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Analysis/Comment Last Updated: Oct 27, 2010 - 4:58:02 AM


Celtic Tiger Aftermath: Guilty Irish politicians remain in denial and clover while ignoring their victims
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Jul 6, 2009 - 9:25:40 AM

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Sceilig Mhichíl in Kerry is one of only three of the 890 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, on the island of Ireland, the others being Brú na Bóinne in Meath, and the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim. The World Heritage Committee said the monastic complex, perched since about the 7th century on the steep sides of the rocky island, some 12 km off the coast of south-west Ireland, illustrates the very spartan existence of the first Irish Christians. Since the extreme remoteness of Sceilig Mhichíl (Skellig Michael) has until recently discouraged visitors, the site is exceptionally well preserved. The small cluster of six ‘beehive’ huts, two oratories and small terraces are located 714 feet above sea level, after a steep climb of 600 stone steps. Photo: www.sacredsites.com

The nineteenth century English politician Benjamin Disraeli, was once asked what was the difference between a calamity and a misfortune? He replied in reference to his political rival: "It would be a calamity if Gladstone fell into the Thames; it would be a misfortune if he was pulled out." In future years, historians will have a plentiful choice of terms for the current Irish generation of political and business leaders who doomed the Celtic Tiger. Given the huge avoidable damage caused by being so unprepared for a global recession, the guilty political leaders in particular, continue do what they know best - - pass the buck. In contrast with the plight of many of the victims of their reckless mismanagement, they will continue to be among the winners in the money economy and live in clover at public expense. 

In recent weeks, the four individuals  - - Bertie Ahern, Charlie McCreevy, Brian Cowen and Mary Harney  - - who were the main political players in the fuelling of the property bubble while leaving the economy in a situation today, where it may take two decades to overcome the effects of the crash, have placed all the blame for the crisis on global events.

Ahern, Harney and McCreevy had become national politicians in 1977 - - a year that ushered in the first period of monumental mismanagement in the history of the State.

In 1978, the budget deficit/GDP ratio was almost 18% and the national debt trebled within five years.

The four are following a simple formula today: claim credit for all the good news no matter how tenuous the link and run a mile from bad news.

In a nutshell, they say everyone had a party; things haven't turned out as expected for some, including the ones who have died from the subsequent hangover, but we should be thankful for what has survived the debacle.

"The lower taxes brought unprecedented employment and prosperity to this nation," Harney recently said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Marian Finucane programme recently the founder of the Progressive Democrats, Desmond O'Malley, was also in search of a silver lining.

He said the party’s economic policies were implemented by Mary Harney as party leader “and I think she’s entitled to huge credit for that.”

Cheerleading for tax cuts during a bubble period, is quite an achievement.

In 1999, as Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy was cutting taxes and extending property tax incentives, Harney with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern were the principal cheerleaders in the Cabinet. At the same time, the Governor of the Central Bank Maurice O'Connell was writing to lenders saying routine inspections had revealed disturbing practices by the commercial institutions in assessing the size of loans.

O'Connell criticised what he called "the particularly disturbing practice of allowing large amounts of the borrowers after tax income to go towards paying off a mortgage."

He was wasting his time and did not choose to resign or apply the powers at his disposal.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern recently rejected suggestions that policies implemented when he was in power have contributed to Ireland's economic crisis.

He was speaking in response to last month's IMF report, which said Ireland was facing the worst economic downturn in the developed world due to the property bubble of recent years.

In remarks to reporters in Dublin, Ahern claimed the Government would have been well able to manage the property crash if the international banking crisis hadn't happened at the same time.

This was the man who wondered in mid-2007 why critics of economic policy didn't commit suicide?

Current Taoiseach Brian Cowen said in the Dáil last week, that his regret is that he did not manage to predict that such a seismic shock to the world economy was going to happen and neither did anyone else.

“If my crystal ball had been better than those of the IMF, OECD and ESRI, I would have done more to reduce spending so it would have been easier to deal with this international recession,” the Taoiseach added.

“However, I stand over the decisions I made based on the best information and advice that I had.” Cowen said that when times were good, he had chosen to spend on badly needed public services but, against the wishes of the Opposition who wanted him to spend more, had also run budget surpluses and brought down the national debt.

It was simply all a surprise to him!

AIB Bank was selling off its headquarters to fund credit demands and a stretched developer was amongst the buyers: property taxes were about 17% of total revenues up from 4% in 1995 and DKM Economic Consultants' 2007 estimate was that Irish construction output represented 22.6% of GNP and 19% of GDP, when measured in gross output terms. The construction to GDP ratio was the second highest proportion (after Spain) in the European Union and ranged from less than 8% in Sweden to over 21% in Spain and with an average ratio of around 12% in Western Europe and less than 11% in the UK.

As for Cowan's predecessor as Finance Minister, Charlie McCreevy recently told a breakfast meeting of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland (ICAI) that Ireland and the rest of Europe will emerge stronger and better prepared for the future.

He accepted no responsibility for his ruinous policies, which left Ireland so unprepared for a recession.

There were no apologies either for the sham benchmarking average increase of public salaries and pensions by 9% or the Tammany Hall-style decentralisation plan.

The benchmarking agreement, which in 2004 was shown to be based on a false premise, was the greatest pre-mediated economic crime against the State since the Civil War.

It costs billions of euros each year.

Irish public sector pay excluding pensions exceeds private sector pay by 10% for top jobs to up to 30% for other grades

Irish Economy: IMF says Irish banks face losses of €35 billion by end 2010 - - 20% of GDP; "Modestly-paced recovery" after 2010; "Decline in wages will need to be sustained"

Irish Economy: The 2001 economic consensus that paved the road to economic ruin

Report says Irish Financial Regulator’s failure to control property bubble contributed to economic crash and consumer wealth losses

The Westmeath Examiner said in a recent editorial: "Perhaps before trying to put a positive spin on his era of excess, our former Taoiseach might explain why or how in the Ireland he created, pure, unadulterated greed can be bailed out to the tune of billions, while schools fall apart for want of funding, hospital wards close and unemployment skyrockets.

How long will such brass neck continue in Irish politics, without people sharpening their pitchforks?"

As the number of dole claimants rise to 500,000, its self-evident that these four politicians have brought misery to the lives of tens of thousands of people. They heap insult on the misery by claiming no responsibility for the economic crash.

In 1988,  Korea's former President, Chun Doo Hwan, apologised abjectly to his countrymen for the crimes he committed during 71/2 years in power. Before retreating with his wife to the Buddhist Baekdamsa Buddhist monastery, Chun promised to surrender his house, a skiing condominium, two golf-club memberships and at least $3.3 million to the government.

Chun Doo Hwan had been responsible for the massacre of protestors. Nothing comparable has happened in Ireland in recent times but who knows how many deaths will be triggered by the avoidable Irish man-made misfortune?

The guilty four should be banished from public life and at a minimum, accept responsibility for their recklessness.

Korea's Baekdamsa Buddhist monastery is on the site of a 7th century settlement. The Irish equivalent for atonement would be the 7th century Irish monastic settlement Sceilig Mhichíl, off the Kerry coast.

There surely is a justifiable limit to tolerance.

Dawn © / Leonard Sheil

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