Friday 28 October 2016

Grandeur of Great Hall the wrong room in which to hear the Gospel according to Trichet

Published 01/05/2015 | 13:35

Jean-Claude Trichet, former president of the European Central Bank, answers questions from members of the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry committee at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham
Jean-Claude Trichet, former president of the European Central Bank, answers questions from members of the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry committee at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham

They picked the wrong room in which to hear the Gospel according to Jean-Claude Trichet (or JC to his pals).

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Although the top brass of various Irish banks have been obliged to slum it in the Spartan surrounds of Committee Room 1 in Leinster House where the Banking Inquiry is based, the whole kit and caboodle decamped to the Great Hall in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, where the former boss of the European Central Bank (ECB) had graciously agreed to address the grateful populace on how the beneficence and wisdom of the ECB had snatched the collective backsides of the feckless Paddies out of the fire.

But despite the grandeur of the Great Hall (though there was grim irony in the fact that glaring down from every wall in the room were stern portraits of bewigged poobahs who ran Ireland before we were a sovereign nation) the ‘interaction’ with Monsieur Trichet should have taken place in the Baroque Chapel across the corridor.

For the deferential reverence and bending-of-knees which greeted the visitor on his arrival to the event hosted by the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) was little short of gobsmacking – and frankly dispiriting.

The almost hour-long lecture by Mr Trichet was bookended with a laudatory introduction by the IIEA’s Brendan Halligan and an encomium by way of a response from Dr Michael Somers, vice-president of AIB. “I think Jean-Claude was a good friend to us,” he reckoned.

Mr Trichet may hail from France but alas, one would find more Gallic flair in a Parisian jeans store. He’s a self-satisfied number with a penchant for careful pronouncements, and despite his strong French accent has been described as “more German than the Germans themselves”.

He was also somewhat incongruously sporting a bit of bling yesterday afternoon – an Apple Watch, the just-released geek status symbol of the season which peeked out from underneath his jacket sleeve as he wagged a finger to emphasise a point or when the questions from the floor turned a trifle impertinent.

He denied that the ECB had applied the screws on the Irish government not to burn the bondholders. “The ECB simply gave advice on this issue,” he insisted. But nothing is ever that simple.”

He spoke enthusiastically about the “MIP being as important as SGP”. Few, if any among the sparse audience in attendance (the security was tighter than backstage at a One Direction gig, as heaven forfend that any annoyed citizens might have infiltrated the cosy gathering) had a clue what that meant. Some in that audience pined for his view on the AMA response (Ask My... oh never mind).

So what about those impertinent questions from the floor? In fairness, having decided to capitulate and meet Mr Trichet on his terms and turf of choosing, some of the gentlemen and lady of the Banking Inquiry committee did make an effort to extract some actual answers – even though they were sitting in the front of the audience addressing him onstage.

There was much focus on the fraught period when letters were exchanged between the ECB and then Finance Minister Brian Lenihan.

Having earlier lauded the late minister with whom he had “a close and confident relationship”, in response to questioning he robustly denied that he phoned him three days before the bank guarantee to insist that the Irish government save its banks at all costs.

This was in direct contradiction to a 2010 interview with Mr Lenihan. “There was no call to Brian,” insisted Jean-Claude.

But then he began to get a little tetchy with all the Brian questions. (The minister not being around to defend himself, sadly). “Brian knew we were helping Ireland more than any other country. He was thanking me for the help received,” he replied irritatedly.

Nor was he impressed with Joe Higgins, who asked rather reasonably if the ECB’s actions had been in the interest of saving the skins of the Irish people or bank investors.

“We have helped Ireland more than any other country. It seems to me there is something missed here,” he huffed.

The open gratitude of a nation, perhaps?

But it was all smiles again at the end when he was presented by the IIEA with a book on the history of Dublin for his trouble.

One could bet one’s (negative-equity) house that the book doesn’t include the last few wilderness years in the capital and beyond.

On reflection, they picked the wrong room altogether for the event.

It should have been held in the concrete carcass, the building of broken dreams which is the abandoned Anglo site on the city’s quays.

The banking grave overlooking a land devastated by recession, within sight of the flightpath of departing jets which took our young and hopeless away, which stands in a skyline denuded of cranes.

The symbols of a country stripped of the dignity of sovereignty and of the comfort of knowing that powerful allies were looking out for the battered people and not the bust banks.

Online Editors

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