Rage flares at impunity of banking and political crooks


OPINION:I KNOW a man named Seán who works in a builders’ providers firm in the west. He’s a nice quiet man, a gentleman, who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. He knows what I do for a living, but we almost never talk politics or current events. The most I’d get from Seán when I drop in for some emulsion and a chat would be a wistful query about the prospects of a ticket for Lansdowne Road . . . (and I’m not much help there, sadly).

The other day, when I dropped in to get some screws and a vital part missing from a ceiling light, Seán was helpful as ever. The shop was empty and we rummaged around and found what I needed.

Then, just as I was about to leave, Seán erupted. “Come here to me,” he said. “What is it with those f*ckers in the banks and those f*ckers in Fianna Fáil?”

I was taken aback. Red-faced with rage, he continued: “I’ve voted Fianna Fáil all my life but Bertie Ahern! Bertie Ahern! That f*cker! And all those f*ckers in Anglo . . .”

You get the drift. Seán’s outburst was totally unexpected, given his heretofore mild-mannered nature. But there, suddenly in front of me, I heard and saw some of what went into ballot boxes recently – naked rage at what has happened to our country.

With a bit of probing, Seán elaborated. There was a personal edge to his anger, in that he had lost money on a modest pension saving scheme – the stock market collapse had all but wiped out a nest egg that would have given him a little something extra in retirement (only a few years to go, but now postponed indefinitely).

But, like everyone who has seen their personal circumstances deteriorate because of the recession, I suspect Seán could live with this loss – he’d just knuckle down and make the best of the situation.

What explained the special edge to Seán’s anger was simply this: no one has been held to account for the banking fiasco. Resignations didn’t cut it for Seán, perhaps because the few we’ve seen have been grudging and graceless. Seán and, I suspect, an awful lot of other people, will not be satisfied until they see a banker being led from a court, chain-linked to a prison officer, to begin a jail sentence.

The problem is that our culture doesn’t do accountability, consequences and shame very well, if at all, in many situations, and this lack of accountability and being forced to suffer the consequences of one’s actions – ie, endure a spell in prison if convicted – is the root cause of so many of our problems.

It has taken over a decade for Jim Lacey, the former boss of National Irish Bank, to be made to account publicly for the tax evasion that accompanied his tenure at the bank. The director of corporate enforcement believes Lacey is unfit to be allowed to control a company ever again. Lacey thinks otherwise; the High Court will eventually rule.

Remember the scandal involving Fyffes and DCC? In mid-2007, the Supreme Court found DCC chairman Jim Flavin did indeed have insider information when he sold DCC shares in Fyffes. But rather than accept the shame of his conduct, Flavin, backed disgracefully by the DCC board, tried to brazen it out.

Would-be white-collar crooks in Ireland will only think twice about insider dealing and market manipulation when they see our own Bernie Madoffs in handcuffs being led off to Mountjoy.

The same is true in politics. In June 1982, the late George Colley made a speech about low standards in high places, his target being Charles Haughey and his cronies. Irish politics has been replete with low standards – and worse – for most of my adult life. But the electorate keeps re-electing liars, cheats and charlatans, so why should they – the politicians – change their behaviour?

In December 2008, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, in whose gift lay the filling of Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat, sought kickbacks from potential candidates. A mere seven and a half weeks later (with Christmas in between), Blagojevich was impeached, convicted and removed from office. Not only that, he is barred from elective office for the rest of his life! In April, a grand jury handed him a 19-count indictment of racketeering, conspiracy, wire fraud and other crimes.

Here, political crooks brazen it out, are cheered to the rafters by raucous bands of loyal supporters, and get re-elected by people who ought to know better. But they don’t know better, because our culture of tolerance of wrongdoing equates to approval and there are no consequences for the wrongdoer.

But maybe it’s changing. Maybe the anger of all the Seáns out there will translate into our “betters” being held to account by the Garda, the DPP and the corporate enforcer. It’s all about showing, as Bob Dylan put it in The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, that “the ladder of law has no top and no bottom”.

That’s what people like Seán want to see.