Wednesday 26 October 2016

Collins did not die for an Ireland of grubby deals for bent bankers

Tim Pat Coogan

Published 24/08/2015 | 02:30

Michael Collins
Michael Collins

Increasingly as the 100th anniversary of 1916 approaches and I think and research more about the Rising and its leaders, I am driven to the conclusion that the extent of our contemporary problems can be measured by the distance we have travelled as a society from the idealism of men like Michael Collins, who was commemorated at Béal na mBláth yesterday.

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Idealism is no namby-pamby condition lived by the unreal. Collins was one of the most ruthless and most pragmatic of men, prepared to sacrifice his life for what he believed in but ready also to work to bring his ideals to life by hard work, efficiency, honesty and integrity - all the words that went out of fashion during the Celtic Tiger era.

I believe that if Collins were alive today he would have both the guts and the ability to bridge the gulf that is opening up between improvement in the laws of the boardroom and those of the bedroom. We have stood up to the church in the areas of contraception, divorce and same-sex marriage. Abortion lies ahead.

But many of those who engaged in reckless trading and betrayed their fiduciary responsibilities go unpunished.

During the Northern Troubles, there was much talk of the republicans' demand for a declaration of intent on the part of the British to withdraw. In the Republic we had, instead, an all too realistic declaration of intent - the Galway tent. There was a perception that it was government by 'The Boys', the Men in the Know, who, as Oscar said, knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Collins's friend and leader Pádraig Pearse declared truly at O'Donovan Rossa's funeral that the legacy of Fenian graves meant that an unfree Ireland would never be at peace.

The legacy of 'The Boys' has meant a massive increase in suicide, emigration, homelessness, unemployment and national unhappiness.

Our crime figures are a disgrace. The full extent of them is not even recorded on the Garda Pulse system. The lack of peace is manifesting itself in the water charges controversy.

To put the thing in some sort of perspective, let us remember that legal cock-ups at one of the symbols of the Boys' rule, the Planning Tribunal, mean that multimillion-euro legal expenses for a handful of those involved - not all by any means - will cost more than what the Boys' government (and the present one) tried, and are trying to gouge out of the pockets of the elderly annually by withdrawing their medical cards.

Collins would never have tolerated the combination of waste, corruption, inefficiency and hard-hearted, bloody minded bureaucracy that lies behind that set of circumstances.

On the one hand, it is a matter of record that he was a kind-hearted man who hated waste and ran an efficient, corruption-free, national loan from the saddle of a bicycle, while simultaneously conducting a revolution.

On the other, where banks were concerned, he was prepared to take extreme measures against those who tried to use the banking system against Irish national interests.

His toughness towards bankers did not end with the War of Independence but showed itself on other occasions, such as when the Bank of Ireland attempted to withhold finance from the new administration.

He would not have allowed the banks to get into a situation wherein they first mulcted the taxpayer for some €70 billion and then tried to deny them mortgage relief.

All of this, of course, against a back-drop of obscene golden handshakes and pensions for the bankers - with a corresponding destruction of the pension plans of those who had invested their life savings in bank shares.

I believe that the Government, which claims Collins's heritage, should toughen its anti-corruption stance. A Banking Inquiry which parades a set of yesterday's men telling us all how sorry they are for the present situation and how little they had to do with creating it is not the answer to the gaps in our legal system.

At a minimum, the Government should return to its original plan to strengthen the Dáil's powers of investigation that was lost in the referendum.

Accountability is a pre-requisite of a democracy.

Collins is the classical figure of the lost leader in Irish mythology. "If Collins had lived..?" is a perennial question on everything from Northern Ireland to Europe.

However, I think I can fairly claim to have studied this extraordinary man's career more thoroughly than most and I say with certainty that if he were alive today he would not allow the white collar criminals to get away with it - especially as their activities impinged most on those for whom Collins had the most sympathy, the weakest in our society.

Irish Independent

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