News Shane Ross

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Get real, McCoy, we don't want a return of Tiger

Shane Ross

Published 16/02/2014 | 02:30

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FROM PROSPERITY TO HERE: BoI boss Richie Boucher with Ibec’s Danny McCoy at the chinwag. Photo: Mark Condren

DANNY McCoy of the employers group Ibec was losing the run of himself. "Of course," he declared at the big business bosses get-together last Wednesday, "we should go back to the Celtic Tiger. We should just be more sensible.

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"The Celtic Tiger gave us a prosperity in which our living standards are immensely higher today than they were 10 years ago. This notion that we do not want to go back there is nonsense."

Danny speaks for himself.

God knows what pills they were popping at the Ibec conference last week but there was more than a whiff of nostalgia for the Celtic Tiger. The conference was the re-embodiment of headier, but darker, days.

For a full half day many horrors of the Celtic Tiger were revisited.

Danny McCoy is no hypocrite. He practises what he preaches. What he preaches is absurd.

Only chief executives were supposedly eligible for the €480 tickets (€530 to non-Ibec members) to the binge. It was exclusive, an occasion to flatter the bosses' futures with Ibec's bullish economic forecasts. If any of Ireland's ordinary taxpayers could have afforded entrance, they would never have stomached the line-up of speakers and sponsors. The Celtic Tiger was being beckoned back. Ibec was rubbing salt into Irish citizens' wounds.

Top of the list of speakers for the absurdly named From Here to Prosperity conference was one of the men who steered the economy into the rocks. Instead, he brought us straight From Prosperity to Here! A living ghost of the Celtic Tiger – no less a person than Richie Boucher – was paraded as the star turn.

The chief executive of the Bank of Ireland has certainly enjoyed prosperity in the intervening years. A key architect of our downfall, a survivor to boot, a bull of property, an overpaid banker with annual remuneration of €843,000 was one of Danny's top choices to address the assembled multitude of chief executives.

Richie proceeded to put his two feet in it when he likened Bank of Ireland's behaviour at the time of the Celtic Tiger boom to a "good girl" at a "wild party". It was deeply insulting to taxpayers. And Ireland's sisterhood was not amused.

Richie's flippant remarks did not seem to faze one of only two members of the sisterhood chosen to perform at the conference. Anne Heraty, a lesser-known ghost of the Celtic Tiger, shared the pre-lunch panel with Richie.

The blurb about Anne on the programme somehow forgot to mention that she had been a board member of none other than Anglo Irish Bank at the peak of the lending frenzy.

She had lived through the controversies but was forced to resign. The conference programme merely referred to her position as chief executive of CPL Resources.

It seems that Ibec has reserved a speaking spot at its annual conferences for fallen directors of Anglo. Last year Gary McGann, who was made to step down from Anglo at the same time as Anne, graced the conference with his wise words.

Enda Kenny had left the premises on Wednesday long before the two reminders of the lending boom had ascended to the stage. Even he might have been embarrassed to shake hands with them.

No one else seems to have batted an eyelid. Not surprising, when you consider the venue and the composition of the delegates. The grandiose location was consistent with McCoy's theme of reviving the Celtic Tiger folly. Chief executives were being chauffeured down the quays to no less a building than the Convention Centre, a living monument to the development boom. No better place for them to fantasise for a few hours about returning to the Tiger days.

The employers' group was being exposed in all its nakedness. Its biggest funders have always been the big banks and the semi-states. Both BoI and AIB have doggedly lined their pockets with six-figure annual subscriptions. They must be missing the subs from Anglo and Irish Nationwide, such loyal supporters for so long. Someone should tell them they will not be back.

Yet bankers were piling into the Convention Centre on Wednesday. Boucher brought along Pat Farrell, his sidekick recently recruited from the Irish Bankers' Federation. The surviving suspects like AIB, Ulster, KBC, UBS and BNP Paribas added to the delegate numbers.

Bankers apart, where were the business people? There was a modest turnout, but of the 350-odd delegates no less than 36 came from chief sponsors PwC accountants, alone. PwC padded the headcount with delegates. Yet no company was better placed to mourn the loss of the Tiger than PwC. It was auditor to Bank of Ireland for the entire period, drawing over €100m in fees over 10 years. PwC even gave the Irish banks' loan books a positive report at a crucial period after the bank guarantee.

PwC provided one of the main speakers, Feargal O'Rourke. They also happen to have taken nearly €69,000 from Ibec in auditors' fees and other services in 2012. One good turn deserves another.

Ibec's other chief funders, Ireland's semi-state dinosaurs, were out in force at the conference. Fas (now Solas) sent along two delegates. An Post, Bord Bia, the National Library, the HSE, the Competition Authority, RTE, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Eirgrid and the ESB all ponied up. Government departments sent along 20 delegates. And, of course, Ibec themselves produced 28 bums to fill empty seats.

There were hard-working business people there, too. Surprisingly, a respectable collection of multinationals turned up. Big names like Google were missing. So too was the new consumer-friendly Michael O'Leary of Ryanair. He has not softened to such an extent that he would be seen dead listening to waffle from wimps reminiscing about the joys of the Celtic Tiger.

A pity O'Leary did not relent on his well-documented contempt for the employers' group and turn up. He would surely have been apoplectic when McCoy made his utterly nonsensical appeal for a return to social partnership, a pillar of the Tiger years.

One of the few blessings of the collapse of the Celtic Tiger is the death of social partnership. Bertie Ahern, Ibec and its brethren in the trade unions carry a heavy responsibility for runaway public expenditure in the boom years. McCoy may be missing his seat at the top table, but Ibec's contribution to stopping our drift to disaster was non-existent. Its acquiescence in the benchmarking deal should have been the signature on its own death warrant.

McCoy's predictions that the economy will grow by 3 per cent this year, leading to a new boom, are a foolish hostage to fortune. His reckless suggestion that the economy can grow by 3 to 4 per cent annually – double the European average – over 20 years, would reduce the prophet Isaiah to laughter.

His current campaign for a cut in income tax is fatuous because it comes from Ibec, such a flawed source. In support of this campaign one of the most ridiculous features of the conference was Ibec's decision to hold a poll of delegates asking them if tax cuts would stimulate growth. The result was a 93.65 per cent vote in favour of lower taxes.

Imagine, asking an exclusive group of plutocrats if they approve of cutting taxes. Today they should be holding an enquiry to unmask the 6.35 per cent who voted against.

Someone should tell Ibec that the Celtic Tiger is dead. And that the employers' group died with it.

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