|Karl Whelan, a professor of economics at UCD (University College Dublin) Source: UCD|
Ireland Post-Bubble: RTÉ, Ireland's State broadcaster, is in good company in
regarding conflict of interest a strange concept. Meanwhile, we had more
evidence this week that the inconvenient past may have become inoperative.
The Irish Independent
reported that in its annual report for 2010, RTÉ said it bought
commissioned programmes worth €2.7m from companies that were owned or controlled
by board members or their close family members.
RTÉ has said that decisions on individual commissions are not made by the
board but by executive management.
The newspaper said a spokesman responded: "It would not be in the interest of
any public broadcaster, nor the public, for independent producers of experience
and skill . . . to be either barred from board service or, if appointed to a
board, to be barred from seeking to maintain their business and livelihood by
being disallowed from competing for programme commissions."
"RTÉ's board operation on the one hand, and its executive process for
programme commissioning on the other, are separately drawn up, operated and
In recent years, in response to reports that its highest earners were in
receipt of free BMW cars, a spokesperson made a distinction between the
high-paid contractors and the non-management staff: “As Pat Kenny, Gráinne
Seoige and Diarmuid Gavin are freelance contractors, it is the RTÉ policy not to
comment on their personal matters,” she said. “We would consider the
matter of transport a personal matter.”
RTÉ itself reported in 2007, that local councils with up 45% of the
membership with commercial property interests, participated in rezoning of land
for development. In addition, the lobbying of planners that was common in
Ireland, would be a criminal offence in Scandinavian countries.
The Catholic Church will in time realise the cost of its reliance on the
morality of individuals compared with having transparent governance rules that
are strictly enforced.
There may be no question to answer on any of the 2010 contracts but only a
fool or someone with a self interest would claim that there is no potential for
a conflict of interest.
The board is presumably supplied with information on forward plans and it
would be ridiculous to deny that contacts between friends and former work
colleagues, would not impact decisions and the chances of having a project
RTÉ itself provides many examples of how the boom was blown and as Taoiseach
Enda Kenny's seminal speech this week illustrates the disastrous failure of
Rome's efforts to protect its brand, the journalists at the broadcaster could
also break a mould by shining the sunlight on itself.
That of course is unlikely to happen as public spending cuts will provide
ample material to pull the emotional strings of the public and portray politicians as
In 2009, the
broadcaster's hugely overpaid agony aunt, Joe Duffy, warned in The Sunday Mail
about a "head of
steam building up from the commentariat blaming those who work for the State for
our financial woes," adding:
"There's no benefit to be gained from advocating equality of suffering for
RTÉ paying price of reckless mismanagement during boom; 65% of combined surplus
of €47 million in 2006/2007 was from pension fund windfalls
Irish Economy 2009: Talk to Joe! - - the
asymmetric national agony aunt for confusing times - - and Cowen's €2 billion
The past is
Time magazine reported in April 1973 that the
Nixon Administration had developed a new language - - a kind of Nix-speak.
Government officials were entitled to make flat statements one day, and the next
day reverse field with the simple phrase, "I misspoke myself." White
House Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler enlarged the vocabulary in that month,
declaring that all of Nixon's previous statements on Watergate were
"inoperative." Not incorrect, not misinformed, not untrue - - simply
inoperative, like batteries gone dead.
In today's Ireland, it's not uncommon to find
that individuals who went with the flow during the bubble years or had like the
politician, Shane Ross,
praised the most reckless of the bankers, are now
pushing for the most risky economic solutions, such as unilateral default.
It helps of course that in Ireland the forensic
broadcast interview is rare, because either the interviewer does not have the
facts available or avoids inconvenient truths.
The past is simply inoperative.
It is a legitimate question to ask an individual
such as Karl Whelan, a professor of economics at UCD (University College
Dublin), who has been an active commentator on public policy since the crash, in
both the broadcast and print media, about his five years working at the Central
Bank during the most reckless years of the boom.
Irish Economy blog thread, I commented:
"Seeing that you were a senior member of the
staff of the Central Bank during the most reckless period of the bubble, at a
time when Patrick Honohan [current governor who was then a professor of
economics at Trinity College] was highlighting the big surge in foreign
borrowings by the domestic banks, it’s a reasonable question to ask of a critic
of policy, what arguments/warnings or not, were you giving to colleagues?
Did you ever consider resigning as a matter of principle or did you go with the
flow like the rest?"
Whelan replied and shut off the comment feature, preventing any response:
"Perhaps you missed it but I did resign. And my position wasn’t a senior one by
anyone’s stretch of the imagination.
Anyway this thread isn’t about me and what I did or didn’t do in the past. Time
to wrap it up I think."
Whelan did resign in July 2007 and took up his
present position in August 2007. In October 2007, he became a part-time adviser to the Central Bank.
reads: May 2002 - July 2007: Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of
Held positions as Economist, Senior Economist, and Deputy
Head in the Economic Analysis and Research Department
October 2007 to Present Consultant, Central Bank of Ireland.
The deputy head of the economics research
department in a central bank is just another clerk with no influence even on the
focus of research?
The learned and thin-skinned professor appears to
have developed back teeth and cojones in respect of public policy - - after he had moved to the sidelines.