Have you heard the good news? Finally, one of our wise elder statesmen has discovered the cure for what ails our nation.
You can forget your tribunals, criminal investigations, court cases, and convictions. No, that due process stuff is seriously overrated. What the people of this country really need to do is to get down on their hands and knees, stop complaining and start praying.
That’s according to former taoiseach and EU ambassador to the United States, John Bruton, who, during a reflection delivered in Christ the King Cathedral in Mullingar last Thursday, said the “relentless search for someone to blame” for bankrupting the country has become the eighth deadly sin, having easily leapfrogged gluttony and sloth in the immoral stakes.
“Vengeance does not cure the injury to victims. Sometimes it makes it worse. Retribution is not Christ’s way. No, that hard and unnatural thing, forgiveness, is Christ’s way,” said the chairman of IFSC Ireland — a marketing organisation for Ireland’s international financial services sector.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. We haven’t actually had an opportunity for any retribution or vengeance yet because nobody, not a sinner, has been held to account for banjaxing the country, but whist your self-indulgent bellyaching.
Saint Bruton says that even those impure thoughts — like the ones you get just after checking the balance of your overdraft, in which you imagine a number of high profile bankers starting a life sentence of hard labour in some far-flung gulag — are corroding the country.
According to the Sermon at Mullingar, modern Ireland would be a much more pleasant place if we all simply continued to turn the other cheek and quietly got on with the business of repaying Anglo’s debts for the next 20 years without grumbling so much.
Of course, we’ve all turned so many cheeks at this stage that one assumes the former Fine Gael leader is in fact asking us to drop our collective pants, and have our arses mercilessly whipped for eternity, in order to demonstrate our magnanimous capacity to forgive.
“Our reason is a gift from God and we must use it to examine our own lives, our faith and our failings . . . if we did that more often, we would not need so many regulations and regulators,” he mused.
So, the public face of the financial services sector in Ireland thinks we should replace regulation of the industry that has, thus far, cost us €100bn, in payments to banks and NAMA, with religious reflection? What’s next? Politicians telling us that we should return to the good old days when blank cheques were their preferred method of payment and one had more chance of being hit by lightning than getting a receipt for a political donation?
Bruton’s deep-seated aversion to financial investigations dates back at least 20 years when, at a Fine Gael fundraiser, Frank Dunlop told him a party councillor, Tom Hand, was demanding an extortionate amount of money, reportedly £250,000, in return for his support for the infamous Quarryvale project.
“There are no angels in the world or in Fine Gael,” was the cryptic response of the then Fine Gael leader, who failed to report the matter to gardaí or, indeed, conduct even the most cosmetic of internal inquiries into the allegation because he was “disinclined” to believe Dunlop.
Considering the “endemic and systemic” nature of the corruption that was unmasked by the Mahon Report, one would have thought that a chastened Bruton would now have a little more time for the blame game — namely, finding and prosecuting those fraudsters who used their positions of prestige and influence to fleece the country and feather their own nests.
Although not remotely religious, rarely invoking angels when told about gross corruption, I tend to come across all Old Testament when it comes to debates on the various financial fiascos that have led the country to its current sorry impasse.
Personally, I think a dash of vengeance, and a good dollop of retribution, would go a long way to restoring some public confidence in this country, its political institutions and its justice system.
Not so our former taoiseach who seems to think that a group hug, a rousing rendition of “Kumbaya” and a tearful promise to try to do better is punishment enough for those white-collar criminals whose greed and avarice cost the country its economic sovereignty.
Perhaps it’s easier to forgive and forget when one is creaming a €138,000 annual pension from an insolvent State while still boasting a high-paid job in the private sector, hobnobbing with bankers who intensively lobby for a return to wing-and-a-prayer financial regulation.
Bruton, who will never know the worry of missing successive mortgage repayments, or endure the pain of seeing a sick family member languish on a public waiting list for years, can afford his piety. What he can’t afford, apparently, is to lead by example and return some of his gargantuan pension to an impecunious State — at least until he, you know, actually retires.
Bruton’s obstinacy in this regard is in stark contrast to the patriotic stance taken by a former taoiseach he served under, Liam Cosgrave, who, without fanfare, has quietly gifted part of his pension back to the state.
Let’s not forget, the former Fine Gael leader is also receiving an EU pension for the time he spent as ambassador to the United States, income from speaking engagements, board appointments, like his position on the board for the Centre for European Policy Studies, and whatever he gets for the honorific positions he holds, like Visiting Fellow of the European Institute at the London School of Economics. That’s before his bumper salary from IFSC Ireland even comes into the equation.
Meanwhile, he feels no compunction about lambasting those, engaged in the so-called blame game, who have the temerity to wonder why nobody has yet been hauled before a court and charged with any criminal offence related to the spectacular implosion of the country’s economy and the saddling of tens of billions of euro of private debt onto the shoulders of just four million citizens.
At least others in positions of authority are finally beginning to publicly ask questions about the snail-like pace of the investigation into the banking collapse.
Speaking at the weekend, Communication Minister Pat Rabbitte said the “interminable delay” of the Garda investigation into the fetid dealings at Anglo Irish Bank was “unconscionable”, and wondered why no one has yet been charged with their part in the “destruction of the country”.
Well, Mr Rabbitte can join the club but it seems obvious that, despite the assurances given to Government, the Director of Corporate Enforcement doesn’t have the requisite resources at his disposal to conduct the investigation in anything remotely resembling a timely fashion — the four-year length of the inquiry is proof positive of that fact.
Religious high flyers like Bruton, fond of moralising from the pulpit, may be happy with the notion of white-collar crooks getting their punishment in the next life. Me? I’d prefer to see them held to account in this one.
This article was first published in the Irish Examiner on April 11 2012