Our vitriol in this crisis is seriously misplaced

Have you noticed the level of vitriol aimed at various Irish people who sit in the pigeon holes marked “property developers” and “bankers” recently?

A series of attacks comprised of violent spoken and written words has been under way now for some time, positioning their victims as pariahs in Irish society who deserve to be at least jailed if not worse.

This new apartheid is aimed at a group who have become utterly defenceless against a media gang who have shaped a narrative which goes something like this — Ireland has been destroyed by a small group of bankers and property developers who gorged themselves on the Celtic Tiger and bled the country dry by helping themselves to fortunes while screwing the entire population.

Any attempt at putting balance against this view is met with a wave of snorting about the privileged few who are spoilt brats in need of a good hiding. Writing in their defence attracts opprobrium.

Handy, isn’t it? Instead of exploring some dark corners of Irish society to understand our national crisis, it is far better to have a small number of named individuals we can take photos of, stone metaphorically and abuse repeatedly in an effort to re-assure ourselves that a small group of Baddies killed lovely Ireland.

The truth is very different. Back in the mid-noughties, I worked in Irish stockbroking. I clearly remember the management teams of leading Irish banks being excoriated by international fund managers and analysts as being too conservative relative to the thrust of Anglo Irish Bank.

Anglo Irish itself was over-run with international investment bankers who were offering ever more exotic financial instruments that could swell its balance sheet and turbo-charge its loan volumes. A vicious cycle ensued of Anglo aggressively expanding its loan book and AIB and Bank of Ireland executives being repeatedly lectured about their relative backwardness. We all know what happened next.

A similar tale washed over the property sector. Individuals running small construction companies were propelled into global property magnates through a set of financial steroids provided by a system that salivated on a complex collection of asset- backed securities, otherwise known as debt.

This system was an integral part of the euro and was regulated and overseen by the ECB. The ECB was part of a global group of central banks that conspired to create a debt-filled bubble across the US, UK and Europe. Ireland was flame- grilled in the midst of that.

So, as we face another bone crunching budget designed to meet the needs of a troika which contains the ECB, why are we largely directing our vitriol at a group of Irish citizens when it should be focussed on much bigger institutions?

These monoliths are not easy to personalise. You cannot get photos of them next to swimming pools. Yet, that is where our firepower needs to be trained now.

Alongside the unemployed and underworked, are a group of previously wealthy and not so wealthy Irish now in financial ruin. One of these groups is presented as the effect of an Irish tragedy and the others are portrayed as the cause.

In fact, they are all citizens of this society. A somewhat more sophisticated analysis is needed to root out what went wrong here instead of the Cartoon Network that masquerades as informed comment and debate.

In the rush to judgment, we are at risk of another witch-hunt against a set of Irish men and women who are now voiceless. They live in leafy suburbs, wear fancy clothes, and get indignant when challenged. Many of them are also financially and professionally destroyed.

“Let them burn” is an attractive populist perspective on how they should be treated, but Ireland is a civilised society — isn’t it?


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