Cantillon: Better not to be too selective about Ireland’s ‘voices’
President Michael D Higgins speaking at the Community garden party at Aras an Uachtarain. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES
“These are not the voices of the people of Ireland.”
So said President Michael D Higgins over the weekend at a garden party in Áras an Uachtaráin. He was speaking, of course, about the Anglo tapes, which have dominated the headlines over the past week. He went on to tell an appreciative audience that attitudes revealed by the tapes , these “voices from the past”, were “not shared by the people of Ireland” and that the behaviours they reveal are “not characteristic of the people of Ireland”.
Is he sure? The Small Firms Association, part of business group Ibec, protested earlier this year that business in the order of €500 million is carried out in the black economy every month – that’s €6 billion a year, or 14 per cent of GDP.
A couple of years ago, Isme, the other small business group, told an Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation that it believed the amount of taxes lost to the black economy was “conservatively estimated at €5 billion”.
To put that into context, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan noted over the weekend that the savings required in the next iteration of Ireland’s austerity budget will be between €2 billion and €3 billion.
People will protest that there is a considerable difference between the actions of those caught on tape and the “ordinary” person doing an occasional “nixer” but the culture that allows one begets the other.
As Ansbacher, National Irish Bank and bogus non-resident accounts have all shown, Irish banking was well used to sharp practice even before the most recent crisis. Little has been done in all that time to change the culture.
In fact, the more significant transgressions of Mr Bowe et al seems not to be so much the substance of their conversation – which has yet to be shown to be illegal – but the juvenile tone of the remarks, the fact that they were “caught”, and the embarrassment they have inflicted on Ireland Inc just as we were getting those nice Europeans to believe that we were, once again, the best boys in the class.