The Irish mess

If you thought Greece is a mess, think again. My homeland is, in significant ways, worse: more like Sicily without sunshine. There’s a great column by Elaine Byrne in today’s Irish Times that sums it up.

Appropriately enough, Black Tuesday coincided with the birthday of Vincent van Gogh, a man consumed by madness. By the end of that day, the Irish taxpayer was the owner of one debauched bank, two building societies and now holds a majority and minority stake in two other banks. On our behalf, the Government committed some €32 thousand million to the financial sector as a consequence of their mistakes. By the end of year, the taxpayer, through the offices of Nama, will also own €81 thousand million of property loans.

Wednesday’s front-page Irish Times report outlining Brian Lenihan’s banking plan contained 22 references to “billion”. That word has no meaning anymore because it is too big to appreciate fully. As Des O’Malley observed yesterday, the UN estimated cost to rebuild Haiti is a quarter of what we will spend on bailing out Anglo Irish Bank.

Those that seek to remember, to call to account, are often chastised for their anger. The capacity continuously to forget, our lack of memory or collective amnesia, has been a destructive virtue of Irish public life.

There will be no apologies or statements of regret from the political, financial or regulatory authorities. As Seán FitzPatrick said on RTÉ radio days after the September 2008 Government guarantee: “It would be very easy for me to say sorry, but the cause of our problem was global so I couldn’t say sorry with any degree of sincerity and decency but I do say thank you [to the Irish taxpayer].”

Patrick Neary, the financial regulator, was rewarded with an early retirement golden handshake of €630,000. Irish Nationwide’s Michael Fingleton retired with a €27 million pension fund and a €1 million bonus.

Seán FitzPatrick enjoys a large pension and got a €400,000 golden handshake. Former Anglo chief executive David Drumm went to Cape Cod with a €659,000 bonus. Anglo doesn’t expect €109 million of some €155 million owed by former directors to be repaid…

It’d be nice to think that FitzPatrick and the other rapacious creeps who ran the Irish banks into the ground will eventually go to prison. But somehow, although he has been interviewed for 30 hours by the cops, I suspect that he will go unpunished. Think of him as Ireland’s very own Fred Goodwin. But at least Goodwin had his windows broken and his car vandalised…