Keep The Profit, Share The Blame

We All PartiedSo the Nyberg report into our banking industry says that borrowers as well as lenders were to blame for the crisis. Fair enough I suppose. After all, it’s not like the banks lent money to people who didn’t ask for it.

Oh wait. They did.

A tramp living in a sherry bottle could borrow money in that market. Hell, they offered a ‘pre-approved’ loan to me. While many borrowed foolishly or even greedily, the greater part of the blame must surely fall on the professionals. Your bank was traditionally expected to advise you on your financial interests. It was not supposed to push debt on you, take your indebtedness and repackage it as an asset, use that to raise money, declare this a profit and pay themselves enormous bonuses. A basic trust was broken there. Not to mention a law of thermodynamics.

A proportion too has to belong to the institutions overseeing the industry – the regulators of course, but ultimately the Department of Finance. They were astonishingly lax while all this was going on, and we still aren’t being told why. (The role of government was beyond Nyberg’s remit, strangely.)

Do we really need to ask though, when politicians party with and parties are funded by people who were making enormous profits  from all this? The nod and the wink is the Morse code of Irish governance, messages flew back and forth across the wealth-to-power hotline. You’ll go a bit easy there on the regulation. Wouldn’t want to kill the golden goose, or look a gift horse in the mouth, or whatever stupid aphorism they used.

When you get a gift horse as mysteriously generous as this you shouldn’t look it in the mouth, no. You should shove a telescope right up its bum. Nobody rocked the boat because the boat was full of money.

Save The Senate

This is a photograph of the Seanad chamber, Le...
What our Senate might look like with the useless scum removed

There could be no better image of all that’s wrong with the Senate than Ivor Calelly contemptuously abusing the house to save his own political career. No wonder the public has no respect for it when so many of its denizens were dumped there, in what the parties seem to think of as long-stay parking.

This is a great shame. Though as presently constituted the Seanad is, let’s face it, a pustule, what we need in this country is more oversight of the executive, not less. It may be little better at this than the rubber-stamping Dáil, but it is a little.

The Senate has some great strengths. You can get into it without really being a career politician, without being slave to the party whips. We could use more of that, you know. The Senate has – or had – people like Shane Ross and David Norris.

Want a simple way to reform the Seanad? End the Taoiseach‘s right to stuff it with useless lackeys. Skim off the political pond scum.

Save The Senate

This is a photograph of the Seanad chamber, Le...
What our Senate might look like with the useless scum removed

There could be no better image of all that’s wrong with the Senate than Ivor Calelly contemptuously abusing the house to save his own political career. No wonder the public has no respect for it when so many of its denizens were dumped there, in what the parties seem to think of as long-stay parking.

This is a great shame. Though as presently constituted the Seanad is, let’s face it, a pustule, what we need in this country is more oversight of the executive, not less. It may be little better at this than the rubber-stamping Dáil, but it is a little.

The Senate has some great strengths. You can get into it without really being a career politician, without being slave to the party whips. We could use more of that, you know. The Senate has – or had – people like Shane Ross and David Norris.

Want a simple way to reform the Seanad? End the Taoiseach‘s right to stuff it with useless lackeys. Skim off the political pond scum.

Our First FF Canvassers

Knocking on the window. I go outside.

“We came to the wrong door.”
“You came to the wrong house. I don’t give a flying fuck about you guys. You’re welcome to leave.”

I guess I should have been better prepared. The problem is, any time I rehearsed it mentally it ended with shouting and a tirade of filthy abuse. So I guess “I don’t give a flying fuck Doorbell Cartoonabout you guys” showed remarkable self-restraint, even if it was virtually nonsense.

What I want to say is “How can you show your faces? How can you actually stand here and campaign for that party?” But that would have only started them making excuses, and I wouldn’t have been able to hold it in then. They’re gone ten minutes now, but I’m still aching to shout or break something.

And that’s just one Fianna Fáil candidate. There’s another two of the bastards still to come.

Pleasantly Batshit

O'Keefe CartoonI love it when they don’t care anymore. Now that Ned O’Keefe has resigned from politics, he can tell us what he really thinks. And over what one might be forgiven for suspecting may have been a drink or four, he gave his candid opinions about the recent government – of which he was a supporter – to Cork paper The Evening Echo:

“The situation has become so bad that an Army coup is a real possibility.”

Wait, what?

“Our political system is going to fail further. The two Brians have made a right mess of the country and I see the real possibility of an Army coup.”

O… K. Does the man with two Brians realise we don’t actually have a lot of army? We’ll have to rent.

“People thought I was mad with all the things I have predicted through the years, but I foresaw the economy collapsing due to lax regulation on building housing estates and unwanted shopping centres.”

Shopping centres. Well he’s right if he’s saying that they were a symptom of the failure rather than the cause. I’m just not sure he is. But then a weirder direction:

“So what if Charlie liked nice women and a few extra nice shirts? He was the best leader we ever had.”

So our problems have nothing to do with corruption. It’s just young politicians these days. They don’t know how to be corrupt with style.

Hallelujah, That I Live To See This Day

After last night accepting the resignations of much of his cabinet, alleged Taoiseach Brian Cowen has finally called the long-overdue election. However, despite the fact that there is approximately zero chance of getting any actual work done before it, he has appointed new people to the vacant positions. All the resigning ministers have decided not to run in the election, rather than have their political careers end in an ignominious defeat, and Cowen says he wants to appoint ministers who are running and so have “the potential to stay in government.”¹

He lives in another world, doesn’t he? They have about as much chance of being in government after the election as I do of teaching a duck to play tennis.

