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'Vanity Fair' shows us warts and all to the world

THEY say there's no such thing as bad publicity. Flick through the pages of the March edition of Vanity Fair, and see just how wrong 'they' can be.

Fresh from his travels through two of our fellow economic basket cases -- Iceland and Greece -- Michael Lewis has sharpened his nib and skewered our international reputation in a way that homegrown members of the fourth estate, despite their best efforts, have so far failed to do.

It's an account that will entertain and enrage the nation, and today the Sunday Independent reproduces some of Mr Lewis's choicest observations

On the Irish economy

"One credit-analysis firm has judged Ireland the third-most-likely country to default. Not quite as risky for the global investor as Venezuela, but riskier than Iraq. Distinctly Third World, in any case."

On Ireland's loss of sovereignty

"The only obvious change in the country's politics has been the role played by foreigners. The new Financial Regulator, an Englishman, came from Bermuda. The Irish Government and Irish banks are crawling with American investment bankers and Australian management consultants and faceless Euro officials, referred to inside the Department of Finance simply as the "the Germans".

Walk the streets at night and, through restaurant windows, you see important-looking men in suits, dining alone, studying important-looking papers. In some new and strange way Dublin is now an occupied city: Hanoi, circa 1950."

Economist Colm McCarthy on former financial regulator Patrick Neary

Neary's now-infamous appearance on RTE's Prime Time on October 2, 2008, in which he stressed that the Irish banks were sound, led McCarthy to comment: "What happened was that everyone in Ireland had the idea that somewhere in Ireland there was a little wise old man who was in charge of the money, and this was the first time they'd ever seen this little man. And then they saw him and said 'who the f*** was that?' That's when everyone panicked."

On the use of the Irish language in the Dail

"The first thing you notice when you watch the Irish parliament at work is that the politicians say everything twice, once in English and once in Gaelic. As there is no one in Ireland who does not speak English and a vast majority who do not speak Gaelic, this comes across as a forced gesture that wastes a great deal of time."

On Bertie Ahern

"The first to take his seat [in the Dail chamber] is Bertie Ahern, the prime minister from June 1997 until May 2008 and Political Perp No 1. Ahern is known both for a native shrewdness and for saying lots of spectacularly dumb-sounding things that are fun to quote.

"Now Ahern is just another Irish backbencher with a hang-dog slouch and a face mottled by broken capillaries."

On former AIB chief executive Eugene Sheehy

"An Irish stockbroker told me that many former bankers, some of whom he counts as clients, "actually physically look different."

He'd just seen the former CEO of AIB, Eugene Sheehy, in a restaurant being heckled by other diners. Sheehy had once been a smooth, self-possessed character, whose authority was beyond question.

"If you saw the guy now," says my stockbroker friend, "you'd buy him a cup of tea."

On former Anglo Chairman Sean FitzPatrick:

"Sean FitzPatrick, a working class kid turned banker, who built Anglo Irish Bank more or less from scratch, is widely viewed as the chief architect of Ireland's misfortune: today he is not merely bankrupt but unable to show his face in public."

Billionaire Dermot Desmond on his investment advice:

"I said to all the guys, 'Always take money off the table'. Not many of them took money off the table."

On the Irish obsession with home ownership

"Irish people will tell you that, because of their sad history of dispossession, owning a home is not just a way to avoid paying rent but a mark of freedom. In their rush to freedom, they built their own prisons. And their leaders helped them to do it."

On Taoiseach Brian Cowen

"He is not an obvious Leader of Men. His movements are sullen and and lumbering, his natural resting expression a look of confusion."

On Cowen and drink

"And the truth is, if you were to design a human being to maximise the likelihood that people would assume he drank too much, you'd have a hard time doing better than the Irish prime minister. [Brian] Lenihan, who follows on Cowen's bovine heels, comes across, by comparison, as a decathlete in peak condition."

On Labour Party Finance Spokeswoman Joan Burton:

"In an hour of chatting about this and that, she strikes me as bright, and basically good news. But her role in the Irish drama is as clear as Morgan Kelly's: she's the shrill mother no one listened to.

"She speaks in exclamation points with a whiny voice that gets on the nerves of every Irishman -- to the point where her voice is parodied on national radio."

On Joan Burton's solution to Ireland's economic problems

"When I ask her what she would do differently from what the Irish Government is doing, even she is stumped. Like every other Irish politician, she is at the mercy of forces beyond her control."

On Finance Minister Brian Lenihan:

"Brian Lenihan is the last remaining Irish politician anywhere near power whose mere appearance does not cause people on the streets of Dublin to explode with either scorn or laughter."

On Lenihan's attempts to play down the Irish economic crisis

"He proceeds to make the collapse of the Irish economy as uninteresting as possible. This awkward social responsibility -- normalising a freak show -- is now a meaningful part of the job of being Ireland's Finance Minister."

On our bankruptcy laws

"Irish bankruptcy laws were not designed for spectacular failure, perhaps because the people who wrote them never imagined spectacular success."

Businessman Denis O'Brien

On Bank of Ireland's plans to challenge Anglo Irish Bank's growth: "I remember the CEO coming in and saying, 'We're going to grow at 30 per cent a year.' I said, 'How the f*** are you going to do that? Banking is a five to seven per cent a year growth business at best."

Sunday Independent