Wednesday 16 January 2019

Brian Brennan: Voters dealt with FF, now others must be punished

Brian Brennan

WE all knew that if Fine Gael did not find itself in a position to go solo into government, the Kenny and Gilmore teams would sit down together and thrash out a programme which would require compromise and some capitulation on both sides.

Politics is, after all, the art of prediction as well as the possible.

But, given the perilous state of the nation and the urgency that is required, would it have been too naive to expect that real politik, Irish-style, might have been set aside for once and that the men and a few women who will now run the country might have found a grown-up way to garner votes?

The bitterness of the competitive exchanges between Fine Gael and Labour and the policy gulfs that emerged did not inspire confidence that the country was about to get the stable, focused Government it so desperately needed.

But for Fine Gael and Labour to present a coherent, joint plan to the electorate, in advance of voting day, would have been to break the rules of the Irish political game, a game that involves posturing, spoof and mock indignation.

Politicians love it, and it matters little to them that the public is sick of games and would prefer to see some real action.

If even some of the promises made during the coalition parties' election campaigns are to be realised, it will indeed be seen as positive action, but there is some additional unfinished business that also needs to be dealt with.

Voters comprehensively punished the outgoing Government for bringing the country down.

They punished politicians because the ballot box gave them the power to do so. But the public do not have the power to punish the other guilty parties who helped create the economic crisis. It is therefore an unspoken part of the electorate's deal with the two generously rewarded parties that they will neither forgive nor forget, but will use the executive powers they have been awarded to pursue and punish the guilty.

First, it is an inescapable fact that Ireland's bankers lied consistently, even as the country slid towards disaster.

Initially, they pretended there was no crisis and, when that pretence became unsustainable, they distorted the depth of the crisis.

Then they lied about the true state of the loans they would be transferring to the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA). They calmly declared that 40pc of their loans were "performing", that is, generating money. The truth, according to NAMA, is far less than that.

But do we detect any remorse? On the contrary, the hubris of Ireland's unrepentant senior bankers persists. It was apparent last year when the Bank of Ireland tried to bung €1.5m into its chief executive's pension fund to ease the pain he had to suffer when the Government capped CEO salaries at €500,000.

And only last week it was revealed that officials of the same bank repeatedly misled the then Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, insisting no performance-related bonuses had been paid to its senior management.

In fact, more than €66m had been paid in bonuses which were "performance linked", but which the bank chose not to classify as such.

The minister relayed to the Dail the misinformation he had been fed. How many times was the Dail -- and indeed the tax-paying public -- misled in such a fashion? And how can we be sure it will not happen in the future?

So much for the bankers, but what about the inexplicable failure of bank auditors to react to what was happening?

Did they not understand what was going on?

Brendan McDonagh, NAMA's chief executive, spoke of "a troubling picture of poor loan documentation, of assets not properly legally secured and of inadequate stress-testing of borrowers and loans" and a "reckless abandonment of basic credit risk and prudent lending" at a time when the seeds of negative equity, human misery and family home repossession were being sown.

But the auditors remained oblivious.

And then there were the reckless, incompetent lawyers.

In a seminal piece of journalism last year, under the heading, 'Ten reasons why your outrage is justified', the late Alan Ruddock wrote in the 'Sunday Independent': "The whole edifice of greed and excess was built on legal contracts that weren't worth the paper they were scribbled on. We pick up the tab for their (lawyers') dereliction."

Yes, it was inevitable that if Fine Gael failed to make up the numbers to form a Government on its own, there would be much resiling from positions which were adamantly held before the negotiating with Labour began.

But the voters did not vote for a mish-mash of two manifestos. And the compromises made by both parties must weaken the perception of the combined whole.

It is easy to sleep on another man's wound and there is a risk that the wounds inflicted on this country in the recent past by conceited, greedy and self-serving opportunists might be subsumed in an atmosphere of change although, unfortunately, not radical change.

If the new coalition wants to dispel that whiff of weakness and vacillation, it could begin by dealing with the people who contributed to the national economic collapse at least as ruthlessly as the voters dealt with Fianna Fail.

Irish Independent

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