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The Banking Crisis – Farce & Tragedy

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I’ve been remiss these last few weeks and I apologise for that. My life got suddenly busy, my play “A Victorian Eye” is about to open, on July 30th, with the Press Night/ First Night on July 31st. It will run until August 17th. Then my cd “Songs Of Love & Time” and my book “The Lives Of Cats” came out. And finally, I got asked to join Egg Post Production in Dublin as 3D Director on a children’s feature film.

This week I was in Munich for a couple of days for meetings about the film (it’s a German/Austrian/Irish co-production). On the flight back I was sitting next to an Irish couple, publican Liam and his wife Marian, and we got to talking about the Bankergate Tapes, conversations on the phone between top executives of the now defunct Anglo Irish Bank David Drumm, John Bowe and Peter Fitzgerald, as they planned to rip off their creditors and Irish Government, a.k.a. the Irish taxpayers.

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Happy-Go-Lucky pensioner (€150K+ p.a.) and erstwhile Taoiseach and Finance Minister Brian Cowen was reported to  say he was “surprised” by the tapes. My flight neighbour Liam said he must have meant he was surprised the tapes got found. It reminded us of the original Gate, Watergate. Why didn’t they destroy the tapes? Did they think, like Nixon, that they were important for future historians? Whatever the case, we both agreed that despite anything the politicians here may say then or now, no-one we know was surprised by the crash. You could see it coming like a slo-mo movie shot of a train wreck. Since 2005 or so it was clear to anyone that the bubble was fit to burst and it was only a matter of time. There were poorly built houses where I live, 90 minutes from Killarney and five hours from Dublin, priced at €650K. After the crash the price went down to €150K and that was still steep for the property. Builders knew what was going on but reckoned they’d keep going for as long as there were developers stupid enough to go on hiring their services and bankers stupid (or greedy) enough to go on providing finance.

So now we have the tapes. But will anything change? The current Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, an ex- schoolteacher and, as my mother used to say, a man so wet if you turned on a tap he’d come pouring out, has offered an Oireachtas Committee investigation, which would be as useful as assembling a group of ex-bankers to look into the causes of the crash.

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The assembled politicians have their own careers (and pensions) to protect and are as mendacious a bunch in their own way as any banker or developer. In America financial fraudsters have been jailed and/or fined. In the UK as well there have been criminal proceedings against them (I’m not sure with what results). Here… Well, here nothing has been done, no-one has been fined or jailed, and only one has been charged but immediately bailed. Though anyone you talk to will agree it’s all a scandal and a shame, the conversation almost always ends with a shrug and a What can you do? expression, usually accompanied by something along the lines of Sure, they’re all at it. No riots, hardly even a gathering of a crowd, though they’ll come out quick enough on the street to defend their pay packages, or their Croke Park Agreements, or to support or attack the proposed Protection Of Life During Pregnancy law, or their bonuses and pensions.

When Chancellor Merkel voiced her disgust at the Anglo Irish Tapes Enda Kenny said her remarks were directed at banking malpractice only, but  this is not the case and he should know it. The issue here is the weakness and incompetence of the government, the Financial Regulator, the senior Civil Servants involved in the regulation of financial institutions and the pathetic deference of politicians to high powered business and finance operators. The present government is no better than the last in these matters. The proposed Oireachtas enquiry will produce no substantial results, will not question the current government’s decision to accept all the terms of the bank bailout, nor their abject failure to indict a single one of the offending fraudsters in a court of law.

Part of the problem is surely the dynastic nature of the political class. This Taoiseach and the one before were both voted in as TDs at the age of 24 to take over their fathers’ seats in the Dail. They have hardly any practical experience of living in the real world. This has been a common practice since the Republic was formed, so the voters in Ireland have themselves to blame as much as anyone. And that’s just one of the systemic failures of Irish politics that must be solved if this country is ever going to grow into a genuinely independent and effective nation on the world stage.

It’s all very depressing is the truth. If you’ve been reading this blog you’ll have heard me rage against the failure to lay out a fully comprehensive, nationwide fibre optic network, or to sack spineless and useless politicians, or to keep the Seanad as the only safety net we have against a democratically elected dictatorship. None of these have even inspired a reply to my blog let alone has there been an outburst against the shilly-shallying incompetence of the government by anyone out there who agrees with me. Of course, if you don’t agree and reckon them all hard working geniuses of social leadership, good for you. But I’ve not met you yet, have I? I’m sure I’d remember such a rare being.

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