Thursday 29 January 2015

What's shocking is the threat to all we own

It's the Government, not badly behaved bankers, that we should be worried about now, writes Colum Kenny

Published 30/06/2013 | 05:00

WHY are politicians and journalists claiming that they are "shocked" by the sneering, jeering and coarse tone of the Anglo Irish Bank tape recordings that emerged last week? What did they expect?

What shocked me last week was Joan Burton on RTE. Even this minister, whom one hoped might be beyond it, jumped on to Taoiseach Enda Kenny's bandwagon as his Government indulged in a deserved but opportunistic kicking of Fianna Fail. People need a lot more than that now.

And Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton spoke of "seething with anger" about what he had heard on these tapes, tapes that reflect badly on Fianna Fail in government.

Yet Bruton and his Government still ignore other tapes – those of Michael Lowry, published first in the Sunday Independent. They reveal facts that do Fine Gael no good.

When Richard Bruton asked last week how bankers found it so "easy to dupe" regulators, he knew quite well that part of the answer lies in the kind of culture on which Michael Lowry and others have thrived. It has been a culture of winks and nods and jobs for the boys, where too many people making bad decisions have got where they are for reasons other than excellence.

And the decisions and actions that led to the bank bailout are still not fully explained.

Last week Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton asserted in a slightly pained or bitter way that, well, the Government did give the people a chance to vote in a referendum for a banking inquiry but "people in their wisdom" (seemed like a sneer) rejected this.

No, Joan. The Government (if I may use a technical banking term here) f**ked up the referendum on powers for an Oireachtas banking inquiry by not doing it properly.

Can a Government that could not even get a referendum right be trusted to get a banking inquiry right? It seems unlikely.

Joan sounds like one of the bishops. They, too, blame the people. They think we have all become "pagan". Or so a substantial number of bishops were said last week to have told the Association of Catholic Priests. It is not that the hierarchy or the political system is unhinged, you see. It is just that we the people are not worthy of our lords and masters.

At least RTE played and reported the banker tapes. When it comes to what Taoiseach Enda Kenny last week called the "axis of collusion" between private money and Fianna Fail, it seems that the state-owned broadcaster is not afraid to take a chance.

But when it comes to the "axis of collusion" between private money and Fine Gael, the station has not managed to deal seriously with the Lowry tapes. Is RTE afraid of the Government?

Any "shocked" politician or journalist who did not realise a long time ago how things get done behind closed doors in Ireland is a fool. And anyone who thinks that bankers would not try to get the best deal possible from a government is an idiot.

The question is not, "How dare they?" The question is, "How exactly did they get away with it?" The Lowry tapes and the banker tapes help to explain this. And we only know that much thanks to the media.

The bad language of bankers is beside the point. Few of us would like to have our phone conversations recorded and later replayed at random. Many people use coarse language and make sharp comments as part of

the daily cut and thrust of preparing for public moments.

But if we had governments that worked well, and regulators that regulated, it would not matter now that a banker said "arse" in 2008.

And a couple of bankers going to jail would be a circus, not a solution.

As for German sensitivities, their bondholders and bankers happily helped to get us into this mess. But the bondholders got paid. If Germans do not like their national anthem still being sung as "Germany above everything" then, after the Second World War, they should have dropped the whole anthem and not just its first verse with that first line. Germany will survive.

The real question is: what will happen to Ireland, which as German Chancellor Angela Merkel brutally reminded us last week is a weaker country now, depending on German and other EU taxpayers to save it from an even worse disaster? Are we actually able to recover? Young people are leaving the country in droves. Too little has changed fundamentally.

The Oireachtas is paving the road to hell with good intentions. The quality of discussion about the future of the Seanad, which even now as it faces abolition seems utterly incapable of coming up with a clear and convincing proposal to reform itself, is indicative of a much wider political malaise.

Who is really shocked by the bad language and sneers of a few bankers five years ago? I am not.

What shocks me is a Dail that still cannot muster regular meetings and fuller houses to do business in a way that is fit for modern purposes. And politicians who still find jobs and other rewards from the public purse for their families and friends. And an Oireachtas that has yet to investigate the banks and that, despite such "shocking" tapes, will break for long holidays before beginning to look at even a few superficial aspects of the banking crisis. Now that is shocking.

For its part, the Catholic Church ought by now to have become a model of national leadership through moral example and reform. Instead the hierarchy is hysterically dispatching 10 weekly letters on abortion as it tries to cling to its last vestiges of worldly power in Ireland.

What shocks ordinary people is not the usual behaviour of powerful elites such as bishops and bankers. We only have to visit our banks to be reminded of what they think of us.

What really shocks Irish people is the threat to everything that we own, and new generations condemned to emigration, and economic hardship that was avoidable.

If ministers really are shocked to hear how a few brash bankers treated the government and its officials back in 2008, they had better brace themselves to learn what citizens think now of the treatment of people by banks, bishops and politicians.

"F**ked up the a**e," as the Irish Banking Federation might say, is not the half of it.

Irish Independent

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