Thursday 25 December 2014

Gerard O'Regan: We're still shoddy, self-centred and fumbling in that greasy till

Gerard O'Regan

Published 27/04/2013 | 08:47

Richie Boucher

RICHIE Boucher remained stolidly stony faced – his features a mixture of aggression and passivity – as he endured the rage and resentment coming from some of those in the assembled throng.

It was but the latest act in that long running soap 'The Irish Banking Scandal' which has mirrored a kind of national psychosis on matters financial over the past few years.

In public relations terms this week's AGM was an excruciating own goal for Bank of Ireland, but more significantly for the Government.

It was also an example of real cute hoor politics on the part of the normally sure-footed Finance Minister Michael Noonan.

He had decided to absent himself from this meeting of crucial importance to the beleaguered Irish taxpayer.

He should have been there as the strong arm representative of the Coalition, given that such a large amount of public money has been used to keep this institution afloat in perilous times.

But this reality had little bearing on the tone and texture of the AGM. We had the scarcely believable situation where a so-called public interest director – who just happens to be a former Fianna Fail minister already on an over-generous taxpayer funded pension – received yet more money, for among other duties, overseeing pay rises for his peers.

Overall the meeting was a dispiriting affair, fuelling iconic televisual images, which can but only erode the moral authority of this government.

In trying to put things into context, it must also be acknowledged that some of the hysterical collective condemnation of bankers and our banks – in post-Tiger Ireland – is all too often self-serving and simplistic.

The reality is that if back in more heady times, both borrower and lender could see a worldwide financial meltdown on the horizon, then of course everybody would have behaved differently.

Personal responsibility for borrowing should be paramount. But at the same time there must remain a sensible indulgence of risk-taking by the banks, if our economic life is to flourish, with the drive and vitality to spur human effort in areas such as job creation.

It may well be that Richie Boucher is a financial wizard par excellence, and that he will be one of those who provides the springboard for a new dawn in Ireland.

And an absolute tenet of free enterprise is that the labourer is indeed always worthy of his hire. Perhaps taking into account his talents, and the demand for such abilities on the international market, he may even be underpaid.

But that is not the point on this occasion.

Maybe, just maybe, this time round that old-fashioned concept called patriotism should come into the equation.

Maybe that now hoary old cliche from the John F Kennedy inauguration speech all those years ago – "ask not what your country can do for you... ask what you can do for your country'' – should resonate through the decades.

But instead this get-together brought to mind the lines from the WB Yeats poem about the small-mindedness of those who "fumble in a greasy till and add the halfpence to the pence''.

The self-centred shoddiness of it all left a bad taste in the mouth. By the time Enda Kenny eventually spoke in the Dail about the responsibility on senior bankers to cut their own pay and pensions, the damage was done.

This will no doubt happen in a matter of days but the central point remains. Allowing for the verbal excesses of a country soaked in begrudgery, the reduction in income will in the public mind be from an unacceptably high level.

It's ironic that the Bank of Ireland shambles should happen as the Coalition confronts an entirely different assault on its moral authority, which could seriously damage its capacity to govern for the remainder of its tenure in power.

In blunt terms the public service unions have rejected demands for pay cuts for two very obvious and concrete reasons.

The first is that unlike those working for private companies they know full well that come what may their jobs are rock-solid secure.

The other is their conviction the Government will not have the bottle to confront threatened widespread industrial action.

They could be right on both counts. If they are reading things correctly it means a fudge is on the cards.

But at the end of the day this will fool no one.

Should the Government capitulate, it will inevitably provide a spur to a variety of other interest groups, who have been cajoled and threatened to play their part in the fight for national recovery, to adopt an equally dogged rejectionist stance.

It will be argued why should they continue to endure the travails of austerity, if those with perceived industrial muscle can avoid such pain?

If the Coalition backs down on this one its cutting edge will be no more – and some of the daunting economic challenges still on the horizon could well swamp them and all of us.

All in all it's been a bad few days for Kenny, Gilmore, and those who guide our political destiny.

Irish Independent

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