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Ireland and the Killing of the Tiger

February 23, 2009

Judging from conversations and the news reports, the impact of the economic squeeze is much more pronounced back home in the Republic than here in Northern ireland. At least for time being.  The stream of job losses shows no sign of abating, retail activity has dried up and the government is reeling with incompetence and corruption.

And it’s these latter two signs that give these economic conditions a truly Irish crunch. At the centre of it all, and epitomising the greed that will be the defining characteristic of the Tiger years, is Anglo Irish Bank, known anecdotally as the developer’s bank because of their willingness to deal with property developers and the easy-to-get loans which stoked the property boom. Add to that a government led by Fianna Fail, known universally as the developer’s political party, and what you have is an unholy trinity, lending, borrowing and legislating to make millions for a few.

Anyway, Anglo is now nationalised as of last September. Fianna Fail stepped in after having looked at the books – which were artificially boosted by a hidden loan from another bank, returned once the government officials and auditors had departed – and protected the bank (and their friends). The Minister for Finance admitted he never read the important parts of the report on the state of play in Anglo, because he probably wouldn’t have understood it even if he had (in his own words). Then we also learn that the banksters in Anglo had loaned 451m euro, secured only on Anglo shares, to a so-called ‘golden circle’ of ten friends to buy shares in the bank to artificially boost it’s share price prior to embarking on a world-wide investment tour. Just over 80m euro was repaid, but 300m was just written off by the bank. Enda Kenny, leader of the opposition Fine Gael party is in a lather, believing that prominent FF members are in the circle, perhaps even members of the cabinet. Meanwhile FF are flapping about trying to find excuses not to reveal the names.

And in the 2nd half of last year, when this whole economic storm was deepening, the FF govt gave two separate wage increases to public sector workers, completely misreading the economic conditions, only to try and take it back from them in January through a pension levy. This brings 100k plus public sector workers onto the streets of Dublin in protest last Saturday.

Typically, the Irish electorate is saying, ‘slap it up the civil servants’, who have guaranteed jobs and haven’t had to pay for their pensions until now – but they also reveal to the pollsters that ‘the levy is a bit harsh now isn’t it?’ An typically Irish head in the sand approach- it’s bad but it’s not that bad!

Meanwhile the shyster who bankrupted the country through excessive public spending, and jumped ship just in time in favour of his now hapless Finance minister, is travelling the world teaching Central American countries how to run an economic miracle like Ireland’s (into the ground – says Miriam Lord in the Irish Times). And the Financial Regulator who was supposed to keep an eye on all this activity but missed it – all of it – retired last month with a golden handshake of 630k euro and a guaranteed pension of over 150k euro a year. And the top echelons of the recently nationalised Anglo paid themselves 9.5m euro in bonuses last year – this on top of the more than 130m that the top man had in secret loans, unrecorded in the books.

Honestly, you couldn’t write it.

The country is mourning the death of the Celtic Tiger and looking for scapegoats. The bankers will do. Last week a man was in court for throwing eggs at a bank building in Cork. And IBOA officials (the bankers union) was complaining of the abuse being suffered by its members at the hands of the general public.

Seems to me that everyone is to blame. While a substantial proportion of the population lived high on the back of the hog, banksters served as pushers to satisfy the debt-addicted lifestyles of the population.

I’ve wondered in recent weeks whether there is something in the makeup of us Irish that makes us historically and genetically unable to cope with success. For the first time ever the country has experienced an economic boom the likes of which De Valera could have only dreamed and we wind up with a economy that is not a hair’s breadth from bankruptcy, a massive widening of the poverty gap and corruption that would put an African junta to shame. Is it possible for a nation to be conditioned to poverty and lack of success?

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  1. Anglo round up « Tiger By My Side

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