Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Anglo Tapes – Ireland, Banks, Politics, Has anything really changed?

The summer break can’t come quick enough for many politicians. It has been another long year. No doubt some will point to progress but the public are unlikely to be too convinced. When Brian Lenihan set out his four year plan many people were fuming and quite understandably so. The Lenihan plan set out four years of hardship and sacrifice and even at the end of that 4 years we were only to be looking at things stabilising. As it turns out that’s exactly the picture that’s emerging.

Now, that is not necessarily praiseworthy. The Irish people have suffered immensely for years now and the EU has been paralysed in acting. The EU that does hold the answers and can fix the problem whenever it gets around to sorting out its own petty differences and growing up enough to actually face the problem. In the meantime hapless governments in bailed out states are just trying to bob along like victims of a sunken ship desperately scanning the horizon for a rescue boat.

The Anglo Tapes will increase the fury of even the most level headed citizen. The attitude displayed on the tapes is appalling. While you and I and so many families, fall behind in our mortgages, struggle to pay the food bill and continue to sacrifice we are reminded, by these tapes, that some guys thought it would be ok to fool the state and have them pick up the tab. We are paying the price for a society that at its top level believed lying was ok, that it’s normal and that sharp practice is a victimless crime so long as the victim is only an ordinary punter. We are paying the price for a system that lauded such disregard of people. Perhaps we should not be surprised. A casual glance at TV programmes like the Apprentice seemed to show us that an attitude of being an obnoxious asshole was a pre-requisite to work in business.

We are paying the price for a regulatory system that was run on the cheap and believed that the people who know best about a business are those who run it. Don’t interfere. We are paying the price for a culture where the ‘providing of jobs’ was paramount and an excuse to allow a business free rein to do as it pleased, to breach rules or avoid paying simply because …well…think of the jobs.

Finally, we are paying the price for a political system that lacked courage or conviction. A system that accepted any information it was fed, that failed to question for years before the crisis. Politicians and government ministers stood in awe of the great captains of industry. A fool’s trust was exercised on golf courses and dinner functions where if someone says it’s ok then it must be ok. As David McWilliams continually points out we were suffering from extreme groupthink and nobody wanted to appear the fool in front of the group.

The problem is that I am not so sure that much has changed. The EU seems no closer to facing its issues, in fact the EU still seems to carry a candle of hope that the problems will go away themselves if the US and China sort it out and the bailed out states can eventually grow in their own time. The EU still does not want to lead and still procrastinates on any action while an option exists to stay put. The suffering of ordinary people does not matter, that is but a fleeting page in a history book that will instead focus on legacies and long term plans.
What about our banks? Have they learned? Definitely not. Their approach to their business remains the same as ever. Humility or regret is not part of their make up. The salaries at the top just prove that all believe that the world can and should continue as normal for them. This week thousands of mortgage holders are in distress. The banks have failed utterly and completely to engage, their plans for dealing with mortgage debt are hopelessly inadequate and the offer little or no real solutions that would allow the borrower to pay off arrears and get back on their feet. They are swamped in paperwork and hike up the interest and charges on the borrower while taking months to come to basic decisions on interest only payments etc which are in themselves pretty ineffective. Why is this? It’s because the banks want stronger rules on repossession and they are getting their way. That’s because it might take work to meet and discuss with mortgage holders and arrive at a solution. They don’t want that, they want a form filled in and put into a computer and rejected then move on. Mortgage holders are ordinary people, the banks are professionals, therefore when it comes to government policy, the banks get their way. Nothing has changed.

What about politics? Well I doubt anyone is shocked to find it’s the same old story. Fianna Fail took a hammering and we were told it was a sea change. It was a sea change for us political nerds. It was a sea change in terms of names of political movements. That was all. Brian Lenihan famously said ‘We all partied’, the quote, often taken out of context, was referring to all political parties whom he was accusing of making rash promises about the economy in order to get votes and he claimed all were guilty. All parties were. Fianna Fail were the ones at the wheel though and they must take the blame, they cannot look at the opposition or others and say ‘you made me do it’, they lacked courage to question, the lacked conviction and they were not brave enough to accept losing in order to do the right thing.

The current government must now accept its share of blame. It cannot continue saying ‘FF made us do it’. This government has also lacked conviction and belief, we know that there may not be much scope in terms of many policies, voters even accept that, but what has shocked them is the fact that the personality of the government is no different. In fact at times it has been even more arrogant, tied closer to business interests and displayed the same awe of those at the top as any of its predecessors. If politicians cannot look at the last government and see where that led what hope is there for us? Surely it’s now evident that long term governments are not naturally correct? That staying in power is not always the brave thing to do? That voting against what you believe does not automatically mean you are putting the country first?

