotations. The wording about the impact of the Freedom of Information request to the Department of Finance is that the department 'made reference to three letters from Mr Trichet to Mr Lenihan in the run-up to the bailout, which appear to have been decisive'.

The summary the 'Irish Times' gives is indecisive. It shows weakness and uncertainty by Europe, an abject failure to take action on the serious irregularities by the Irish government over its banks, and an obsessive concern with European and world banking stresses for which Ireland was being hustled toward paying the exorbitant price of national ruin. This was given a public edge by the Deauville meeting of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy in October 2010.

Mr Lenihan was then faced with the quite extraordinary behaviour of Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan in insisting he had to go on 'Morning Ireland' to announce the bailout without government approval. Again, this was done at the behest of the European Central Bank and for the protection of European banking because no one was prepared to bite the bullet over Anglo.

Without quoting a word of any of the Trichet letters, either in French or translated, the 'Irish Times' presented the Irish public last Saturday with a pro-EU version of events which exonerates Mr Trichet and does nothing to vindicate Mr Lenihan.

His vindication is by no means easy. The range of government ministers behind him is of such negligible quality, understanding, courage or determination that it doomed him in terms of refusing Mr Honohan the 'Morning Ireland' slot -- what a dismal way of announcing a country's capitulation! -- and Mr Lenihan's fellow ministers had no grasp at all of European duplicity which required them to stand firm for national sovereignty.

Mr Honohan went through the formalities of urging the calling of a cabinet meeting to approve his announcement about taking the bailout. He did so through Mr Lenihan, whom he contacted in Leinster House, where the minister was having a late supper. Was this constitutionally proper?

Under Maastricht he had the power and the role -- as a member of the Council of the ECB -- to make the choice though he still could have been fired for what he did. But we should recognise that it was a choice between this country and the European banking system -- still, two years later, on a knife-edge. When he returned from talking to Mr Honohan, Mr Lenihan told those he was within Leinster House: "The Governor of the Central Bank wants me to arrange a cabinet meeting tonight. I could not possibly do it. I don't have the right to call a cabinet meeting."

He explained the legal reality of Mr Honohan's powers, superior to the government's, and he added: "They are doing a pincer job on Ireland because Ireland was slow to go looking for the bailout. We are being forced."

In the vapid wish-wash of Mr Trichet, as yet still unquoted, an Irish banker along with European bankers protected the banks, kept the ATM machines open and poured billions, even trillions of euro into the bottomless pit of the bankers' greed.

These actions appear to have been imposed by Mr Trichet, who had no stomach for the larger fight of rectifying European banking chaos.

Though widely known, and from other sources, this direct explanation from the man whose own Central Bank Governor, acting on behalf of the ECB, had handed over the keys to our sovereignty, was made only in private. Mr Lenihan believed that the Trichet letters vindicated him. Despite the 'Irish Times' coverage on Saturday, we are no wiser as to that interpretation and we have seen no word from then to help us.

A fuller version of what actually happened on the ground -- mainly in Leinster House -- was published in November 2011 by Jason O'Toole and myself in 'The End of the Party' where we also say that the people of Ireland 'woke up to the disaster that had governed their lives for far too long. The electorate acted accordingly and a new era dawned for us all. How long it will last and how successful it will be is in the lap of the gods'. In view of this why are we having a re-run that tells us nothing new? Is it a softening up of Germany telling them what good people we are before the coming summit?