Sunday 23 October 2016

Lone 'yes we can' man is out on his own in this world full of 'No'

Published 24/04/2016 | 02:30

There's something about a man who's got it right, when everyone else has got it wrong, a kind of a presence that is at once startling and deeply reassuring.

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Naturally it is startling because it is so rare that we encounter such a man, telling his truth, and yet the truth itself has such a powerful effect, it seems to liberate us for a few moments from the stress of the untruths which quietly bear down upon us all day long.

Thus it was energising, and yet somehow tranquilising, when Edmund Honohan, the Master of the High Court, went on the Claire Byrne Show recently to inform the political class that they don't seem to understand the law in relation to what is happening with the vulture funds, but that he, being the Master of the High Court after all, can clarify it for them.

It goes something like this: when a minister declares that this vulture fund thing is all a bit unfortunate - but that he is constrained by the law and by the Constitution and by everything else from making an intervention in this terribly difficult area of property rights, he is in fact wrong.

Honohan insisted that when the public interest demands that the government intervenes in such a situation, the government can go right ahead and intervene. He cited the example of land being compulsorily purchased to facilitate the building of roads, as an example of the property rights of individuals being declared inferior in law to what is perceived to be commensurate with the common good.

Now this Honohan didn't seem to me like some kind of an eccentric, some lawyer who is bored by the daily routine of repossessions and bankruptcies and who longs for the lights of the show business.

No, he just seemed like a man who knows the law, and who feels obliged as a matter of urgency to share that knowledge, because there is so little of it out there, it is not even funny any more.

He even had a solution - when it was put to him by Claire Byrne, that Nama had sold all these properties to the vulture funds, that the damage was done, as it were, Honohan explained that what you do, is you make a Compulsory Purchase Order under legislation which "doesn't take too long to draw up", and you buy the properties back at the price that the vulture funds paid for them.

Result: Happiness.

Naturally I expected that by the following morning, Honohan would have become an authentic national hero, a kind of a Morgan Kelly in reverse - while Kelly's truth-telling had traumatised us, Honohan was telling us that we were not powerless against these apparently insuperable forces, that in fact we had the power if only various members of our ruling class could be persuaded to use it on our behalf.

Indeed by his very appearance on the vulgar medium of television, Honohan was embarking on an extraordinary experiment in radical public-spiritedness. Because usually, when an eminent individual realises that the interests of the rich may be challenged by the lower orders, he is happy for that information to be kept out of the public domain, until it is quietly fixed and we all move on. Or he just sits back and allows the wrong information to take root, until eventually nobody even thinks of doubting it.

By intervening in this way, Honohan was going against an entire culture. And yet as I waited in vain for his contribution to be widely celebrated, I realised that it had all probably been too much for us, that we were just not ready for this.

We just don't believe any more, that the law can be an instrument which provides a simple and just solution, that it can enable us to do something that pertains towards the common good, because all we hear about, is what can't be done.

All we hear is talk of complications and impossibilities, so that the very mention of a "legal issue", tells us that we are in a world full of No.

And this has been reinforced by a political culture which has now developed such a pathological aversion to anything which might "interfere" with these great forces, it brags of its own incapability, it seizes on any opportunity to do nothing with a kind of ravenous relish. Nothing To Do With Us Mate, is engraved on their coat of arms. No Can Do, is their battle-cry.

Even when Edmund Honohan tells them that there are things they most certainly can do, they look at him as if he is the crazy one, and then they just ignore his idea because, for a start, it might discourage others from "investing" in Ireland- as if it will be a really bad thing for Paddy, if he gets on the wrong side of these vulture funds.

Like, you never know when you'll need these guys to make a quick few hundred million out of your misery, right?

Then the No Can Do's return to the one thing that consumes them, this Byzantine carve-up that they've been attempting since the election.

But perhaps the thing they least understand, the thing that makes them most uneasy, is why Honohan would be doing this, when there's nothing in it for him.

What is wrong with this guy?

Sunday Independent

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