Developer uses Nazi phrase in attack on Nama

Ex-justice minister Alan Shatter has insisted the banking inquiry takes action against one of Ireland’s most notable boom-time developers after he used the reviled Nazi concentration camp phrase — “work brings freedom” — to underline claims Nama had infringed on his “human rights”.

Mr Shatter, who is Jewish, said it was beyond his personal comprehension why anyone would use the phrase in such a context, after Johnny Ronan used it in a statement to the Oireachtas banking inquiry.

In a 28-page written statement to the cross-party group published yesterday, Mr Ronan repeatedly hit out at how Nama’s alleged “short-sighted” approach had cost taxpayers billions of euro in lost revenue and trampled on the “constitutional” rights of developers.

The developer behind the Westin Hotel in Dublin City, Powerscourt’s Ritz Carlton Hotel, and Google’s European headquarters told the inquiry his company had only faced short-term difficulties when the crash occurred. Mr Ronan claimed he would have been able to repay the money owed without Nama’s intervention.

Former Justice Minister Alan Shatter
Former Justice Minister Alan Shatter

In addition, he said his 50% stake in Treasury Holdings was secure and the company did not need to see its Battersea Power Station development moved on in 2011. It had been a “baffling, short-sighted” decision, he said, which cost the taxpayers more than £4bn (€5.43bn) and was “one of the costliest in the history of the State”.

In a controversial statement, Mr Ronan said the Nama Act had infringed on business people’s “human rights”. He signed off his statement by claiming: “I am very glad to have exited Nama and do not intend to look back. However, we, as a nation, need to learn from our mistakes. ‘Arbeit macht frei’ nó, i nGaeilge, ‘Tugann saothar saoirse’.”

“Arbeit macht frei”— meaning “work brings freedom” — is a phrase first published in the title of an 1873 German novel about gamblers and fraudsters finding redemption through labour.

However, since the sign was placed on a number of notorious Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War, it has become synonymous with the Holocaust.

The reviled remark was used to suggest to people placed in the Nazi death camps that they may earn their freedom.

Mr Shatter said the bank inquiry must immediately remove its reference from Mr Ronan’s already redacted statement: “It is beyond my personal comprehension that the notorious and diabolically misleading ‘arbeit macht frei’ which greeted the tragic and doomed victims of Nazi tyranny as they entered the Auschwitz concentration camp would be proclaimed.

Auschwitz being liberated near the end of the second World War
Auschwitz being liberated near the end of the second World War

“It is totally bizarre that he felt the need to have the statement translated into Irish. I can only presume that he did not know the origin of the phrase or its misuse to seductively encourage people to cooperate in their own death and destruction and in that of their loved ones.”

Mr Shatter said Mr Ronan must explain why he felt the need to use the phrase.

The inquiry is now likely to contact Mr Ronan in the coming days to seek answers over the developer’s claims.


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