Tuesday 18 December 2018

We need emergency law to punish guilty fat cats

Like the IRA, these people too have been responsible for loss of life, writes Tim Pat Coogan

TWO things should emerge from the present crisis. Firstly, any incoming government must introduce emergency legislation whereby those responsible for that crisis are punished both financially and by jail sentences.

Secondly, there must be a far greater realisation of the truth that politics is much too serious a business to be left to politicians.

I'll return to the legislation issue in a moment, but first let me point out that in a sense we are all responsible for what has happened. We were lazy and we left it to the worshippers, not merely of the Golden Calf, but of a Golden Bullock. How many of us have ever either joined a political party or taken any part in the selection of candidates on the formulation of policy?

On the basis of present projections, there will be a huge democratic deficit in the Dail. It promises to be almost all government and no opposition. This is completely understandable, and even desirable, in the present situation, but it poses long-term dangers, particularly if we proceed as we should, with abolishing the Seanad and slashing the number of bold TDs.

If we're going to get out of this situation by democratic methods, as I believe ultimately we can and will, we cannot avoid the necessity of taking a more hands-on approach to the way in which our lives are run. Giving into defeatism, simply because so much of our independence has been ceded to Germany via the ECB is not an option.

However, to return to the issue of emergency legislation. There is a well-established precedent in this country for such provisions. We introduced it to prevent the IRA attacking another jurisdiction. The people who brought us to the situation which was revealed in all its infamy last Tuesday were attacking us. And their deeds will have to be paid for by our great-grandchildren.

The attack was carried out by what is sometimes referred to as a politically protected "golden circle", a combination of wealthy business people, bankers, financial authorities and controllers of great pillars of our commercial life who moved vast funds in and out of dodgy businesses run by their pals, before and after the auditors showed up. What were these auditors doing? Should they be exempt from sanction? Should the stockbrokers, who advised clients to put the money into corrupt banking banks, be exempt too? And what, above all, of the politicians who provided them with the essential political cover?

The golden circle involves a relatively small group. But in the current situation, in which we are being asked to share the pain of Black Tuesday -- and remember there are at least three more Budget days like it yet to come -- their influence on our sense of national cohesion is like an oil slick at sea. Natural growth remains impossible until the slick is dissipated.

Legal detergent should be poured on the slick golden ones by way of legislation. Whatever the law is called, it should be framed so as to punish criminal incompetence, corrupt financial dealing, negligence, blind-eyeism, cronyism --whatever one chooses to call it, these are the crimes which should be pursued. The guilty ones have resources at their disposal and no doubt the cry will go up: Repugnant to the Constitution.

Very well then, let us have a referendum to change the Constitution. Let the people decide whether the fat cats should go to jail.

And let me be brutally frank. Like the IRA, these people too have been responsible for loss of life.

How much have they added to the suicide rate? To the numbers sleeping rough? It is utterly opprobrious to attempt to right the present chaos by heaping pain on the innocent while the guilty ride off into the sunset with huge pensions, obscene bonuses and offshore accounts.

The poor lose money for their children. Elderly people are facing terror-filled twilight years because their hard-earned investments in bank shares have been rendered worthless. Yet up to recently at least, the same banks were getting away with tricking an incompetent government into continuing to pour taxpayers' money into them by devices such as instructing bank managers to hide their true situation by suppressing part of their debts until the following year.

Even now, I understand, certain Swiss bankers are expressing quiet surprise at the amount of money flowing in from allegedly broke Irish businessman.

Such a situation is not merely unjust. It is a recipe for widespread social unrest. A wrong of historic proportions has been visited on the Irish people. The nation that struggled through 1798, the Famine, the Land War, 1916 and the bloody aftermath that resulted in the setting up of a sovereign Irish state, has been forced to mortgage the deeds of nationhood.

This was not what the "stepping stone" policy envisaged by Michael Collins (and ultimately accepted by all parties, including de Valera's Fianna Fail) was intended to lead to. If one were to ask an Orangemen today what he thought of the idea of a United Ireland, he could validly reply: "You mean you want us to help pay your debts?"

I have considerable respect for the Criminal Assets Bureau, and indeed for the gardai's officer cadre generally, but the State's puny efforts to deal with white collar crime so far have shown up a lack of the necessary accountancy and legal back-up. The tribunals have only served to reiterate the truth of the saying that the law is like the Ritz hotel -- it's open to everybody. The current investigations into what the bankers got up to could also be spun out indefinitely -- vide the rubbish about there being no way to get into certain encrypted files.

An emergency situation demands an emergency response. Accordingly I will give my vote at the forthcoming General Election to the party that demonstrates that the pain really is being shared and convincingly proves that not alone is justice being done -- it is seen to be done.

Sunday Independent

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