FOR too long, I knew too little about Johnny Ronan, the celebrity property speculator. Basically, I knew he was a celebrity; and that he was a property speculator.
nd, most important, that he was not having a "relationship" with a certain young lady. I knew this last bit because one day in May of 2009 Johnny's PR outfit issued a statement on his personal life. It informed the nation, "for the record", that Johnny and the young lady were not in a "relationship".
Being somewhat out of touch with modern fashion, it came as a shock to me that one is obliged to inform all and sundry of the detail of one's personal life. I immediately drafted a press statement in which I too attested to the fact that I wasn't having a "relationship" with the lady in question.
In the spirit of transparency and accountability, I felt duty-bound to add that I wasn't currently on intimate terms with Scarlett Johansson, Keira Knightley or Cate Blanchett, either. (On the question of myself and Ms Natalie Portman, I remain tight-lipped.)
In addition to his celebrity, his property speculation and his lack of a relationship with that young lady, I now know something else about Johnny Ronan. Johnny fights his corner.
Last week, while our slightly fluttery Taoiseach was mooching around the economic gabfest at Davos in Switzerland, Johnny Ronan's legal troops were hunkered down in the trenches of the Four Courts, engaged in a sniping duel with Nama. A full-scale assault is expected to follow this skirmish in the High Court on February 21. With, perhaps, subsequent battles in the Supreme Court. And perhaps it will go on to some Euro-court. And from there, as far as I know, to the Supreme Magistrate of the Arbitration Council of the Intergalactic Empire.
The sort of guy Johnny is, I'm told -- he'd be feeling
a bit peckish, so he'd whistle up the private jet and zoom off to a nice little bistro in, say, Marrakech. Johnny knows how to live, so he does. Now, however, times are hard. Johnny's outfit, Treasury Holdings, is said to owe up to €2bn (Treasury says €1.5bn).
Now, if I owed up to €2bn and my assets were a package of properties in a market where prices are wonky, I'd -- well, I'd feel a bit sheepish. Which is the difference between me and Johnny.
Nama, it appears from court reports, valued those alleged €2bn loans at €900m, and bought them at that price from the banks. And for two years it has been engaged in talks with Johnny's outfit. A report in The Irish Times says Nama turned down an offer, from some investment people, of up to €400m for the "assets" for which they paid €900m. Nama wants to put the assets into receivership.
Far from feeling morto, Johnny is gung-ho about Treasury's prospects, and he's fighting Nama every inch of the way. Now, I have nothing to say about the merits of the legal case. I merely wish all concerned a prosperous future, and I've no doubt it will be so.
Here's the thing.
Johnny is fighting his corner. Over in Boston, David Drumm of Anglo spent last year relentlessly throwing legal punches. Some evenings, half the RTE news is taken up with footage of Sean Quinn going into or coming out of one court or another. The lads who financed Sean Dunne's Knightsbridge-in-Ballsbridge fantasies used the courts to lever him out of his hotels. Sean, I'm sure, is reconfiguring his forces, with a view to advancing on other fronts.
The media is awash with reports of rich people suing Nama or the banks or each other. They dispute this, they refute that. The courts are asked to adjudicate on whether a personal guarantee meant something was guaranteed personally. And whether someone who signed a ream of legal papers was legally responsible for the undertakings contained therein, now that they claim they hadn't a clue what it was about.
Landlords staunchly resist change in their notorious "upward only" rent review system. The Pope was delighted, one hopes, when a bunch of Fine Gael TDs decided to fight to force the Government to spend money on a Vatican embassy. Fighting for the things that matter, that's what life's about.
Word seeps out about one minister after another fighting ferociously to save a "special adviser" from the indignity of having to accept a salary of €92,000. Richard Bruton, Brendan Howlin, Joan Burton, Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney. All pushed their advisory lads up to €114,00 or €127,000. Well done. I like to see that kind of fighting spirit.
Gumption. That's the ticket. All around us, people are standing up for their interests. They have the support of ministers, sometimes of Nama, of countless high-price lawyers and consultants, and they all seem to live the lives of lottery winners.
This Government is so committed to our right to fight for our interests that it brought in a special law that encourages us to shoot burglars. I spend at least three nights a week sitting at the top of the stairs, cradling my beloved Smith & Wesson double-action .45 semi-automatic, in the hope that some young lad will try to steal my flat-screen TV.
Fighting spirit, that's the Irish way. The Fighting Irish. Stand back and let me at him.
Over the past week, however, while robust citizens like Johnny Ronan have been fighting their corner, I've had to listen to the kind of feeble, ineffectual, spineless whimpering that would put Eeyore to shame. And it came from the Government.
For a long time, it's been clear that tens of billions of private debt is being transferred to the citizens. And that this is done under duress -- with the European Central Bank threatening to destroy our economy if we resist. International observers are puzzled as to why we insist on paying the failed gambling debts of Irish, German and French bankers.
The Government pretended it had a cunning plan (we'll impress them with our docility and they'll take pity on us.) Michael Noonan simpered his way across Europe. Good boy, said the ECB, well done. Enda Kenny rubs shoulders with the wealthy and powerful and amuses them with his stories of our madness. "Mad, they are -- mad altogether, bejayzus, yer honour. By the way, any chance of a dig-out?"
Varadkar and Coveney, the two youngest in a complacent Cabinet, have dropped the pretence that the Government agrees with the ECB extortion. Varadkar admits the ECB threatened an economic bomb. Coveney agrees what's happening is disgusting, but says we must bow to threats.
The Government has encouraged me to shoot anyone who tries to steal our 00 D Hyundai. Meanwhile, ministers wag their tails while tens of billions are transferred to bankers -- in the biggest robbery in the history of the nation.
To balance the books, there's no social advance that can't be rolled back. No social benefit paid for through decades of work that can't be withdrawn. No social contract that can't be torn up. And unlike Johnny and his peers, we respond with the ferocity of teddy bears.
Enda's right. We're mad.