Sunday, 3 October 2010

Bust, by Dearbhail McDonald, Penguin Ireland

TIGER cubs didn’t come any more tigerish than Breifne O’Brien and Fiona Nagle. The well-connected couple owned a family home in Glenageary, an apartment on Dalkey’s Vico Road and a golfing villa in Barbados.
They were always in the social diaries - Nagle with her exclusive PR and event management company (€2,500 minimum for organising a private party for six), and O’Brien with…
With what? Most of us have only the vaguest idea of how the complex financial dealings of the property and bank bubble worked.
But Dearbhail McDonald, legal editor of the Irish Independent, was in the catbird seat for all the court cases. She lays it all out in its squalor in Bust: How the Courts Have Exposed the Rotten Heart of the Irish Economy.
Ireland watched it all with a mixture of horror and schadenfreude: Nagle’s humiliation as she lost everything; the collapse of O’Brien’s investment schemes.
The fraud squad raided the family home; O’Brien handed over his Aston Martin DB7 to the County Sheriff and his art collection to Adams - it was the end of a glittering life.
“Why, Gardaí wondered, had O’Brien’s banks missed the signs,” McDonald writes. “Gardaí were staggered by the vast sums of money entering and leaving O’Brien’s bank accounts, of which he had close to 100.
“At the time of writing, O’Brien has not been charged with any offence, and investors are still being interviewed.”
McDonald segues from O’Brien’s Ponzi schemes to people like Caroline McCann, a barely literate young mother who was sued by a credit union - after borrowing over €18,000.
Between 2003 and 2008 the state jailed 1,138 people for debt-related offences, writes McDonald. In 2009, 4,806 were jailed for failing to pay court-ordered fines.
Readers start Bust with astonished laughter that gradually subsides to a sickened terror. McDonnell writes about developer Sean Dunne’s €1.5m party on the yacht Christina O to mark his wedding to former Sunday Independent gossip queen turned barrister Gayle Killillea.
She covers Liam Carroll’s Zoe Group’s 51 companies owing €1.1 billion to its creditors - and Carroll’s estimated debts of €3bn through his various business interests.
And she describes the suicides, including developer John O’Dolan, found hanged in a disused horse shed after his investment in Dubai’s The World archipelago went wrong, and he “felt under siege” from the bankers.
Seanie Fitzpatrick sauntered grinning out of the Four Courts last Wednesday. McDonald remembers how he was forced to resign after admitting that the bank had for years been transferring personal loans it made to him - worth more than €80m at their peak - to the Irish Nationwide Building Society balance sheet at Anglo’s year end, so their existence would not be discovered.
Anglo later turned on Fitzpatrick, and he was questioned by the Gardaí, just as it was revealed that Anglo was set to transfer at least €28bn worth of toxic property loans to NAMA.
The collapse of the economy leaves not so much a victimless crime, in Irish minds, as crimeless victims. But Dearbhail McDonald’s devastating scour of the courts shows otherwise.
Here were many criminals, and a plethora of hapless victims convinced by their sleight-of-hand, lies and scams.
The hero is High Court judge Peter Kelly, who followed the criminals down the dark trail of deceit and shameless greed.
If you buy one book about the crimes and schemes that underlay the Celtic Bubble, let this be the one.

Dearbhail McDonald interviewed by Matt Cooper on Today FM radio show The Last Word