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Branded golf balls were a mistake, Ireland's former bank regulator says

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's financial regulator, whose "timid" supervision was criticized for not halting the country's banking crash, produced branded golf balls to promote itself before the office was overhauled, a parliamentary inquiry heard on Thursday.

Promotions such as golf balls or umbrellas bearing the logos of banks were commonplace in Ireland during their rapid growth a decade ago. That growth ended in the most expensive bank bailout in the euro zone when a property bubble spectacularly burst.

Patrick Neary, who was head of financial regulation from 2006 to 2009, was asked on Thursday what the regulators were thinking when they handed out the golf balls.

"Your job was the micro-prudential supervision of the banks. What was going on?" inquiry member Susan O'Keefe asked Neary, in the most anticipated hearing since lawmakers began to question bank executives, regulators and politicians.


"It must have been a package of things that were delivered, I really don't know much about it other than when it was unearthed and I became aware of them, it was discontinued," Neary said. "I regret that. It was a mistake."

Regulation in Ireland before its banks imploded seven years ago was described as "excessively deferential", "timid" and "accommodating" in an official 2010 report by Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan, who has since overhauled the system.

Neary said on Thursday that cracking down on Ireland's banks before the crash would have conflicted with government policy to promote the country as a financial services center.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin)