Tuesday 27 September 2016

The Yates Anthology: Professor must bring pragmatism to role

Published 24/10/2015 | 02:30

Professor Philip Lane
Professor Philip Lane

Money makes the world go round, the song tells us, a fact which makes the Central Bank (CB) Ireland's most important institution. Responsibility for the sustained stability of our financial institutions rests here. We know how failures in 2008 upended the entire economy, so the appointment of Governor is no minor matter.

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Brian Lenihan's appointee, Patrick Honohan, marked a departure from the old custom of nominating the former Department of Finance head - like TK Whitaker, Maurice Doyle, Maurice O'Connell and John Hurley. Dame Street was no longer to be the downtown office of Merrion Street.

Robert Watt is a most formidable and capable civil servant - currently spearheading the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, with its agendas to modernise the public service rooting out any potential restrictive practices. It is an ambitious plan for reform. And, to date, he achieved notable gains - albeit not as profound as he claims. He deserves promotion to Secretary General in finance, or perhaps in the Taoiseach's department. He's eminently employable in private sector.

But the Cabinet was still correct to select a non-civil servant as Governor. The Central Bank's independence is the cornerstone of credibility. Professor Philip Lane is also hugely respected in ECB circles, has a towering intellect and is cerebral. But his tenure must signal the acceleration of change at the Central Bank. Abolishing the superfluous one and two cent coins through 'rounding' is not the only meaningful change that needs to be tackled.

For one, 1,500 staff is way too many - personnel numbers increased several-fold since 2010, despite the fact that there were fewer financial institutions to police.

This is a zone where the experience of senior personnel is critical, yet Stefan Gerlach is set to depart to Switzerland from deputy governorship before the year ends. Meanwhile, Matthew Elderfield and Fiona Muldoon have left. In my view governors appear restricted to two public interviews a year, a tradition of secrecy which is outdated but still holds.

More transparency is a key requisite. There must be open explanations accompanying all decisions. For instance, the Central Bank's thinking on mortgage limits was never explained publicly.

A separation of prudential and consumer regulation within the CB inherently involves a conflict. Tracker mortgage customers of PTSB and AIB currently seek recompense and loan restoration from same body that's charged with these same banks' viability. Safeguarding simultaneously, both poachers and gamekeepers, is a tricky proposition.

No politician attempted to grapple with the inherent weaknesses of Irish loan books, due to a reliance on personal guarantees instead of fixing on secured assets as collateral. This is disastrous for a borrower's individual solvency and leads to lazy and bad lending practices. One must hope that the professor will bring practical pragmatism to the job.

The bell now tolls for other sacred cows

RTE's retention of the Angelus bells didn't make it into the Top Ten of 'In The Name of Jaysus', a new book with the little things that drive us mad (e.g., Good Friday pub closures, pharmacy/dentist rip-offs, pedantic, picky NCT failure reasons, corny attempts at Irish accents). It should have. My childhood was scarred with those 18 bloody 'bongs' of nothingness.

Montrose bosses succeed in upsetting everyone by replacing this sacred cow with some artistic-token blather from filmmakers. Devoted Catholics were outraged at the latest step of secularisation by ditching this prayer, while atheists are never happy.

Kevin Bakhurst is a shoo-in to replace departing DG, the youthful Noel Curran. He should just give a momentary time-check at 12 noon and 6pm, in anticipation of Dobbo and Sharon. We don't have a Big Ben, but any timer will do.

I'm now emboldened to step up campaigns to rid us of other RTE outdated anachronisms. All Nuachts (independent radio and TV disregard them, most people can't extract information from them); Lyric FM (treasures Gaybo and Marty must get alternative gigs); and the orchestras should be privatised, saving us €12 million annually. The jury is out on the oldies at 2FM.

Billy's such a big loss

American forces tracked down Osama Bin Laden quicker than the media could locate IABA CEO, Fergal Carruth, this week.

Kieran Mulvey's evidence to the Oireachtas committee was a seminal moment in the politics of sport - on a par with Rehab's disclosures to the Public Accounts Committee that had such an impact.

The revelations about the way the world's best boxing coach, Billy Walsh, was spancelled in dealing with the media, the Sports Council and the Olympic Council was as contemptible as it was ridiculous.

Acting against the wishes of ministers and the public isn't clever when your salary and financial survival depends on taxpayers. A new corporate governance template for accountability should be put in place to oversee future publicly-funded sports administration.

The suits in sport have a minimal role at world-class elite performances. The Kilkenny County board doesn't tell Brian Cody who to pick as corner-forward, PGA blazers have no say in the Ryder Cup teams and honorary Turf Club stewards can't run the horse racing industry. The tragedy is, while right-hand man Zaur Antia may continue the coaching of the High Performance Unit inside the ring and in the gym, there's no replacing Billy's individual leadership, mentoring, development and meticulous planning. USA's gain is most definitely our loss.

Irish Independent

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