Wednesday 23 October 2019

Brendan O'Connor: 'Why we owe it to our past'


Sinead O'Connor on The Late Late Show on RTE One
Sinead O'Connor on The Late Late Show on RTE One
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

We wondered again last week at what an extraordinary country this once was. It was all very well seeing famous people getting off their big debts as they settled into personal insolvency plans. Men who played the piano on The Late Late Show, women who presented Sunday night quiz shows, former Miss Irelands and celebrity restaurateurs. Though perhaps there was a clue in that too - that you could be a celebrity for owning a restaurant.

Those kinds of people racking up big debts was nothing unusual. They were famous and so, presumably, rich. So of course you would lend them money. They had the magic touch. What could go wrong?

But we marvelled as we remembered that we were once the kind of country where a garda could rack up debts of €6.8m. Ah, we thought, those were the days, all right. Those were the days when even the proverbial shoeshine boy was playing the property market, when no pub or rural shopping centre or corner plot of land was safe from some entrepreneur who was going to turn it all into apartments. It was a no-brainer. Opportunity was everywhere. And everyone had a friend who could get them in on an opportunity, maybe not even in Ireland, maybe in Eastern Europe, in a place you'd never heard of and would never even see. Opportunity knew no boundaries. It did not discriminate.

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And the banks didn't discriminate either. The garda, the nurse, the teacher, the farmer, the journalist. All had access to plenty of cash. Cash that would be no problem to pay back once the planning permission was secured and the property knocked up. Or sure, feck it, you could flip it, without doing anything to it. Or maybe it would just pay itself back over 20 years, out there in Eastern Europe, while you ignored it. And then, at the end, you'd have a free apartment in somewhere or other.

There was a quaint little detail in the case of the garda and his wife who owed €6.8m. One of the creditors was the credit union, who were owed €7,500, and who were chasing it still. A mere trifle in the grand scheme of things, practically 0.1pc of the total owed. And you remembered when the credit union was your only man. They'd give you the deposit on the property as long as you called it a car loan, or even money to go to the World Cup if you called it home improvements.

It was a different country all right. You'd doubt there are many guys out in Japan this weekend on the credit union. Then again, a lot of those guys probably came out of everything OK.

That other Ireland haunted us over the weekend too. Feile is on again, and Sinead O'Connor is singing Nothing Compares 2 U again. There's been a lot of water under the bridge for her and all of us since she sang it first and since the first Feile. And maybe, older and wiser, we are inclined to think that this time, we'll let someone else take the opportunities.

Maybe we'll leave it to Google this time. Try again, Feile again, Feile better.

Sunday Independent

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