Now is the time. The time to regain public trust in the Irish banking system.
All sections of Irish society cry out for this trust, essential to our country and to the ongoing prosperity of our people, to be restored to an industry where for so long it was safely reposed. This is the message relayed loud and clear to us in our public consultation process upon which we report today.
This is the mission of the Irish Banking Culture Board.
So, what is someone like me doing chairing this board. By virtue of the very process that produced me here this morning, I am not of the banking world.
I come from Ballymun where I grew up on a farm. My first job was mucking out stables and helping to milk the cows. My second job was as a barman during school holidays in the family business. My late brother David, more academic than I, described that bar work as the greatest learning experience of his life.
After I left school, I set off around the world for three years in search of I know not what. I worked at all manner of jobs finally winding up as night manager of the Whale Car Wash in Bondi Junction in Sydney.
When I returned home, I studied for the bar in Trinity College. While there, with some fellow students, I helped refound the Trinity College Branch of Amnesty International. I sat on the National Executive chaired by Sean McBride and in company with Mary Robinson. In the second half of the seventies, I was National Coordinator of Amnesty’s Campaign against Torture. “As unthinkable as slavery” was our motto.
I practised at the bar for twenty-two years appearing in all manner of cases in the Irish courts daily. In 1998 I became a Judge of the European Court of Human Rights and spent nine years living in Strasbourg and working on that extraordinary institution. While there I chaired a committee that drafted a Code of Conduct for judges of that court. I left following my appointment as a judge of The High Court in 2007.
I served for nine years on the High Court working mainly on judicial review, presiding in the jury list and finally ending up on the Commercial Court. In 2016 I was appointed to the Court of Appeal and sat on both the civil and criminal sides of that court until I retired last October having reached the compulsory retirement age. During my time on the bench, I represented the Irish Courts on the ENCJ and was elected to the Executive Board of that body. In that capacity I co-chaired with the Spanish and the French Judicial Councils two projects addressing the Independence and Accountability of the judiciary. One of these directly addressed the ethical obligations of judges.
So how did I get to be here this morning.
I read an advertisement in the paper. It stated that the five retail banks in Ireland had resolved to establish an Irish Banking Culture Board charged with the task of regaining the public’s trust.
I was intrigued and wondered what this was all about. It sounded like a very good idea. I found the banks had formed a development team to establish the proposed board. This team had already embarked on a public consultation process and commissioned the UK BSB to survey Irish bank staff. This in-depth survey resulted in the report, details of which you have already heard this morning. They had also instructed Spencer Stuart of London, consultants in board and executive placement, to organize an independent process for the recruitment of a chair for the proposed board. A selection panel was formed chaired by Dame Colette Bowe, Chair of the UK BSB joined by Sir Callum McCarthy, former head of The Financial Services Authority in the UK and our Dr Martin McAleese. It was as a result of this independent process that I was appointed as chair.
I am impressed by the obvious commitment to change that is implicit in these preliminary procedures. The banks have shown that they are prepared to hear what people do not usually want to hear about themselves in order to discover the full extent of the task of regaining public trust. They are prepared to entrust to an independent chair and an independent board the task of facilitating, monitoring and reporting upon progress in that task. From where I stand now, I am cautiously optimistic. Something of a sceptic, as one would expect after 42 years in the law, I naturally bring a healthy scepticism to this endeavour. I remember the Russian proverb cleverly quoted by President Reagan to Mikhail Gorbachev during the Arms talks – “Trust but verify”. That is what I and my Board intend to do.
I consider this endeavour to be a worthy and a worthwhile one. Its purpose is nothing less than to assist the banking sector to identify, to strive for, to achieve, to maintain and to measure the highest ethical standards in banking, the highest standards in competence and to refocus on the customer so as to ensure fair and humane outcomes for customers particularly those in trouble. Concrete, identifiable and institutional change is required to ensure that these goals are achieved and maintained. This is what the banks have committed to. I salute that commitment. I want our board to assist the banks in this endeavour in every possible way to ensure that the banking sector and everyone working in it is enabled to take their rightful place and responsibility as the guardians of a great national interest.
