Study of apologies shows a sorry State

Cantillon: Fewer than 5% thought banks or State had apologised enough for the financial crisis

Sorry may be the hardest word to say, but it may also be the hardest word to hear or maybe accept when it comes to the decade-old banking crisis, according to the results of a new study from Queen’s University in Belfast.

A group of academics – led by law professor Kieran McEvoy with research by Dr Muiris Mac Carthaigh, Dr Anna Bryson and others – working on the "Apologies, Abuses & Dealing with the Past" project has been looking at how apologies have been constructed, delivered and received.

Bankers might not be too happy to hear this, but they have been lumped in with paramilitaries and clerical/institutional abusers in the research to see how apologies compare.

Curiously, in an all-Ireland survey of 1,007 individuals, more people (though it is not many people overall) feel that paramilitary groups and the Catholic Church/State have more adequately apologised for violence and abuse than the Irish State or the banking sector has for the financial crisis. Some 15 per cent felt that Republican groups and the British state had properly apologised and it was roughly the same when it came to the church. By comparison, fewer than 5 per cent agreed that the banks or State had apologised enough for the crisis 10 years on.


More than three-quarters of respondents to the January-June 2017 survey either agreed or strongly agreed that apologies were important in dealing with the crisis. Very few could remember hearing any apologies from the State, banking sector or individual bankers, despite several prominent bankers apologising and expressing regret at bank shareholder meetings in 2009 (in between egg attacks) and at the 2015 Oireachtas banking inquiry.

The Irish Times has counted the word "regret" – or variations thereof – being uttered 230 times during the 304 hours and 13 minutes of testimony at the 49-day inquiry. Admittedly, formulas of words and apologetic utterances were crafted by bankers and politicians in written statements that carefully avoided the use of the word "sorry".

Cantillon’s favourite apology was one of Bertie Ahern’s at the inquiry when asked whether an overdependence on construction and property was one of the things he was apologising for.

“I can’t apologise for issues I hadn’t got control over,” he said. “But I do apologise to myself that I didn’t know about them because at least you might have been able to do something about them.”