Boyd Barrett, Brecht and the ethics of crime


Dáil sketch:The ears of our putative fiscal saviour, Angela Merkel, must have been burning in the Bundestag yesterday.

As banking salaries and pensions dominated Dáil proceedings, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett evoked the views of a German dramatist when calling for Government action on the gilt-edged incomes enjoyed by some.

“The great German playwright Bertolt Brecht said the crime of robbing a bank is nothing compared to the crime of owning one,’’ he said.

Deputies gazed in wonderment at Boyd Barrett, given that an anecdote from a constituency clinic is the favourite quote of TDs when emphasising their views. His colleague on the Technical Group benches, Shane Ross, author, newspaper columnist and man of fiscal letters, wore an expression of amazement and intrigue.

There were a few seconds of silence as Boyd Barrett gathered his thoughts. The ice was broken by Labour TD Eric Byrne, who asked if the Dún Laoghaire TD was “apologising for Sinn Féin’’.

Boyd Barrett went on to add to the store of knowledge of his colleagues. “His words were written in the 1930s.’’ He then reverted to more parochial political prose.

Addressing Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, he suggested “that the situation with the pay and pensions of both current and former bankers and bank executives in this country gives a new meaning to the words ‘bank robbery’ ”.

It was being done, said Boyd Barrett, in the face of ordinary citizens who were battered by unemployment and cuts in health and education. “They find there is a golden circle of bankers who are superpaid.’’ Nobody was disagreeing. The House’s anger at the revelation that six executives in the former Anglo Irish Bank, now the IBRC, were earning more than €500,000 a year was palpable.

Agreeing, Gilmore said people were justifiably angry when they saw bankers walking away with huge pensions or retaining huge salaries. “There is a political will to deal with this.’’ He said Minister for Finance Michael Noonan had undertaken a review of salaries in all the banks covered by the bailout and taxpayers’ money.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald outlined a scenario where Noonan was rebuffed by his one-time Fine Gael colleague Alan Dukes, now IBRC chairman. Noonan, she said, had asked Dukes last April to reduce bankers’ pay and Dukes had told him to “get lost’’. She asked if it was acceptable for a former party leader “who, by the way, continues to claim a large ministerial pension, and who presides over this bankrupt toxic bank, to tell the Government to ‘get lost’ ”. McDonald then targeted another former prominent politician, “now allegedly a public watchdog in AIB, Dick Spring’’, who had been in the job when “gold-plated pensions’’ were put in place. “Are you looking at me?’’ asked Spring’s nephew, Arthur Spring, from the Labour benches. McDonald focused her gaze on Gilmore, who repeated it was not acceptable that those levels of either pensions or salaries should continue to be paid.

Meanwhile, Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett renewed his warning to deputies with behavioural difficulties.

“I am warning members, and I do not care who they are, that they will be put out the door.’’ Now there’s a man who would deal with the bankers in a blunt and thorough manner. Shame his job puts him above politics.