According to the polls Labour will suffer most. It’s hardly surprising. What is surprising is that this party which showed such strength and conviction in opposition, being the only ones to vote against the bank guarantee, is now a party utterly lacking in belief or direction. No doubt some supporters will point to me of several things they are trying to achieve, the latest of which will be the ‘X’ legislation. I am unconvinced that the hard pressed voter will feel a labour capitulation on economic matters was worth it for ‘X’ legislation, but perhaps I’m wrong. It seems however that courage has deserted their ranks and instead they will await a good opportunity to change. No new leader will emerge to rock the boat until awkward elections are out of the way or difficult budgets are made. A strategy that’s nothing to do with what you actually think, nothing to do with bravery and nothing to do with the people, but everything to do with supposedly being politically smart. They should ring Bertie he might tell them where that leads.

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2 thoughts on “Anglo Tapes – Ireland, Banks, Politics, Has anything really changed?

  1. It is not so much the Anglo Tapes that makes me angry, as the human cost that Irish people have had to pay as a result of the collapse of the banking system and I don’t mean financial, although that is very significant. The human cost in terms of health, stress related illness, mental health (depression), suicide, marital breakdown and forced immigration is there for all to see, if they care to look. The costs related to these is equally significant.

    The politicians across all parties should stop playing the blame game and address these issues. A little humility on the part of all politicians would be welcome. I don’t believe that there is any point in pursuing an Oireachtas enquiry, which in any event will be toothless as it won’t have the powers to prosecute anyone, equally we have learned from painful and costly experience that tribunals have been unable to unearth sufficient evidence to prosecute anyone excepting Mr Dunlop and Mr Burke.

    May I suggest that we give An Garda Siochana ( either the Fraud Squad or Criminal Assets Bureau) the necessary resources in terms of specialists to pursue inquiries in all banks that were covered by the bank guarantee to clearly establish whether there was any wrong doing in terms of false accounting, fraud and so forth and let them decide in conjunction with DPP whether there is sufficient evidence for prosecution. That is after all what An Garda Siochana are suppose to do.

    It is my personal opinion on the basis of the taped evidence which the Irish Independent published this week, that what went on in Anglo Irish Bank on the face of it, is nothing short of financial treason.

    With regard to banks and how they are dealing with mortgage arrears, it does appear that they are intent on pursuing people for the full amount of the mortgage. The fact the properties are worth in most cases less than 50% of the original mortgage doesn’t seem to come into the equation. The banks will at some stage have to bite the bullet and crystallize their losses if the domestic economy is to have any chance of recovery. This is especially true in small counties e,g, Longford where unemployment is running at 25.9% against a national average of 13.7%. Businesses are closing in Longford on an all too frequent basis as they struggle through lack of footfall due to people having little or no disposal income.

    I does appear to me that, (We) Irish people are either very meek or quite prepared to accept what is done by politicians in our name. How much are people prepared to take before they cry stop. The people of Ballyhea and Charleville have lit a light and it is time that Irish people stood up followed their example, by saying we have had enough.

    The political system such as it is broken in Ireland and no amount of tinkering with the Seanad and reform of the Dail is likely to change that. We have been promised transparency, are we ever likely to get it? Politics in Ireland seems to be the preserve of men mainly in their 50’s and older. People who by and large have been unaffected by Ireland’s economic collapse and who do not appear to truly understand the human cost to so many thousands of Irish people throughout this country. If politicians and the political parties are serious about transparency and accountability in public office, they need to demonstrate to the electorate that they will deliver on these promises. There has been little more that posturing on this issue to date. It does appear that most politicians can talk the talk, but few have truly shown that they can walk the walk.

    If we are ever to have any level of respect for our politicians and their seriousness in dealing the multitude of problems facing this country, we need to see a reform programme which clearly details what needs to be reformed. There needs to be details of what is achievable in the short, medium and long term. We the electorate cannot be expected to accept that the answer to all problems lies in the formation of a quango to investigate and publish a report which then sits on a Minister’s desk for years before any definitive action is taken. This has been the approach by government in the past and is a waste of taxpayers money.

    It maybe naive of me to believe that any of the above will happen, but I find it repugnant that Ireland has been ridiculed in many countries for the actions of a few in the political and financial classes.

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