Saturday 19 October 2019

Servile surrender sowed seed of doom

Submission to the vested interests -- be they bishops or bankers -- has ruined the State, writes Gene Kerrigan

Frankly, I wouldn't give them the steam off my porridge. But we're giving Anglo Irish Bank a whole lot more than that. To be precise, the bank that Sean FitzPatrick built is getting four thousand million euro of taxpayers' money -- and that's just this week. It's expected to rise to €7.5bn.

The air is alive with anguish and anger about the abuse of children. We're also in the midst of an election campaign. And, simultaneously, decisions are being made that will dump astonishing levels of debt onto our children, grievously limiting their lives. Decisions that apparently render the notion of democratic choice meaningless.

We have "no option" but to hand over the four thousand million to Anglo, says the Minister for Finance. No option. After all, it's not like we're a sovereign democratic state, is it?

There are all sorts of reasons why so many agents of the Catholic Church got away for so long with the wholesale physical and sexual abuse of children in their care -- and we're not going into them here. There is one aspect that's relevant.

The Ryan Report pointed out that the relationship of the State to the Catholic Church was deferential and submissive. But it was more than that. Those of us around in those days knew that some elements -- the Catholic Church, the GAA and Gaelic speakers, for instance -- were seen as more genuinely Irish than the rest of us. The interests of those people and the State coincided absolutely. To undermine any of them was to undermine the State itself.

The savage beatings of working class children were seen as necessary for discipline. The rapes -- well, that was just the brother or the priest momentarily losing control of his fleshly desires. Unfortunate, but a mere human weakness. Move him on, keep it quiet -- don't let it undermine the Church, the backbone of the State.

The same delusion was seen later, in a different guise. As Fianna Fail became increasingly successful, retaining office for lengthy stretches, it came to see itself as embodying the nation, as the Catholic church did for so long.

Many within Fianna Fail, people who themselves were not on the take, knew there was something dodgy about Charlie Haughey's ostentatious wealth. They knew that Liam Lawlor was a crook. They knew damn well what Frank Dunlop was up to as he hung around the council chamber, his pockets bulging with brown envelopes.

But Fianna Fail, as Haughey put it, embodied the "spirit of the nation". Individuals had their known weaknesses, but that must be denied, lest it damage the reputation of the party, and therefore the nation itself. And, anyway, the faithful figured that -- given their greatness, and all they did for this country -- maybe these guys were entitled to skim a little cream off the top.

And, let's be honest, too many people who now howl about the betrayal of children by the Catholic Church were always ready to leap to a servile defence of the bishops. That same public submissiveness allowed Haughey to evade the truth.

It was seamless, the transition of our deference from the Catholic Church to the Great Party, led by the Great Man of Kinsealy. And, later, the Great Man of Sterling Deposits.

And, in the heat of the economic boom, another set of elements allegedly came to embody the best of what we are.

Just as the corruption of the politicians became undeniable, and the credit bubble got ridiculously rotund, our borrowed wealth transfixed us. And we transferred our unquestioning deference to the entrepreneur, the speculator, the builder and the banker. For a time, they were untouchable. Remember the deferential and submissive tone of the RTE journalists "interviewing" these guys, morning after morning?

And last September, as the bubble burst and Anglo Irish was at the point of collapse, the politicians knew instinctively what they had to do. In truth, Anglo was a gamblers' bank, a small, tight cabal of deluded, incompetent gobshites with a too-high opinion of themselves. But to Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan, Anglo was a big bucks bank -- and what was bad for the banks was bad for the State. For, are the banks not the backbone of the State?

Where cool heads were needed, with an ability to ask what we, the people, required, Cowen and Lenihan kowtowed.

They recklessly gave the banks, all of them, a blanket guarantee. There was an argument for shoring up AIB and Bank of Ireland, but to this crowd a bank is a bank is a bank. And as Anglo fell apart anyway, they nationalised it -- not to dismantle it, but to save it.

Which brings us to our current fix.

Anglo is dead. A zombie bank. But its directors want to revive it -- not as a gamblers' plaything but as a small bank servicing businesses, a role Anglo always despised. We have as many retail banks as we need.

Why spend billions we don't have, billions we have to borrow, trying to change Anglo into another one? Because we dare not let any Irish bank fail, says Lenihan. To do so would create alarm among foreign investors. This is lunacy, but you can see how Cowen and Lenihan think it makes sense. They equate the banks with the sovereign State. So, they genuinely, sincerely, with the best of intentions, believe that foreign investors will see the failure of any Irish bank as a failure of the State, and refuse to lend any more money to the State.

Foreign and domestic investors gambled on Anglo -- they put billions into high-risk bonds. These people knew they were taking risks, and in the good times, for that risk, they got a bigger return on their investment. They gambled, they lost. They recognise this. But Cowen and Lenihan are bailing them out anyway.

And within the Government there isn't one minister -- not Dempsey, not O'Dea, not Gormley, not Mansergh nor Hanafin -- with the guts to object. The Cabinet, let alone the Oireachtas, has become a rubber stamp.

Patrick Holohan, economics professor of TCD, who has studied countless banking crises, put it like this. Yes, an Irish bank failure might cause short-term alarm among international investors. But, "mature reflection by the financial markets would recognise that a country honouring its debts and guarantees to the letter -- and not beyond -- was more creditworthy than one which handed over money lightly to unguaranteed risk investors".

In short, by betting the economic existence of the State on a failed bank, Cowen and Lenihan are signalling to foreign investors that the Irish Government is a nervous, unstable entity.

Not to worry. Sure, isn't the recession almost over? Brian Cowen says so. And, perhaps as soon as next year, he says, we'll be back to levels of "rapid growth".

Already, I've got that good old Celtic Tiger feeling. Maybe I should buy a new car, or a boat, or two. Perhaps a holiday home in Gortahurk, or invest in a couple of apartment blocks in the middle of a bog. Bring on that bubble! Happy days are here again! I mean, it's not like the Taoiseach would mislead us for electoral purposes, right?

Fianna Fail expect to be hit at the election box next Friday. And giving them a good kicking may relieve some anger. But the opposition aren't exactly bristling with radical options. Until we see ourselves as an active, vigilant citizenry, defending our schools and hospitals and jobs and livelihoods, deferential and submissive to no power block, there's no cure to what ails this creaking State.

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