Banking inquiry: Begg describes EU troika as ‘uncaring zealots’

Former union head excludes IMF from criticism

David Begg, former General Secretary of ICTU & non-executive director of the central bank and CBFSAI.

David Begg, former General Secretary of ICTU & non-executive director of the central bank and CBFSAI.

 

Former Ictu general secretary David Begg has described the bailout Troika as an “uncaring technocracy of neoliberal zealots devoid of empathy”, although he excluded the IMF from the criticism.

“We were able to establish a useful separate dialogue relationship with the IMF,” he said.

Mr Begg told the banking inquiry that when Ireland was a programme country he and colleagues met the EU/ECB/IMF troika every three months.

“It was a dispiriting experience and utterly valueless. My impression of the Troika was of an uncaring technocracy of neoliberal zealots devoid of empathy”.

He added: “I exclude the IMF from this description. They were more reasonable, which was a surprise to me because I had firsthand experience of IMF structural adjustment programmes in the Developing world during the 1990s.

Mr Begg, who also served as a non-executive director of the Central Bank and CBFSAI (Central Bank & Financial Services Authority of Ireland) said it was clear to him that “there is no social institution to balance the independence and power of the European Central Bank (ECB)”.

He said “an institution with the sole remit of price stability is not concerned with 26 million out of work.

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“The remit of the ECB should be changed to reflect the same range of social and economic responsibilities as the Federal Reserve (FED) in the United States.”

He said it would have been better to have “real economy experience” on the board and not exclusively experts.

Mr Begg, who was 15 years on the Central Bank board, said they had no training and acknowledged that seven years was probably the right length of time to serve on a board.

Mr Begg said that in 2004 it was clear to him as general secretary of Congress “that we were heading in the wrong direction”.

He said their pre-budget submission that year called for the removal of all property-based tax incentives. The next year in their submission they voiced concern about overheating the economy.

He said that in 2004 after the accession 10 Central and Eastern European countries to the EU in 2004 the government, “without any consultation with Congress, followed the lead of Britain and Sweden and opened the Irish labour market from day one”.

He said this caused an increase in immigration and indirectly contributed to some difficult industrial disputes.

“It also gave an impetus to the housing market. I was reminded recently by a fellow board member that I said to the Board at that time that this was unsustainable because Irish people were investing in buy to let houses, built by immigrants who were renting the same houses.

“It was a potentially huge vulnerability in my view” and they were dealing with the fire by adding oil and water.

The Oireachtas Banking Inquiry will also hear from John Dunne, Fergus Murphy, Sean Mulryan and Michael O’Flynn today.

To read the full text of their opening statements, click here.