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All aboard the gravy train* (...*except for the general public)

Richie Boucher is living proof that the pedestal is sometimes more valuable than the vase. The chief executive of Bank of Ireland (BoI) clearly has a high estimation of his own intelligence, and does not regard €843,000 as inordinate recompense for his cerebral exertions.

In the real world, however, it is Boucher's neck rather than his brain that is recognised as the real treasure. At a time when the metal market is booming, brass of that quality and quantity is almost priceless.

While acknowledging the singular hardness of Boucher's neck, we should not overlook the equally formidable strength of his stomach. His ability to refrain from throwing up in response to some of the sanctimonious claptrap to which he is subjected from the most hypocritical sources is virtually superhuman.

Hotshot hard-asses like Boucher find it relatively easy to disregard criticism from people who don't really matter. Small shareholders, impoverished taxpayers and assorted other losers might kick up a fuss but the timidity of their fury is almost endearing. "Eff you, Mr Boucher!" trilled one scrupulously polite heckler at Wednesday's BoI AGM.

By contrast, nothing sticks in the craw of self-styled Masters of the Universe like criticism from fellow members of the fatcat elite, ostentatious attention-seekers who are complaining simply to ingratiate themselves with the common herd. The most cynical of these posturing blowhards are invariably politicians.

Enda Kenny and his ministers make nearly as much use of Boucher's salary as Boucher himself does. Whenever public controversy re-erupts over the pay and pensions lavished on the BoI chief – or any other banking bigwig – government representatives adopt their most determined voices and promise that this outrage will not be allowed to continue.

Moves are afoot, they insist. Wheels within wheels. Senior bankers have been hauled in and bawled out. Any day now, we will see evidence of the Government's resolve to let bankers know who's boss.

Kenny reprised this shape-throwing ritual once again last week, following the furore over Finance Minister Michael Noonan's abstention from the vote on an enhanced remuneration deal for Boucher and other BoI executives. Here, it seemed, was a perfect chance for Government to challenge the perverse continuation of state-subsidised banker enrichment. Rather than blocking further pay-rises, however, Noonan sat on the fence. His nod was as good as a wink.

Fending off Dáil questions, Kenny insisted that the BoI salary increases were actually part of a cunning plan to bring the bankers to heel. Within weeks, he pledged, we will see "substantial and significant" cuts in the pay of bank bosses. Honey today for Boucher, jam tomorrow for the public.

Condemning bankers for greed or arrogance is like condemning the ocean for wetness. Greed and arrogance are all but demanded by their job description. High finance is a crackpot world governed by the logic of the madhouse: spectacular failure is rewarded by massive bonuses etc. It is politicians who have decided that this lunacy must be funded from the threadbare pockets of the general populace.

Ireland's remaining banks would not exist if it were not for gargantuan state bailouts. The notion that Government cannot or should not exert strict limits on executive pay is self-evidently preposterous. By consistently refusing to take meaningful action, ministers confirm the suspicion that they are protecting bankers for fear their own salaries and pensions would be next.

Ultimately, it seems, the fortunes of Richie Rich and Enda the No-less Absurdly Overpaid are inextricably linked. Both men claim to be playing for different teams but check beneath their collars and you'll find an identically brazen gleam.

Irish Independent