In truth, these appointments are bribes to ensure future loyalty. It borders on the academic, seeing as he’s not going to be leader of anything for much longer, but he might as well spend what political capital he has while he can. He doesn’t have a hell of a lot of other moves left.

So what happens between now and the election? If Cowen does secretly accept that Fianna Fail have no hope of being in the next government (and I’m sure, in the quietness of solitude, he does), then his real problem is to make sure that they aren’t destroyed permanently as a political force. Most do not consider that a possibility, more a fantasy of us commentator-types, but it could happen. Where once it had a distinct nationalist agenda, Fianna Fáil now depends for its vote on patronage, on the sharing out of the goods the State has at its disposal² to friendly faces in business.

Obviously they won’t be making powerful friends if they can’t bring gifts to the party. But this known corruption is essential for the FF base too. It helps give the impression to voters that by electing a FF representative they will get a better deal personally. The voter wants a representative who will do them favours, use their government insider status to secure them an advantage with state mechanisms that are meant to be impartial. This is why you barely ever hear politicians accused of corruption in Ireland. A level of corruption – on their behalf – is precisely what voters have come to look for in their politicians.

Of course, the ways in which a lowly TD can really influence state bureaucracy are small (particularly if the petitioner is an ordinary person whose interests do no align with those of more generous business contributors ), but TDs work hard on the illusion that they are bending rules and pulling strings for their constituents.

This illusion though can only be maintained if FF are in power on a more or less ongoing basis. Otherwise, constituents will discover that they have pretty much the same benefits even if their TD isn’t furiously writing letters for them. But the thing is, they have been. Fianna Fáil has been running this country for all but nineteen of the last seventy-nine years. The longest they have ever been out of power is less than five. It is less a party now than a permanent ruling elite.

This must be number one of Fianna Fáil’s first successive terms in opposition. Cut off from the supply of the State’s (that is, our) money to give to its supporters, it will inevitably shrink. It won’t be the end of corruption in Irish politics of course, but it will be a huge step towards bringing it down to a controllable level. And by ‘controllable’, I mean a level that will not entirely bankrupt the country. Again.

  1. In Ireland all ministers must be elected representatives.
  2. Which includes information.

We Name the Mystery TD!

Rumours were flying at the time that a FF politician had received a secret payment of over a million from someone in business, but libel laws prevented us from naming him. I think it is safe to say, 15 years later, that the person concerned was a certain Charles J. Haughey.

I’m going to do it! I’m going to name the mystery Fianna Fáil TD! Yes, in print, right here – and I don’t care if they sue!

I name him Edna. It’s a nice name, no? Edna the mystery TD.

Our libel laws are such fun. We’re only talking about rumours here, but you can’t report what the rumours are – even if you add that personally you disbelieve them. They’ve happily said on radio that the name of a “very prominent Fianna Fáil TD” is being bandied around. To this we can add the fact that we are, presumably, talking about a millionaire here – unless he spent the lot. But you can’t say “so obviously they mean Edna.”

It’s getting lovely and baroque. People are not just denying that this or that person received cash, they’re denying that they’ve even heard rumours that this or that person did or did not receive cash. Allegedly. You’ve got to be careful in print. This is because, you see, the printed word has authority.

Bollocks. The big difference between slander and libel is that if you just say something you can turn around and deny you ever did. If you set it in type and distribute several thousand signed copies, you’re digging your own grave.

And you definitely can’t use the word ‘corruption’. People can give as much money as they like to other people, even politicians. They’ve a right to. And they can do it in secret if they wish, and they don’t need to ask for a thing in return. People often give you cash for no reason whatsoever, don’t they? There’s absolutely no grounds to assert that these donations represent any distortion of the democratic system, just because some people have more money than others and they’re kind enough to give it to the people who make the laws. It’s necessary for democracy, if we want well-run, efficient political parties. I hope that makes everything clear.

Or put it another way: “Don’t sue me.”

Just a second… They can only sue you if you’ve got something to lose. And I, am completely flat broke. In fact I owe a bit to the revenue commissioners, which is actually extra insurance. The tax man gets first shout in bankruptcy cases, so even the property I own (a portable stereo and four shelves of books) wouldn’t go to anyone who sued me.

Prison? Yeah, I could end up in jail I suppose. But three square meals a day, regular sleep and no pubs is just what the doctor ordered for me right now. I mean literally. He said if somebody else had done to my body what I’d done to it myself, they could be charged with assault.

So I’m sue-proof, I can say any damn thing I like! Great. It’s about time it was said out loud, once and for all, that [CENSORED].

Oh yeah, the paper’s still got something to lose, I forgot that. This is a problem. But I’m a publishing company now, (more on this next week), so maybe I should run off a few thousand copies and distribute them personally. That’d be a heroic act. I can just see myself handing out these bits of paper bearing the huge, dark secret.

And everybody will say “But I knew that”, and I’ll have to explain that by writing down something everybody knows on a piece of paper, I’ve achieved a great moral victory at huge risk to myself. And they’ll look at me like I was very strange.

As I write, Bertie Ahern is on the radio arguing – somehow – that the alternative to political donations is dictatorship. Jesus… Okay, okay, please don’t declare a dictatorship. We’ll do anything. How much do you want?