White-collar crime - Start to change laws right now

THE letter from Unite, the union that represents 2,500 Irish Life & Permanent workers hits the nail on the head.

With clarity made possible when minds are focussed on dreadful and immediate possibilities the union accused the IL&P board of putting thousands of jobs at risk to save one of their executive colleagues.

IL&P bosses last week rejected the resignation tendered by chief executive Denis Casey. However, after intense political and public pressure, Mr Casey recognised his position was untenable and quit. His passing was marked by declarations of admiration and assertions that praised his “loyalty and integrity” from IL&P chairwoman Gillian Bowler.

Just as disgraced DCC boss Jim Flavin insisted he had done nothing wrong, Mr Casey and two colleagues, who had resigned earlier, may believe that they have done nothing wrong; that they did nothing out of the ordinary in “Liechtenstein on the Liffey”. Ms Bowler may even believe that they did nothing wrong.

What they did was use someone else’s money — all e8.2 billion of it entrusted to their safekeeping — to cover the escalating crisis at Anglo Irish. By lending this massive sum, which was recorded as a deposit, they helped defraud those who invested in Anglo Irish. They put their investors’ and depositors’ funds in jeopardy and by so doing the put the jobs of 2,500 people at risk.

In the bloodstock industry it would be called race fixing, in the motor trade clocking a car and in the bar business watering the whiskey.

Nothing wrong? Integrity? Loyalty? Do they take us for complete fools?

Mr Casey will not be the last banking executive to resign or be fired before this sorry episode concludes. How could he be? His behaviour or that of his IL&P colleagues does not seem to have been exceptional.

Deposit guarantees and a e7 billion recapitalisation programme may or may not save our banks, our economy — or our jobs — but what these interventions have done is to focus overdue attention on how our banking system operates. Sadly, the answer seems to be that they tried to get away with whatever they could. And, considering our “light touch regulation” that seems to have been a considerable amount.

Their response? A credit crunch that is costing hundreds of jobs every day and ushering in a once-in-a-century economic catastrophe.

It is now time to do more than utter angry denunciations. It is time to ensure that they are never in a position to behave like that again.

Speaking during the debate on recapitalisation in the Dáíl last Thursday, Green Party leader and Environment Minister John Gormley declared with admirable intent: “In the United States you see people who are white-collar criminals led out in handcuffs. I want to see the same regime in this country, and I believe we will get the same regime in this country.”

How much more do we have to see to be convinced that these laws and, most importantly, their vigorous application, are essential if this is to become a country we can all belive in, one that we can be proud of?

One that might again entice foreign investors?

We have had four tribunals of enquiry as well as today’s banking crisis. The time for anger and talking has passed. Use the laws we have, make new ones if they are needed and co-operate with our EU and American colleagues — but just get on with it.

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