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Ex-Taoiseach warns against scapegoating individuals

'Expose their failings and impose penalties, but forgive' says Bruton

Former Taoiseach and Finance Minister John Bruton has hit out at the media for what he described as scapegoating individuals "for the problems of our people".

Mr Bruton, who has an ministerial pension worth €138,000 per year and is now the highly paid chairman of the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in Dublin's Docklands, warned that people have been unjustly scapegoated in Ireland.

Speaking at St Mary's Church in Haddington Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin, he railed against "jealousy" and "backbiting" in the Irish media as well as an absense of forgiveness. Mr Bruton was speaking at an event entitled 'Economic and Political Crisis in Europe: A Christian Perspective'.

"Jealousy and backbiting and criticism of individuals, ritual humiliation of individuals, seems to have become stock and trade of our media. All on the basis of some notion of accountability -- that people should be scapegoated in the interests of accountability.

"And there is one word that it seems to me that is being driven out of discourse in Ireland, in particular in the media, who do what they are doing because people read what they are saying -- the media reflects ourselves back to us. There's one word that seems to be missing out of this discourse -- and that is the word forgiveness.

"Of course people must be deterred from committing offences. Of course failings should be exposed and people should suffer a penalty. But once that has happened they should be forgiven and they should be allowed to retain their dignity. I think we need to reflect on that in modern Ireland."

Speaking afterwards to the Sunday Independent, Mr Bruton spoke about the current furore surrounding banker's pensions and their failure to hand back their six-figure pensions: "I think the Minister for State recently pointed out that pensions are a form of deferred remuneration -- therefore the recipient has some property right in that. And there is a risk, obviously, if you were to take away people's property right in one area that you're opening the door to taking it away in another."

But he added: "Whether things can be done on an emergency basis, to solve problems in the short-term with a view to allowing people to regain these rights afterwards when the emergency is passed, is something which might be looked at."

Pressed about the fact that top bankers cost the taxpayer billions he cautioned once again against the scapegoating of individuals.

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"I don't, as I said, have much sympathy for the scapegoating of individuals and I find that -- in some of the manifestations of your own profession-- not to be a very attractive thing.

"Holding people up to be pursued individually. Remembering that every one of these people have families and that they may have made mistakes but we have a process of law for determining the people who have done things against the law. But if you made it a crime to make a mistake I think very few people wouldn't be in difficulty.

Elsewhere in his speech at St Mary's, Mr Bruton touched upon Ireland's journey from boom to bust and how people got carried away as banks loaned money: "We were inexperienced in a way. Leading bankers and economists were inexperienced and our citizens were inexperienced and the availability of all this cheap money took our breath -- and our sense -- away.

"I would argue it was just foolishness," he added.

Meanwhile, cautioning against the introduction of too much regulation in the aftermath of the bust, he said: "I think all this regulation that has been introduced is sort of like slamming the stable door on the horses in the next field. Because people will make the same mistakes again no matter what regulation is in place." He also strongly argued against the raising of corporation tax, as demanded by the French and German governments.

"I don't think it should be raised. Because we gave assurances that we wouldn't and its one of the reasons that these firms came to Ireland -- they were given assurance that this was going to remain the rate of tax.

"This country depends more on foreign direct investment more than any other country in Europe by far, by several multiples, so there is one thing we can't do and that is break our word."

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