Miriam Lord: The Bisto Kids get a taste of their own Davy gravy

Opposition pours on the scorn and gives FF a good roasting over its Celtic Tiger past

Minestrone for Housing Darragh O’Brien – feeling the Opposition’s broth. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minestrone for Housing Darragh O’Brien – feeling the Opposition’s broth. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Wednesday morning was bad enough to begin with before Dawson Street’s answer to the Bisto Kids galloped in with lashings of Davy gravy to sauce up the boiled old bones of Fianna Fáil’s boomtime skeletons.

It topped off a miserable few hours for the party, as opposed to the coalition of which it is a member.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien may have been on Dáil duty as representatives of that Government, but when the Opposition found itself with an opportunity to embarrass Fianna Fáil over past misdemeanours, it took full advantage.

Sinn Féin had a field day.

Its motion to ditch a controversial element of the Affordable Housing Bill teed up all those chances to make the Soldiers of Destiny squirm. Persecuting Fianna Fáil with repeat playing of its mangy Celtic Tiger record is a regular Opposition pastime, but what made this episode different was the impressive array of establishment and institutional bastions it lined up to bolster the case.

The Taoiseach’s stock defence is to dismiss well-worn charges of kowtowing to developers as examples of base populism and cynical political opportunism.

But this time, the perpetually indignant were able to stand up in the Dáil and suggest that if Fianna Fáil doesn’t want to listen to what they have to say, that’s absolutely fine.

“You don’t have to take our word for it. Ask this lot...”

Speaker after speaker told O’Brien that his proposal for a shared equity home loan scheme has been rubbished by such heavyweights as the former head of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Central Bank, economists, academics, business columnists, the ESRI, the LSE and the representative body for auctioneers.

O’Brien shook his head and smiled. But his colleagues, if they were listening in their offices, must have been wincing for most of the two-hour debate

Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster said the Minister might like to make out that only her party opposes his policy, but “everybody right across the board is opposed to it... even Fine Gael”,laughing at the sheer madness of FG councillors being in revolt.

“Even Fine Gael, Minister!”

Rebranded

People wonder why the Government is so hellbent on introducing this loan scheme in the face of expert advice that the move will inflate the price of homes and line the pockets of property developers, remarked the newly rebranded Paul Murphy, now a member of People Before Profit and a politician who has gone through more regenerations than Dr Who.

“The answer is staring us in the face. Because that is what Fianna Fáil wants us to do.”

O’Brien shook his head and smiled. But his colleagues, if they were listening in their offices, must have been wincing for most of the two-hour debate as the party’s damning past dealings with developers were dragged up and waved about for all to see, and remember.

There was so much material in the rich “in bed with the developers” seam that it was half an hour before anybody mentioned the “Galway tint”, the abandoned Galway Races fundraiser where leading lights of the overheating building industry paid court to Fianna Fáil.

Sinn Féin’s Maurice Quinlivan rectified that omission with an over-egged vision of the Minister in a “modern version of the Galway tent. You know, you’d be having Zoom and Teams meetings with your property developer friends.”

Opposition TDs asked why the Government is ploughing on with the scheme in the face of serious objections. Cian O’Callaghan of the Social Democrats feared it marks a return to “the bad old days” of Fianna Fáil not heeding warnings from independent economic commentators in favour of policies pitched by developers and the property industry.

“This is a return, very much unfortunately, to the era of Bertie Economics.”

Bertienomics

Bertienomics on the rise again. “Developer-led” decision-making. The bad old days.

After Fianna Fáil has spent the last decade trying to change the narrative.

And now here’s Sinn Féin’s housing policy guru Eoin Ó Broin, earnest Eoin wearing the roundiest of round glasses and looking like Mary Lou McDonald’s extra special Minion, drawing on an impressive assortment of establishment worthies so he can tell the ordinary working people: “We cannot allow Fianna Fáil drag us back to the bad old days of the Celtic Tiger.”

O’Brien, who is no shrinking violet, robustly defended his position, accusing Sinn Féin of indulging in “Trump-style hysteria” and “cynical hysteria politics”. All grist to the mill for the Shinners.

But the calculated rekindling of memories of the economic crash and Fianna Fáil’s ignominious part in it, along with the repeated linking of Fianna Fáil to property developers and big builders will not have been comfortable for the party. Coalition partner Fine Gael, trading on its role in taking the country out of recession, is standing well clear.

Presumably the client also paid Davy a handsome fee. Imagine having the brazenness to charge a commission for selling something to yourself and your mates

But the embarrassment didn’t end with the debate.

During the Order of Business, Mary Lou McDonald turned the screws again on Fianna Fáil by conjuring up Celtic Tiger excesses with the restoration of “big bonuses” for “fat cat” senior bankers at AIB, a bank bailed out by taxpayers when the economy went wallop. “Outrageous bonuses to elite staff,” she railed. “It’s a kick in the teeth to every family and worker who struggles in these extraordinary times.”

Souped-up bonuses

The Taoiseach glumly explained that AIB bankers aren’t getting souped-up bonuses, as the payment only applies to stockbrokers whose company has been taken over by the bank and its different pay structure for stockbrokers.

There was an outbreak of unsympathetic laughter, partially brought on by the day’s revelations about Davy Stockbrokers being slapped with a €4.1 million fine for handling a sale in 2014 for a distressed client who subsequently found out that his Anglo Irish Bank bonds were snapped up at a knockdown price by a consortium of 16 high-flyers from – surprise, surprise! – Davy Stockbrokers, who then sold them on at a profit.

Presumably the client also paid Davy a handsome fee. Imagine having the brazenness to charge a commission for selling something to yourself and your mates. The Bisto Kids in Dawson Street wallowing in the Davy gravy. Unbelievable carry-on.

The Taoiseach said it was a terrible state of affairs altogether and the behaviour of the executives was “unacceptable” and “deeply disappointing”, but at least the regulator was on the ball, which is a comfort. Labour’s Alan Kelly said there will be one law for the rich and another for the poor until legislation is introduced to hold senior executives in financial firms to account. Otherwise, “it is highly likely that executives who act in this way in future will be able to hide behind fines imposed on their firms.”

The Taoiseach wasn’t exactly reassuring.

“We will work with you and others to see what more can be done to disincentivise such behaviour,” he told Kelly.

See what can be done to “disincentivise” such behaviour?

Perhaps Micheál might pop into his local branch of SuperValu and shove a few bottles of Schooner sherry up his jumper and see what happens. He’ll be disincentivised all the way to the nearest arresting garda.

They must be quaking in their loafers.

Or laughing into their Davy gravy.

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