News Shane Ross

Sunday 21 September 2014

Shane Ross: Playboy, pariahs and PPI

Published 14/10/2012 | 05:00

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What a stroke of luck for Bank of Ireland! The Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) mis-selling scam has arrived in Ireland.

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Monday

The BoI is seeking an "independent third party" to oversee its investigation into its own mis-selling of PPI.

Lo and behold, it has the very man, squatting on the top floor of its headquarters in Dublin's Baggot Street. No man on earth is better qualified to dig deep into the mysteries of PPI.

There he is, the ideal investigator, the BoI's very own Governor, Archie Kane.

Archie is an unsung expert in the PPI field. Archie was the director of Lloyds Bank (Insurance) before he retired and landed in the Bank of Ireland Governor's office. Archie was held accountable by Lloyds Bank's board for part of Lloyds' massive mis-selling of PPI.

Lloyds was forced to put aside €3.2bn to provide compensation for victims of its overenthusiastic PPI insurance salesmen. Archie was held accountable, but, of course, not culpable.

Indeed, poor Archie lost more than €200,000 of his 2010 bonus after the unfortunate PPI affair at Lloyds.

Unfazed, the Bank of Ireland board made him Governor. What foresight these guys had. They would soon need an expert in the murky world of PPI.

Strangely enough, last summer's bland announcement of Archie's appointment made no mention of his hidden expertise.

Archie could yet earn his €390,000 stipend advising Bank of Ireland on the PPI scam. Somehow, I guess, he will keep the head down.

The next AGM will be interesting. By then (next summer) we should know all about how Archie has dealt with the PPI sinners in the Bank of Ireland. Will he cut their bonuses?

TUESDAY

Today is the day that I discover what it is like to be a parliamentary pariah.

Nick Webb and I invite scores of TDs to the launch of our book The Untouchables. A few fellow Independents show -- but only one party TD turns up.

Just one, out of a total of 150 deputies! Not a "Sinner" in sight. No soldiers of destiny. No comrades of the Left. A single member of FG, Olivia Mitchell, appears.

Have I got the message? Anyone who targets Ireland's untouchables wins few friends in Dail Eireann.

The Merrion Hotel was not the place for Oireachtas insiders to be seen on Tuesday. From a crew of people partial to free drink, this paltry turnout was puzzling.

Many more TDs were reported to have shown up at the Taiwanese Embassy's party in the Shelbourne Hotel on Wednesday. Of course, the Taiwanese are generous with political "fact-finding" trips to the tiny Republic of China.

TDs feature in the book all right, but it is far tougher on judges, bankers, civil servants and quango queens.

Perhaps the prospect of Eamon Dunphy doing the honours scared them off. If they think The Untouchables is dangerous enough to merit missing the free drink, they had better leave the country when Eamon's memoir is published next year.

Earlier in the day -- in Leaders' Questions -- Enda had conceded nothing to my suggestion that his phantom bank debt deal was melting away.

He insists that the bank debt is "the subject of intense and ongoing discussions and negotiations".

A pity that on Monday, the new head of the ESM, Klaus Regling, had ominously insisted that legacy debt had "not even been discussed in any European body so far".

Ouch.

WEDNESDAY

Good news day. Brendan Howlin, Public Expenditure and Reform Minister, appears to have rediscovered his backbone. He will, after all, abolish 88 allowances for serving public servants.

Even better news is the sabre-rattling from the bearded brethren, screaming about a breach of the Croke Park Agreement. The beardless Siptu vice-president, Patricia King, and their health spokesman Paul Bell bleat about being on a collision course with the Government.

It all suddenly sounds rather promising.

Any savings in fatcat public service salaries were welcomed in the Dail by Mattie McGrath.

After a fine speech calling for cuts at the top, he livened up the debate on the mind-numbing Fiscal Responsibility Bill, converting it into a controversy about the Taoiseach's appearance on the cover of Playboy magazine.

Mattie quickly corrected his mistake to identify the less salacious Time magazine, but Mattie-watchers were left wondering whether the Tipp TD had mischievously tripped himself up on purpose.

Poor Enda's moment of global glory provoked scorn from others. Fianna Fail's Billy Kelleher mocked the Taoiseach, suggesting that the entire stock of Time magazine had been sold out in his home town of Castlebar.

In the evening, Nick and I head out for TV3 to be grilled by Nora Owen on Midweek. I had been told a thousand times not to appear on the screen without a wig if I'm joined by the debonair Nick -- with his long mane of dark hair and his youthful energy.

Stubborn to the last and bald as a banana, I defy the advice. I take one glance at the screen when I arrive home. Never again.

Sadly, we skirted around the most explosive part of the book: political control of judges' appointments.

A pity, because Nora had been Justice Minister when the fig leaf -- the Judicial Appointments Board (Jab) -- was set up. Jab is known as "Jabs for the Boys" down in the Law Library.

THURSDAY

Leo Varadkar, the Minister for Transport with the jet black hair, restores his status as a hero.

Leo has reversed his decision to throw another €36m at the tottering CIE to stop the inexplicable cash burn at this State basketcase.

Good for Leo. Was he listening to my protest at the massive waste in CIE at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) just a week ago?

At another meeting of the PAC, ministers Brendan How-lin and Brian Hayes explain how to save money in the public service.

Both ministers talk a good culling game. But the emphasis is mostly on head count, and less on culture.

The public service needs an injection of private sector ethos. Yes, the prospect of bonuses for work well done, the end of jobs for life, longer hours and an appreciation of profit.

Too many great workers in the public service are blackened by the practices of passengers. And the antics of their union leaders.

Late in the morning, we hear PJ Fitzpatrick, chairman of the Croke Park Implementation Group, tell us that trades unions are not bad at all. The union leadership is obviously still fooling a few civil servants. Well-paid, bearded trade union chiefs sit pretty. The lower-paid remain pawns.

I take refuge from the tributes to the trade unions, fleeing to the sanity of the Dail Chamber to speak on the Fiscal Responsibility Bill. Justice Minister Alan Shatter, happily back in full health, replies.

FRIDAY

After a day in Leinster House, I head for the Ireland V Germany game. Not a bad preparation for an early flight to Berlin on Saturday morning. It's just a pity Enda didn't invite Angela as his guest to the game.

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