Not Me, Guv

The Irish Times – Letters

After all, we are in one of the gravest financial crises that our country has faced for many years, yet here we are discussing nail bars and golf bills. Let us not forget that at this very moment the Government and the banks are negotiating away, behind closed doors, the independence of our banking sector to shadowy entities with no link or care for the people of this country.

Meanwhile, the very bankers – and Government – that got us into this fix continue in office on their very elevated salaries pretending, as usual, that they know best. At the same time, the private sector, including some well known business tycoons, spend with profligacy on expense accounts that no doubt would make the public service seem like Scrooge.

At least there is some accountability in the public sector.

Furthermore, one of the main reasons that such behaviour took place in Fás was precisely due to its links with the private sector and the constant demand that the public sector act more like the private. This was, for example, the justification behind the regular huge salary rises higher public servants – including ministers, TDs and senators – received. This is not to condone Fás, but it is the double standards of those who are attacking Fás in particular, and the public sector in general, which is rather hard to take. Furthermore, it is providing a distraction from the real causes of our current economic situation – and the social emergency emanating from it – facilitated and perpetuated by the multiple relations and secret deal-making between our public representatives and business. Where is the accountability in that?

Profligate behaviour in the private sector – including and especially the banks – and the public sector should become central to public policy and not this simplified witch hunt against the public sector as if it were the cause of all our woes. – Yours, etc,

BARRY CANNON,

Park Terrace,

Dublin

I reprint this to illustrate that if I am a nutter, I am not an isolated one. Not in the habit of repeating myself, so, apropos of the ‘shadowy entities’ cited here, I shall repeat Adam Smith:

The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.

This ‘order of men’ still know think they know what’s best:

Fintan O’Toole: No room for doubt in developers’ world view – The Irish Times – Tue, Dec 02, 2008

As for the banks, while even Paddy Kelly conceded that they got things wrong, Seán Dunne still believes that the decision, for example, to lend him €400 million for his two Ballsbridge sites was “prudent business”. He retains such faith in the bankers that he reckons they are the best people to lead us out of the current crisis: “The banking fraternity are the people who know how to sort it out.” Alongside the bankers in leading us out of the wilderness will be, of all people, the property developers: “It needs business people with business acumen, people who started with zero and have built a business and know how to maintain a business.” Not only, it seems, are the bankers and property developers not the problem, they are the solution.

O’Toole also says:

A naive outsider might look at the history of the property bubble that has made us one of the biggest losers in the current economic crisis and pick out certain salient features. It might seem obvious that the mess was created by a triangular relationship between politics, development and banking. Politicians – especially but not only in Fianna Fáil – represented the interests of the property developers and facilitated an unsustainable boom. Developers worked themselves into a speculative frenzy, paying huge prices for land in the belief that the market would continue to rise and rise. And bankers provided the eye-watering levels of debt that fuelled the whole mad tumult.

The same naive outsider might be inclined to wonder how people were so easily led by the ‘speculative frenzy’ into ‘eye-watering levels of debt’. Didn’t the newspapers have anything to say on the subject? Eh, no. As Dublin Opinion noted some time back:

Dublin Opinion » Blog Archive » DUBLIN RENTS AND IRISH JOURNALISM: THE MYTH OF DEMAND

Now, in Ireland, the two main newspapers own property websites: The Irish Times with myhome.ie, and the Irish Independent with propertynews.com. As such, the chances of getting anything approaching a balanced view of the Irish property market is simply impossible – given the fact that both have invested heavily in what is a multi-billion Euro industry.

Curiously -well, not curiously at all, when you think about it- there is no mention of this in O’Toole’s geometry of elite interests. In fairness, triangles are generally sexier than squares.

As he himself notes:

Where does it come from, this extraordinary capacity for denial, this ability to shrug off any sense of responsibility?

Indeed. And:

It is an elite that still thinks of itself as being on the outside. The “establishment” is still somebody else, it is “Them” not “Us”.

Amen to that. Perhaps we can look forward to more excellent commentary on builders now that property advertising revenues are dwindling.

The final word to Fintan O’Toole:

Although their attitudes were in some respects very different, they were clearly agreed on one thing – nothing that has happened is their fault.

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2 Responses to “Not Me, Guv”


  1. 1 David December 2, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Exactly my thought (singular today). I dropped him a note:

    Dear Fintan,

    Thanks for this latest piece, I really enjoyed it. Though I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to write with that elephant in the room.

    Best wishes,

    David

    No reply.

  2. 2 coc December 3, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Indeed. it reminds me of Brian Lenihan’s angry reaction to a comment of Kathy Sinnott in the run up to Lisbon when she referred to the ‘establishment’:

    “I’m not a member of the establishment” – B. Lenihan B.L., S.C., T.D., Min. for Finance, Son of fmr Tánaiste, Nephew of a fmr Dep. Leader of FF and brother of a Jun. Min.


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