Friday 13 December 2019

The Great Irish Sell Off review: It was really more of a horror story than anything else

Ian Kehoe on The Great Irish Sell Off. Pic: RTE
Ian Kehoe on The Great Irish Sell Off. Pic: RTE
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Monday night's documentary The Great Irish Sell-Off (RTÉ One) saw Sunday Business Post editor Ian Kehoe unravelling the story of how vulture funds have bought up a whole chunk of this country – and given that there doesn’t seem much we can do about it, it was really more of a horror story than anything else.

Here are some things we learned: 

1.These vulture funds don’t just buy the obvious things, such as hotels and offices, but they also take over debts and distressed assets – in effect, turning themselves into banks. In terms of numbers, vulture funds have purchased some 90000 mortgages and €200billion worth of property and business loans. That latter figure, incredibly, is larger than our national debt.

2. These organisations were described by Kehoe as “secretive, powerful, unaccountable”. Their modus operandi can be summed up as “the Three Rs”: receiverships, rental hikes and repossessions.

3. They “buy big, buy cheap and want a quick profit”. Their one goal, according to Irish businessman Sean O Broin of Design ID, who has tangled with vulture funds, is to “get you to walk away…you’re trying to deal with someone who doesn’t want a solution”. Their letters are “aggressive and hostile”.

4. Some of the names included: Lone Star (who tried to buy Nama outright in 2013); Cerberus (lately involved in controversy over the Nama/Project Eagle deal); Goldman Sachs (known as “the vampire squid”); and Blackstone, who invest “where there’s blood on the streets”. Charming people.
Chairman of the FSA Lord Adair Turner delivers his speech during the annual City Banquet at Mansion House, London

5. Lord Adair Turner, who was financial regulator in the UK during the 2008 crash, said that “the size of the Irish banking and real estate boom, as a percentage of GDP, was one of the biggest we’ve ever seen” – which makes us rich pickings for vulture funds.

6. According to property developer Michael O’Flynn, the State’s big mistake was not necessarily selling to these funds, but the fact they “didn’t demand commitment to future investment as part of any deal”.

7. IMF Head of Mission during the Troika period, Ashoka Mody, reckoned that losses on Irish banks will never be recouped. He also chided Ireland for getting involved with these funds and continuing to rely on tax breaks for corporations as part of economic strategy. “It is clearly time,” he said, “for Ireland to grow up.”

8. We’ll leave the final word to the legendary academic, Noam Chomsky, who told the programme, “It’s obvious that concentrated private capital will seek to increase its power – and the power is enormous.” He also, ultimately and probably rightly, laid the responsibility for this mess at our door: “When you say the Government could no nothing,” Chomsky added, “that means the public did nothing.”

The documentary caused a stir among viewers online.

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