Saturday 23 February 2019

Media grilled as Bank Inquiry bearpit uses hindsight to predict past

'For all his capacity to add to the gaiety of the nation, and in time he will be regarded as some kind of national treasure, Joe’s view of the world remains rigidly austere, and maybe worst of all, devoid of humour'
'For all his capacity to add to the gaiety of the nation, and in time he will be regarded as some kind of national treasure, Joe’s view of the world remains rigidly austere, and maybe worst of all, devoid of humour'

Gerard O'Regan

'We know there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.

"But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know.

"It is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.''

The meanderings of that wily old warhorse, former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, came to mind this week, as some of us media types entered the relatively mild-mannered bearpit that is the Dáil Committee on the Banking Crisis. The politicians were putting us through our paces and - with the shining clarity of hindsight - were determined to find out why our collective incapacity to predict the future was so parlous.

This particular political collective is but the latest attempt to try and find out why things went so pear-shaped in the housing market during the boom years.

As the hearing progressed, it seemed as if we were all embroiled in some kind of tortuous and bizarre mental gymnastics, which just might be dubbed "predicting the past''.

Inevitably, as some transported themselves back over the years, their sense of certainty and dogmatism as to what happened, and what was going to happen, during our so-called Celtic Tiger days, grew ever more daring.

And while the committee seemed to have a number of unabashed futurologists, none could bring self-righteous indignation to the same level as that doughty denizen of one of our left wing tribes - Deputy Joe Higgins.

Joe's vision of the world is all-seeing and clear. It brooks no alternative argument. Joe gives every impression that maybe his fantasy period of history would have been, say, 1950s Albania. Back then, perhaps holding down some sinecure such as a ''Commissar for Economics'', he could have given full vent to his fantasies for the Great New Socialist World.

Joe could scour the countryside as part of a crack team seeking out those perfidious "bankers and speculators'' on whom he blames so much of our woes. After he had rounded them up, to be incarcerated in some central, government-controlled re-education centre, he would then be free to herald a new golden dawn for the masses.

For all his capacity to add to the gaiety of the nation, and in time he will be regarded as some kind of national treasure, Joe's view of the world remains rigidly austere, and maybe worst of all, devoid of humour.

But as we were legitimately quizzed on what were our thoughts during the Tiger days, it was impossible not to feel a touch of unreality underpinning the whole thing. The horse has long since bolted - there are some who left the stable door open - but there are others who certainly did not.

Susan O'Keefe, a one-time investigative journalist of some renown, is now earning a crust as a Labour Party senator. The inherent waywardness of the journalism world now seems to be but a memory to her - and we can only wonder what were her own predictions of the future back in those Tiger days before boom gave way to bust.

But despite such quibbles, let the Committee do its thing. If it can seek out the green light which will help us traverse dangerous and unknown pathways in the future, so much the better for us all.

Our politicians, in government and opposition, could of course back in the day have tempered the Irish instinct for property excess. But stricter lending guidelines, and resorting to the dreaded option of increased taxation for house buyers to dampen down an overheated market, would not exactly have been a great vote winner.

And we will never know how much of a role human greed had to play in the whole crazy pyramid scheme. The unthinking quest for an ever more spacious home, in a ever more salubrious location, or a taste for the riches to be made from owning an apartment in faraway Bulgaria, played a bigger role than we dare to admit.

In the meanwhile, chasing red herrings and matters of no consequence remains a risk when competing politicians from different parties gather in conclave.

This week, they devoted some hours to considering the views of some obscure academic by the name of Julien Mercille. He has cast himself in the role of being some kind of messiah when it comes to the media, and its alleged involvement with spiralling house prices.

When it comes to the foibles of newspapers, in particular, Mr Mercille seems to be an expert on all those ''unknown unknowns'' which challenge ​lesser mortals.​ Such is the way of self-appointed gurus. However, his arguments suffer from one overwhelming weakness - I cannot recall him predicting the crash either.

Irish Independent

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