Golden boys still raking it in
POLITICS: Shane Ross and Nick Webb argue that many of the architects of the crisis are doing just fine
The Untouchables By Shane Ross and Nick Webb, Penguin Ireland, 298pp. €13.99
SHANE ROSS and Nick Webb’s previous book, Wasters, concerned the misuses of State funds, poor governance, organisational failure and cronyism in public bodies in Ireland. In The Untouchables they turn their attention to individuals in positions of power and influence, and the organisations they work for, who have managed to weather the present crisis somewhat better than might be expected.
Ross and Webb’s principal argument is that the blame for Ireland’s woes extends well beyond politicians and that, despite calamitous failures, most of the architects of the crisis remain in their posts or businesses, and the same mindsets predominate.
Precious little reform has taken place, they write, despite the election promises of Fine Gael and Labour for quick action. Fianna Fáil and the Greens may have paid the price for the disastrous decisions they made in the previous government, but their elite networks, political patronage and poor systems of governance and regulation mean many powerful individuals and vested interests continue to thrive.
Their examination focuses on eight main groups, with a chapter devoted to each. Their investigative strategy is to scrutinise the careers and networks of particular individuals and the relationships between different institutions (for example, political parties, businesses, government agencies), charting the tangled web of mutually supportive arrangements.
First under their forensic glare are senior civil servants, particularly those at the Department of Finance, and how senior managers have remained in their posts or have been promoted postcrash, with slow institutional reform. Next they turn to the bankers and the postbailout careers of several high-flying managers. This is followed by the work of highly connected political lobbyists who have successfully represented the interests of vested groups and also sought to protect their own endeavours from scrutiny.
The management boards of quangos are then examined with respect to patronage and interconnections. This is followed by a look at the fortunes of lawyers, accountants, consultants and auditors, many of whom advised the government and banks prior to the crisis and then swapped to advising how to undo the consequences of their previous counsel, and who also work for and give advice to multiple, competing interests, arguing that the use of robust systems of Chinese walls avoids conflicts of interest.
Next up are pension-fund managers who have lost a fortune from pension schemes but remain in post. This is followed by an examination of the role of Nama not only in protecting the interests of failed property developers, property companies and banks but also in employing their former staff – the architects of the property and banking crash – to perform due diligence and engage the services of the companies they previously worked for.
Lastly, they detail how the appointment of judges is actively shaped by political patronage and how the judiciary has worked to protect their own interests, such as pay and lack of oversight. In a final chapter they present a directory of the members of Ireland’s golden circle (a number of whom do not appear in the previous chapters).