Sunday 20 January 2019

Trump is stoking fires where peace is needed

US President Donald Trump. Photo: AP
US President Donald Trump. Photo: AP


It is indeed a strange world in which Bethlehem, birth place of the 'King of Peace', could be just 6km from Jerusalem, the city of what seems to be eternal strife.

There is little point in suggesting that Donald Trump should have known better. The 45th president of the US has shown time and again his disdain for statecraft and wise counsel, choosing instead to blunder on in what he perceives is best for his base.

But you don't play with pieces in the Middle East firestorm without someone getting burned.

The discord in the UN over his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel tells its own story.

Mr Trump's threats to those countries who disagree with him are depressingly familiar.

Back in the real world, our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was in the Lebanon meeting Irish soldiers. Members of our Defence Forces have been caught in the crossfire in the past in disputed areas keeping the peace.

Any heightening of tensions, as those created by President Trump's decision, will have dangerous knock-on effects in a highly unstable and volatile region where passions needed to be toned down rather than stoked.

In 'Jerusalem: the Biography', Simon Sebag Montefiore put it succinctly: "Jerusalem is the house of the one God, the capital of two peoples, the temple of three religions and she is the only city to exist twice - in heaven and on earth: the peerless grace of the terrestrial is as nothing to the glories of the celestial."

The recent recognition of Jerusalem prompted waves of violence and protests across the Middle East. Such a boiling cauldron needed to be handled with care. Mr Trump has chosen his path, but it is peacekeepers who may have to deal with the consequences and at this time of year above all, we should keep them in our thoughts.

The lessons of history suggest that in the end it is understanding, not force, that is the best peace keeper.

Finally, the gloves are off over the tracker scandal

It will be some time yet before we can say for sure whether it was stupidity born out of overconfidence or indifference facilitated by a lack of oversight that enabled the banks to unleash such havoc.

Finally, if belatedly, the Central Bank has put away the kid gloves and there are signs that errant banks in the future can expect to deal with knuckle-dusters. Following harrowing and heroic accounts of the hardships endured by those caught up in the tracker scandal, the financial watchdog has bared its teeth, revealing an appetite to bite.

Executives from the Central Bank endured a torrid time at the Oireachtas Finance Committee, and it would appear that the experience has led to a new determination to act as an enforcer.

In the past, the bank was castigated for being more poodle than doberman when guarding the public interest. It was said to be more lapdog than watchdog in its relationship with lenders. Nowhere was this criticism more acute than on the issue of the abuse of tracker mortgage holders.

But no more. Derville Rowland is the new sheriff in town as director general of financial conduct. She intends to lay down the law. We know of 33,700 cases where banks have been remiss on trackers - 37 have lost their homes, and 79 buy-to-lets were sold due to tracker overcharging.

Fining the banks for bad behaviour is not the answer. They merely pass the buck to customers. Proving criminal behaviour is a big ask, but the signal has gone out that hopefully things are going to change, and the era where only the customer is called to account is at last over.

Irish Independent

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