To whom much is given, much is asked. On a personal level, I see this great endeavour as a chance for me to give back something great to a society that has favoured me more than I have deserved. But this goes far beyond me. This is also a chance for the banking sector to give back something of real value in recognition of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the Irish people to save our banks. In the course of the last few months I have met and engaged with a great array of people who are stakeholders in the banking sector. Whilst there has been much pain and anguish there has been hope expressed everywhere that things can be made better. We cannot and we must not allow that hope to be dashed.
In the task of appointing the board members, I have been deeply impressed by the level of commitment, enthusiasm and real belief in our ability to improve things. I must thank all those great people who put themselves forward for the board. I could have filled three boards with the numbers of outstanding people who asked to help. In the end the choices I made have been with the intention of creating a board that is representative of the diversity of the stakeholders of the banking sector and that will work well together. We will have five members drawn from the highest levels of the banking industry. Among these, there is a broad selection of diverse skill sets. We will have seven members who are not bankers but who come from a wide range of those stakeholders in the banking sector. They have been chosen on criteria that emerged during the public consultation process. The acting Chief Executive of the IBCB, Marion Kelly, and myself will fill out the complement.
I would like to introduce you to them now, in alphabetical order.
Chief Executive, Citizens Information Board
Professor Blanaid Clarke
BCL, MBS (Banking & Finance), BL, PhD, FTCD
Is Executive Director and Head of Retail Banking, KBC Bank Ireland
CEO of Ulster Bank
of Padraic Kissane Financial Services
Group HR Director, Permanent TSB
Managing Director, AIB Consumer Banking
Group Chief Risk Officer, Bank of Ireland Group
Acting General Secretary, Financial Services Union
Managing Partner, Head of Commercial Department, FitzGerald Legal & Advisory and Chair of the Legal Aid Board
Sue O’Neill is based in Kildare and is Chair of the Small Firms Association. Sue is also a board member of Mircrofinance Ireland.
Is Chair of the National Farm Business committee of The Irish Farmer’s Association. He is a dairy farmer from Limerick.
Acting CEO, Irish Banking Culture Board (IBCB)
Marion initially joined the development team in August 2018 on secondment from Bank of Ireland as Programme Director leading the establishment of the IBCB.
I hope you will agree. This is a board of exceptional diversity and with a great range of talent. It is also a board of people whose enthusiasm for and belief in this endeavour made itself abundantly clear to me during the selection process.
I am also pleased to announce that Dr Martin McAleese has accepted my invitation to be Patron of the IBCB. He has been closely involved in this project since its inception and remains so today. He has been and remains a ready and helpful adviser to both myself and my Acting CEO. You may be aware that Martin and Mary McAleese were recently named as Patrons of the 30% Club which provides a useful link with the gender diversity aspects of cultural change.
I thank Martin for taking up this invitation and look forward to consulting with him in the future.
I would like to conclude by quoting a few lines from a poem that I find very appropriate to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. It is the poem “Begin” by Brendan Kennelly. He wrote this poem following his recovery from a serious illness. It seems inspired by a sense of a new lease on life. A second chance perhaps. He describes a morning walk into Dublin from Ballsbridge; but of course, it has much deeper meaning. The poem commences;
“Begin again to the summoning birds,
To the sight of the light at the window,
Begin to the roar of morning traffic
All along Pembroke Road…”
And on the journey goes, past arrogant swans in the canal, bridges linking the past and future, old friends passing though with us still until it comes to these closing lines;
“Though we live in a world that dreams of ending,
That always seems about to give in
Something that will not acknowledge conclusion
Insists that we forever begin”
We too have come from a rather dark place. There were times when it looked like we would not make it. Many of the details from the reports we publish today make for very sober reading. But I prefer to think of all that as yesterdays story. Todays story is the endeavour upon which we embark in pursuit of our lofty goals. We will not get there overnight, nor in the next few months or even in the three year term which we start today. We are in this for the long haul. I am confident that this board will play a central and vital role in bringing us all, banking sector and the public to a better place and this morning, here in the Banking Hall, we begin.