Is Ireland ready for capitalism?
Deaglán de Bréadún
Just when it seemed things could hardly get any worse, it is revealed that the head of Anglo Irish Bank has been playing hide and seek with major loans he had taken out from his own institution.
Sean Fitzpatrick resigned last Thursday night after it had become known that, for eight years, he had been shifting loans from Anglo Irish to Irish Nationwide (a rival organisation) in advance of the compilation of end-of-year figures for the auditors. Then he moved the money back in again. By the end of last September, the amount had reached €87m. Chief executive David Drumm resigned Friday morning.
Questions are being asked about the role of Financial Regulator Patrick Neary. It’s the old refrain from journalists covering American politics, ”What did he know and when did he know it?” And why did he not act on the information sooner?
It seems that Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan was leafing through the annual report of Anglo-Irish Bank and noticed that there was a far bigger concentration of loans to board members than was the case with other banks. Well-copped Minister, you would have made a good journalist. Now the State is effectively taking control of Anglo-Irish, at a cost of €1.5 billion.
What will really gall ordinary people reading and listening to all this is that Mr Fitzpatrick urged, ten days prior to the recent Budget, that means testing should be introduced for medical cards to the over-70s, not to mention child benefit and the State pension.
The respected Lex column in the Financial Times delivered a wounding verdict on the secret loans last Saturday. It was “cosy Irish capitalism at its worst”.
When our banking sector and our whole economy are at their most vulnerable, we need this kind of publicity like a hole in the head. There is a sense of a stone being lifted and one wonders what else is lurking underneath. The FT comment strikes home: too much in this country is done on a “cosy” basis.
It’s not just the financial sector, it’s every walk of life, politics, you name it. The culture of the nod and the wink predominates. I remember a time at university there used to be arguments as to whether Ireland was ready for socialism. Forget it, folks, we’re not even ready for capitalism.