Three former bank executives have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from two years to three and a half years for a €7.2bn conspiracy to defraud in September 2008.

Former Anglo Irish Bank executives John Bowe and Willie McAteer and the former chief executive of Irish Life and Permanent, Denis Casey, were found guilty last month of agreeing a scheme to mislead the public about the true health of Anglo.

Judge Martin Nolan sentenced Bowe to two years, McAteer to three and a half years and Casey to two years and nine months.

He described what they had done as "reprehensible" and the conspiracy as very serious.

All three were convicted of conspiring together and with others to mislead investors, depositors and lenders by setting up a €7.2bn circular transaction scheme between March and September 2008 to bolster Anglo's balance sheet.

Irish Life placed the deposits via a non-banking subsidiary in the run-up to Anglo's financial year-end, to allow its rival to categorise them as customer deposits, which are viewed as more secure, rather than a deposit from another bank.

The judge also strongly criticised Anglo Irish Bank's accountants at the time, Ernst & Young.

He said it beggared belief that they had signed-off on Anglo's interim accounts, published in December 2008, as "true and fair" if they knew the true situation.

And he said it seemed incomprehensible to him that they did not know the situation.

He said they were a major accountancy firm whose job it was to help Anglo with its accounts and to protect the public.

They should have known the true situation at least by the end of October 2008 if they had been doing their job properly, he added. He said he did not know if it was blindness or wilful blindness.

The judge said the offence took place in the context of a dysfunctional financial market where people were operating under stress and people were making decisions to ensure the survival of the financial institutions they were working for.

The men did not gain any direct profit from their crimes and he said they acted in the best interests of their companies, which were publicly quoted companies, he continued.

He took into account all the mitigation that had been put forward on the men's behalf, including the men's backgrounds, what they had achieved, the contributions they had made to their communities and their families.

Judge Nolan said they had suffered badly, they had lost their positions and been subjected to public odium and ridicule.

But the judge said two blue chip publicly quoted companies had conspired together to manipulate the accounts of Anglo Irish Bank.

He said people at the top of Anglo had wanted to show strong corporate deposits.

They could not get these by legitimate means so they conspired with Irish Life and Permanent to show a "strong corporate number" by dishonest, deceitful and corrupt means.

He said they had manufactured €7.2bn of deposits by obvious sham transactions.

Judge Nolan said people were entitled to rely on public accounts.  People made decisions on the basis of these accounts.

He said what had been done was "very, very serious".  

He said he believed the starting point for the sentence was eight years.

Judge Nolan continued that he was very much aware of the involvement or non- involvement of the State authorities. He said the authorities turned a blind eye to "optically driven balance sheet management".

He said he was also very much aware that Denis Casey became involved with Anglo as a result of the "green jersey agenda".

The public was entitled to rely on the probity of blue chip firms and banks, he said. 

If they cannot, he said, they would lose trust in these institutions. People were entitled to rely on the honesty and integrity of the top firms but honesty and integrity were lacking in these transactions.

The judge said the transactions finished on 30 September 2008. He said there was a conversation between John Bowe and the office of the Financial Regulator on 1 October.

He said people should have known to some degree what had happened.

It was the longest criminal trial in the history of the State.

Only one of the three has a previous conviction, Anglo's former director of finance McAteer. He was convicted in 2014 of giving unlawful loans to ten developers and carried out 240 hours of community service.

Judge Nolan said what the men did was extremely wrong and unfortunately for everyone involved, he was going to have to impose prison sentences. 

He said this was because of the seriousness of the offence; they must pay substantially.

The judge said the driving force in Anglo was David Drumm, but McAteer was a leader in the bank.

He said how he allowed the transactions to take place was a mystery to him.

He said what McAteer had done was "grossly reprehensible" and a huge error of judgment.  He should not have done it.

The judge said it was a great shame on McAteer.

He said the survival of Anglo was not everything. The law, he said, must be obeyed.

McAteer authorised the transactions knowing they were deceitful, underhand and corrupt. He said McAteer must have known they were sham transactions.

He said McAteer acted in a gravely reprehensible way by authorising the conspiracy and he sentenced him to three and a half years in jail.

Judge Nolan said Bowe was in a different position, but had considerable experience and should have known what he was doing. He said in law, following orders was not a defence and what Bowe had done was reprehensible by being close to, if not in charge of, the execution of the transactions.

He said Bowe "went along with it".

He said Bowe was not a board member but a lesser functionary in the bank and he sentenced him to two years.

The judge said Casey became involved because of the "green jersey agenda" - to help fellow Irish institutions and by that to help his own institution.

Authorising Irish Life and Permanent to co operate with the scheme was a grave error of judgment and he was a man who should have known better. 

He should have known the nature of the transactions and the judge said Casey did know.

He said Casey had cooperated in this conspiracy even though the judge acknowledged Anglo was the author of the scheme. 

He told Casey he had behaved disgracefully and sentenced him to two years and nine months in jail.

All three were led out of the courtroom towards the holding cells. 

It is understood they are to be taken to Mountjoy Prison.  They showed little reaction as they were sentenced. 

The men have 28 days to lodge notice of an intention to appeal their convictions or sentences or both.

Following the sentencing, professional services firm EY, formerly Ernst & Young, released a statement stating it was not a party to the proceedings.

The statement said EY "fully cooperated with requests from the prosecution for witnesses and documentation in this matter. Neither the prosecution nor the defence chose to call any EY witness to give evidence at the trial in front of Judge Nolan."