Gene Kerrigan

Friday 25 July 2014

Gene Kerrigan: Despite allegations, we still don't blame ourselves

Poll points finger at the door of FF/Green government, bankers and developers

Gene Kerrigan

Published 04/03/2012|05:00

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Did we all party, as Brian Lenihan charged? Did we go mad, as Enda Kenny claims? Apparently not, if the results of the Sunday Independent poll are to be believed.

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After four years of rhetoric aimed at inducing guilt in the citizens, only three per cent of people see themselves as primarily to blame for the crash. A mere 12 per cent believe the citizens bear any blame at all.

The effort to convince us that economic recklessness consisted of getting a mortgage to put an over-priced roof over your head appears to have failed. It's the FF/Green government (39 per cent) and the banks (35 per cent) that take the primary blame. In assigning "any blame", a massive 85 per cent point the finger at the banks, 77 per cent at the government, and 46 per cent at the developers.

Since the crash, politicians have done a lot of finger-pointing at the former financial regulator. Yet only 38 per cent find the regulator to blame at all -- which is less than half the percentage of those assigning blame to either the FF/Green government, or the banks. And only eight per cent find him chiefly to blame

The public seem to have understood that light touch regulation wasn't just a failure of the regulator's office, it was official policy. When prudent regulation is sneered at as needless red tape, recklessness is given its head.

The State might take heed of the huge 77 per cent of us who believe it unlikely that there will be any criminal prosecutions of bankers. Only 18 per cent believe it likely. Four out of five people believe the law is ineffectual in these matters -- which is about what you'd expect.

This belief hardly derives from just the drawn-out investigation into alleged wrongdoing by bankers. We've had years of tolerance of blatant perjury at tribunals, and of the Revenue allowing highly organised tax fraudsters to buy their way out of trouble.

The results of the poll are as gloomy as one might expect from a population in its fourth year of taking a beating. The wonder is surely not that 57 per cent think the economy is weaker than it was 12 months ago, as year after year of austerity sucks the energy out of it. What is puzzling is the 15 per cent who somewhere have evidence that things are getting better. They are almost certainly blood relations of the 28 per cent who agree -- strongly or otherwise -- that the Government will successfully negotiate a better deal on the interest on money borrowed to bail out banks. Forty-two per cent take the opposite view.

This issue is clouded by the fact that the Government repeatedly claims to have already "negotiated" less harsh terms. Since everyone knows there were no negotiations, that we benefited from the deal achieved by the Greeks, any claim by this Government of hard work or triumph is treated with scepticism -- even if there might possibly be some validity to some such claims at some stage.

More likely, sooner or later, some elements -- probably within the IMF -- will insist on easing the pain, for fear of killing the patient. Either way, the Government's credibility on these matters is weak.

There's evidence of strong scepticism about those we are expected to refer to as "our external friends". Only 20 per cent agree, or strongly agree, with the suggestion that the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund "have Ireland's best interests at heart".

Forty-eight per cent believe the EU/ECB/IMF have the best interests of international bankers' at heart. Again, on the evidence, this seems a reasonable conclusion.

The political effects of austerity-without-end are mixed. Labour is seen as an appendage to the Government, with just seven per cent seeing it as successful. It's hard to make your mark when you're implementing policies you campaigned against.

The confidence in individual politicians may well be not a reflection of their abilities but of the public's long-held views about their areas of responsibility. The Taoiseach, with no specific area of responsibility, is regarded as one of the best, by 15 per cent (and one of the worst by eight per cent). He gets to have his photo taken a lot, and to fly back and forth getting things ratified by our external friends. Ratings necessarily follow from the personal qualities of the Taoiseach, rather than ability with a portfolio.

Likewise, Mr Noonan gets to speak soothingly and has even better percentages (15 positive, four negative). Like the late Brian Lenihan, he seemingly can't be held responsible for the state of the nation's finances, since it is not he who exercises power but the EU/ECB/IMF.

Health Minister James Reilly is regarded as among the best ministers by only three per cent, while 15 per cent see him as among the worst.

The equivalent figures for Ruairi Quinn, in Education, are two and eight per cent. It may be that the long-term problems and current cuts applied in health and education mean that anyone in these posts will get bad ratings.

While Joan Burton is highly regarded by 12 per cent (and badly rated by eight per cent), the equivalent figures for her leader, the hapless Eamon Gilmore, are three and six per cent. Only 22 per cent believe he closed the Vatican embassy on financial grounds, and 40 believe it was for political reasons.

Some ministers labour in obscurity. Only two per cent see Brendan Howlin as among the best, the same number who place him among the worst. Five per cent think Phil Hogan is one of the worst ministers, one per cent think him among the best. Phil might best be described as a bit septic.

Sunday Independent

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