That banking inquiry ... only six years after the fact

 Fianna Fail’s Senator Marc MacSharry – “appears to hold that the rot started in 2000 when Ireland entered the eurozone so that’s where the inquiry should begin ....”   Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The irish Times

Fianna Fail’s Senator Marc MacSharry – “appears to hold that the rot started in 2000 when Ireland entered the eurozone so that’s where the inquiry should begin ....” Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The irish Times

Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 02:10

Thoughts turn to the banking inquiry and news that the projected spend is about €5 million while the budget is €3 million. Pfft to either, if that’s what it takes to winkle out the masterminds behind the economic cataclysm, you may say – an attitude that may be useful in the event the €200,000 for four legal advisers proves a tad stingy. Remember, legal fees can go up as well as down. So can the cost of refurbishment.

The Office of Public Works, which presented the projections, “had form” in this area, a source told the Sunday Business Post – “they were not the Ryanair of refurbishment”. And signs on it, with a projected spend of about €1.6 million to upgrade vacant offices and computer systems for 50 support staff. That’s roughly €300,000 more than the cost of funding community supports for people with disabilities, the funding the Government first withdrew then restored last week.

But the inquiry talks trundle on. Sure it’s only six years after the fact. Or 14 if you follow the logic of Fianna Fáil Senator and committee member Marc Mac Sharry, which appears to hold the rot started in 2000 when Ireland entered the euro zone so that’s where the inquiry should begin. Can you see where this is going?

Meanwhile, senior officials from various government departments – including finance – have been nominated to advise the inquiry on its framework, even as one of the main attractions promises to be a former department employee, Marie Mackle.

Told you so

Mackle’s value is that she warned her seniors repeatedly about the soft stance being taken by Brian Cowen on the threat of a property crash but was repeatedly slapped down by bosses, according to documents obtained by the Sunday Independent. Those bosses included Derek Moran, who has just been appointed to the top job in the department. With the best will in the world, is it possible to be adviser, witness and respondent ?

The committee is already down an Independent voice with Stephen Donnelly’s exit over concerns at what he perceived to be the Government’s attempts to retain control, while the agitation continues over access to the precise details of events on the night of the bank guarantee.

The concern – or hope? – is that budget rows, prevarication and merciful public amnesia will make it one mighty public yawn. “Banks, banks . . .” moaned a tweeter about a discussion on a weekend current affairs show. He felt the entire discussion should have been about Gaza.

Prof Morgan Kelly probably did too (if he bothered to listen) since he told Vanity Fair the Irish economy didn’t interest him because it was “tiny and boring”.

But right now, while the thought of this tiny State returning to business as usual is headbangingly boring (and tiny in the terrible global scheme of things), the implications for its citizens are not. Nama, concerned about what it calls “debtor fatigue”, is dreaming up inducements for developers to stop them running off to Britain for easy bankruptcy terms (a route that requires a sizeable war chest to begin with).

“Many have been engaging extensively with Nama for five years” – FIVE YEARS! IMAGINE! – and “are now seeking certainty regarding recourse and their ultimate exit from Nama”, reports the Business Post. Inducements will include reduced personal exposure on company borrowings if targets are reached. So five-years’ (salaried) relatively good behaviour is the price of redemption and debt reduction? Meanwhile, the cheery news Nama may wind up in surplus threatens to obscure the bottom line: a loss of about €35 billion.

A thing called treason

As for the bankers, stockbrokers and financial advisers . . . Well, we know from the latest Anglo tapes they were familiar at least with “treason”.

“In another jurisdiction, you’d have fellows like him up for treason y’know”, opined an indignant stockbroker to an Anglo banker in 2008, on foot of another trenchant Irish Times column by Prof Kelly. Sadly, the stockbroker failed to name the jurisdiction or explain why he hadn’t long since decamped to it. The banker thought it might be France – where “y’know, basically you’d have cars speeding up as he crossed the road y’know”. Nine days later, we owned the bank. Y’know?

One advantage of inhabiting such a tiny, boring economy, should be ease of turnaround. Small doesn’t have to mean small-minded. In the UK, Barclays Bank is spending millions on an academy, where lawyers and philosophers will train staff on subjects such as truthfulness and compliance.

How about an Irish version with compulsory immersion for all who occupy public and private positions with potential to compromise the State? With special modules on memory lapses and lying by omission? Cattle prods optional.

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