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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 2, 2008 @ 10:52 am

    Night shift

    Harry McGee

    This was one of those rare moments. A nationala crisis. Emergency legislation. The house sitting all night in order to railroad it through.

    The situation was fluid for two days. That’s a polite way of saying that nobody was sure what was going on and – scarily at some key moments – they were making it up as they went along. Usually when legislation is being prepared, law-makers have periods of months – sometimes years – to get the drafting right, to tweak it, get the right nuances, be prepared for every conceivable eventuality.

    There was  no such comfort this week.

    In the end they pulled three all-nighters in a row – a classic cramming session – to get the stuff out there.

    Let’s go back for a second. To the legislaton rushed through when the Courts decided that there were constitutional flaws with a law that banned statutory rape. The new Act that was rushed through then hardly gave adequate Band Aid cover for the lacuna.

    There were 28 amendments to this legislation, most of which were rejected. A lot of them were of an ideological or punitive nature… wanting chief executives and other bank fat cats to suffer for their sins by getting deep pay cuts or losing their bonuses and share options. Others sought more information. Here was the State offering the banks everything, lock, stock and barrel. And yet, there was no small print. Just a few vague references to the State charging a fee for the service.

    As a point of fact, the main concession, Brian Lenihan  made was already covered by the Bill… the extension of the schem to cover foreign-owned banks, namely Ulster.

    Anways, this is a dispatch from the Night Shift. There have been very few times in my time as a political journalists that I have felt sympathy for Senators who have minimal sitting hours and a generally soft life for the grand sums of money that we pay them. But because of the protracted proceedings in the Dail their debate did not begin until 2am and continued until 7.

    I bailed just after 2am but even at the stage the House had that zombieish silent dead middle-of-the-night feel about it. Appropriately, I’m sure the debate in the Seanad had the feel of those marathon dance competitions that were run during the Depression in the States, immortalised by the film ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t  They?”

    Well, by lunchtime today, it will have become law. The Congress in the States has also given approval to the $700 billion rescue package to buy up toxic debts. Will those extraordinary State-led initiatives to bail out a capitalist system that has found itself shorn off all powers make a difference? Only a fool would predict the eventual outturn.

    At this stage, most ordinary people are now just coming to terms with the moral outrageous practice of short selling, a mechanism that allows you to take a punt on a share losing its value.

    The Irish Government’s move was certainly bold and imaginative though several other EU countries have cried foul because of the fact that the guarantee will queer the pitch. We have already seen that kick in in the UK where people are transferring their savings to the Post Office whose savings operation is owned by Bank of Ireland.

    Is it a stroke of genius or a temporary stay on further falls? Let’s hope it’s the former because the move was as Big Bang as you can get. There are no further aces to play.

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