A former chief executive of Bank of Ireland has said that competitive pressures on branch managers may have forced them to flout the rules relating to non-resident accounts. Mark Hely-Hutchinson said that human nature played a part in managers ignoring directions from head office. Mr Hely-Hutchinson was among the first witnesses from Bank of Ireland to begin giving evidence this evening following the discharge of NIB officials. The Committee also heard that in several branches accounts were opened in the Irish version of a customer's name. Mr Hely-Hutchinson agreed that many staff members must have been aware of this. However, he conceded that junior members of staff may have been afraid to report their managers to head office or the Revenue. In its opening statement, the Bank's Chief Executive Maurice Keane said that only a small number of non resident accounts at the bank were bogus. He said that since the introduction of DIRT, the bank held £70,000 non- resident accounts. 250 were deemed to be bogus and the Bank estimated its liability at up to £1.5 million.
Earlier today the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Jim Mitchell, said that he would consider all submissions to the DIRT inquiry before deciding whether or not to take action on a possible conflict of evidence by a National Irish Bank Official. During this morning’s session Deputy Mitchell questioned the evidence of the official in question: Philip Halpin, Chief Operations Officer of NIB.
The conflict arose when NIB officials were being questioned about their failure to provide the results of a 1994 audit to the Revenue Commissioners last year. The Revenue Commissioners wrote to NIB asking for full disclosure on the state of the bank's DIRT tax compliance. Philip Halpin signed the letter in reply to the Revenue Commissioners. This morning he told the Committee he believed the reply was full and complete when he signed it. However, he then was asked about the exclusion of the details of the 1994 internal audit. It had uncovered a 40% non-compliance rate with documents relating to non- resident accounts. Mr Halpin said that with the benefit of hindsight he now believed those details should have made known to the Revenue Commissioners. But at the time there was no intention to withhold the information. Jim Mitchell then reminded Mr Halpin that he was under oath, but in the afternoon session he told reporters he had decided to consider the evidence in its totality before taking any action.
During the afternoon session the Committee also heard that a bank manager at National Irish Bank may have been promoted after bogus non-resident accounts were discovered at his branch. NIB officials have said that they cannot confirm whether or not the promotion took place after a 1996 audit of the Blanchardstown branch which uncovered three non-resident accounts opened in fictitious names. The branch manager had signed declarations to say everything was in order with regard to non-resident accounts.The Chief Executive of the Bank Don Price said that he did not seek to defend the promotion but could not say when exactly it had taken place.