"If you ask me do I trust banks even today the answer has to be no " Charlie Bird, RTÉ Chief News Correspondent
Normally when you think of Bank Robbery, it's the bank that's being robbed but the Scandal of the National Irish bank story was that it was the bank that was caught stealing from its own customers.
When the National Irish Bank story broke in January 1998 it changed the course of Irish Banking forever. It was a scandal that saw the fourth largest bank in Ireland brought to its knees thanks to a courageous Whistleblower. A Scandal where two prominent Journalists put their reputations on the line for what they believed to be the truth. A Scandal that saw precedents set by the highest court in the land and a scandal that saw a well known TD ousted and shamed for her part in the proceedings...The story began with a phone call to RTÉ 's Chief News correspondent Charlie Bird.
Charlie Bird realised that it was a story he couldn't handle on his own and he was teamed with RTÉ economics expert George Lee. They worked tirelessly together to try and get the first report to air, which was broadcast on the 23rd of January 1998. This first report dealt with tax evasion, in this case the bank was helping it's customers evade tax by availing of an offshore investment scheme on the Isle of Man.
After the first broadcast, National Irish bank concerned about other confidential information being revealed went to the High court to stop RTÉ reporting any further using internal bank documents. The case went to the Supreme Court and in a landmark ruling the court found in favour of RTÉ and on the 25th of March 1998 the second story about the bank was broadcast by the Six One News. It was the longest news report ever and if the first story of tax evasion caused outrage, all hell broke loose following this broadcast. An emergency cabinet meeting was called, the public wanted answers fast. The Tánaiste Mary Harney ordered an inquiry and for the two newsmen it seemed like a good end to their story. There was however to be another twist in the tale.
Beverley Flynn had worked in National Irish Bank and during the course of their investigations Charlie Bird and George Lee were told that she had encouraged bank customers to avail of the off shore CMI schemes to avoid paying tax. Flynn denied this and took a libel case against RTE, after a lengthy court case - she lost. She was also dismissed from Fianna Fáil.
After a 6 year investigation the High Court inspectors' report into the NIB scandal was finally published and it showed that systematic overcharging and bank-sponsored tax evasion was practised, boosting profits and bankers' salaries.
National Irish Bank was bought by the Danish institution Danske Bank in 2004.
This episode of Scannal looks at the NIB scandal through the eyes of Charlie Bird and George Lee, who were both central to exposing the wrongdoings of the bank, and who both put their careers on the line.
Other contributors include personal finance columnist Jill Kerby, tax consultant Ciarán Ó Feinneadha, financial expert Conall Ó Móráin, political correspondent Áine Ní Chiaráin and radio producer Fachtna Ó Drisceoil.
Monday : December 1st RTE 1 7.30pm
Presenter / Reporter Garry Mac Donncha
Producer / Director Niamh Ní Churnáin