Mail on Sunday: FINGLETON’S MISTRESS GOT Pounds 200K PAYOUT ; Settlement from Irish Nationwide was not linked to affair, insists
By Michael O’Farrell; Philip Ryan
AN EXECUTIVE of Irish Nationwide who had an affair with its boss
Michael Fingleton was later given a secret E200,000 settlement in a
bullying case against the building society.
Fiona Couse, a one-time captain of the Irish women’s hockey squad,
received her payout in 2002 after she took the bullying and
harrassment case to the Equality Tribunal.
Mr Fingleton was named in her action and would have been required to
give evidence had the society. defended the claim. The tribunal would
also have to have been made aware of the previous relationship between
him and Miss Couse, Irish Nationwide’s former head of compliance, in
arriving at any judgment.
However, the claim was settled privately before such a potentially
embarrassing hearing could take place, and Miss Couse walked away with
She acknowledged to the Irish Mail on Sunday that she had had an
affair with Mr Fingleton but denied the subsequent case and the
society.'s decision to settle it confidentially was in any way related
to the affair. She said the settlement had been awarded a ‘significant
period of time’ after the affair, adding: ‘And it wasn’t linked to it
at all. It has absolutely nothing to do with it.’
Mr Fingleton neither confirmed nor denied the affair but insisted
Irish Nationwide had acted properly in response to what was an
internal employment claim.
Miss Couse is also understood to have written to the Central Bank and
the Irish Nationwide board upon her departure, in which she outlined a
number of compliance concerns at Irish Nationwide .
The handling of the bullying claim will raise fresh questions about Mr
Fingleton’s stewardship of the society., which might have collapsed
without the State’s E400bn banking guarantee in September 2008.
The scale of Nationwide’s bad debts, which are gradually being taken
over by Nama, has led to it being labelled a ‘zombie bank’. It is
likely to require at least E2bn of taxpayers’ cash in the near future.
Recent evidence has suggested that Mr Fingleton ran the society. as a
personal fiefdom and personally approved huge loans to acquaintances
without requiring the proper paperwork.
This includes a 107pc loan to former finance minister Charlie McCreevy
at a time the society. did not issue 100pc loans, and a E2.5m loan to
socialite Cindy Cafolla who supplied no supporting paperwork.
Now the shamed financier is likely to face questions about the way the
society. handled the case brought by Miss Couse and the decision to
settle it out of court rather than fight it.
Mr Fingleton refused to say if board members who approved the payout
to Miss Couse knew of his previous relationship with her.
He said: ‘The matter was settled at the time for good and proper
reasons and in the best interests of the Irish Nationwide Building
Society, and all matters in relation to this case was dealt with by
the chairman of the society. at that time.’
Mr Fingleton, who once studied to be a priest, did not directly
address his affair with his former colleague. He remains married to
his wife, Eileen, They have three adult children.
Mr Fingleton said he ‘categorically repudiated’ any suggestion ‘that
the Irish Nationwide had incorrectly or improperly funded what was an
internal employment claim brought by a former employee of the
He added: ‘This matter was settled at the time for good and proper
reasons and in the best interests of the Irish Nationwide Building
Society and all matters in relation to this case was dealt with by the
chairman of the society. at that time.’ Miss Couse, once a renowned
hockey sweeper and one of Ireland’s most capped players, turned out
for the national team until the early 1990s, at one point coaching her
During her 20-year career with Irish Nationwide, she was one of a
small number of senior executives who were close to Mr Fingleton .
Having begun her career in the insurance side of the business, she
rose through the ranks to become mortgage administration manager in
the 1990s. She accompanied Mr Fingleton to events the society. was
sponsoring and was well known as one of his most trusted lieutenants.
By the time she left the society., she had taken over responsibility
for compliance, one of the most senior jobs at the institution.
At the time of her settlement, it was reported that her once close
working relationship with the chief executive had deteriorated to the
point that negotiations had failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion
for either party.
When approached by the MoS this week, Miss Couse acknowledged the
affair but denied that it had had any bearing on the financial
settlement she received. Referring to the settlement, she said: 'It
was a sexual… it was a harassment and bullying action that was taken
under the guise of the director of equality investigations.
‘And that’s what that settlement was in relation to. It was in
relation to nothing else.’
The payout was ‘based on my entitlement over 20 years’ service’. She
denied that Mr Fingleton played any role in deciding the settlement
since the matter had been handled by Irish Nationwide’s then chief
general manager, Maurice Harte.
‘He wasn’t even involved in it… Maurice Harte was the person
involved with it, and the company secretary. And it was unlikely that
he [Mr Fingleton] could have been involved in so far as he was a named
individual. So he would have been there from the point of view if it
was necessary to have a witness or something like that.’
Mr Harte declined to comment on whether the board had been aware of
the affair when the settlement was sanctioned, adding only that he had
had a frustrating time at the society.
He declined to say whether Mr Fingleton had played a role in the
settlement, saying: ‘I’d prefer not to answer that.’ An Irish
Nationwide spokesman also declined to comment on a series of questions
relating to the affair and also to the settlement .
But Con Power, a board member present at the time of the payout, told
the MoS that he was totally unaware of the settlement .
Mr Power said he would not be surprised if the matter had never been
raised at board level because of the personalised manner in which Mr
Fingleton ran the institution.
‘I resigned because another case which was about to begin had not come
to the board. It had never been discussed by the board,’ he said.
‘It’s entirely feasible. Because of the fact that I resigned for the
reason I resigned, I’d believe it. It’s quite feasible, absolutely
Neither Mr Power nor Mr Harte recalled a letter that Miss Couse is
understood to have written to the Central Bank in which she outlined a
number of compliance concerns at the society.
During Mr Fingleton’s tenure as head of the society., Irish Nationwide
helped disgraced Anglo Irish boss Sean FitzPatrick hide
multimillioneuro directors’ loans from the bank’s auditors. Every
year, Nationwide lent Mr FitzPatrick enough money to pay off the loans
for long enough to keep them off the annual accounts.
Mr Fingleton resigned in April of last year, more than three decades
after he had taken over at the helm. He walked away as the sole
beneficiary of a E27.6m pension scheme. He agreed to repay a E1m bonus
he was awarded in 2008. But as of last month, he had still not done