MICHAEL CLIFFORD: Sadly, the Tiger bubble is still bursting ...

The embers of the past sparked into flames over the last few days, as tales of ordinary madness reminded us, once more, of just how demented were the bubble years.

The hangovers paraded through the public square illustrated how some have won, most have lost, and a few have been stripped of their basic decency.

How did Francie O’Brien transmogrify into a callous blackmailer? O’Brien was a public representative of 30 years, when he cravenly attempted to use his position to shake-down a public official, in a plot line that could have been lifted from The Sopranos TV show.

A vet, from the Department of Agriculture, who had transgressed in a small way, came to O’Brien for advice.

The vet feared for his job, and, in the great Irish tradition, went to a man of standing within the community, to see if things could be straightened out.

O’Brien, a Fianna Fáil senator, from Monaghan, until 2011, used his position as a confidante to put the arm on the vet for up to €100,000.

In cahoots with others, O’Brien conveyed to the vet that if he didn’t cough up, evidence could be produced to land him in even bigger trouble. The ruse displayed the kind of callous instinct that violent thugs use in protection rackets.

The vet eventually went to the cops, in despair, and a sting operation was set up. Now, O’Brien has begun a two-year prison term, at the age of 70. The work he did over decades, in farming organisations, in the community, in public service, has been washed away with a prison term for plumbing the depths of indecency.

What drove him? No doubt, his perilous finances contributed to his fall. He was a big chum of Michael ‘Fingers’ Fingleton, and a beneficiary of Fingers’ tendency to use the Irish Nationwide Building Society as a hedge fund for his buddies’ notions. O’Brien built up a portfolio of ten development sites and six rental properties, mostly financed through Fingers’ fast-track facility.

In recent years, O’Brien has been up to his ears in debt, as his former buddy scurried off to enjoy an obscene pension. Such a fate can do strange things to pride, and, in O’Brien’s case, the pressure exposed his moral fibre in a harsh light.

It is possible to have sympathy for one who has fallen so far, but it should be viewed in the context of the suffering of people of far lesser means or social standing.

They have carried often heavier burdens, without succumbing to any impulse to prey on fellow humans.

Elsewhere, during the week, the fate of Newbridge Credit Union threw into sharp relief just how crazy things got back in those allegedly halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger.

Having performed a bailout for the banks, where the greed was at its zenith, the Government felt compelled to do the same to save the credit union, by backing it into Permanent TSB.

The figures in Newbridge illustrate jut how crazy things were in the bad old days. In 2001, there were 6,961 loans outstanding, to a value of €54m.

By 2008, just an extra 818 members had loans, but the value had increased two and a half times, to €140m. One loan was for €3.2m.

What cloud of illusion smothered the people in charge of what is supposed to be a community-based organisation that aids members in providing for necessities and small luxuries? What madness took hold? The citizens at large will now foot the bill for the €54m in losses suffered by Newbridge.

But while most people have seen their standard of living fall, to a greater or lesser extent, some are insulated.

The ruling in a high court, last Wednesday, to allow €9,000 a month in living expenses to the wife of a bankrupt developer harks back beyond the Celtic Tiger years, all the way to the Big House days of the aristocracy.

Christine Connolly’s husband, Larry O’Mahony, is a former partner of the notorious developer, Tom McFeeley. O’Mahoney has been discharged as a bankrupt, after relocating to the UK for twelve months, to do his penance and cleanse himself of all debt.

Now, he is back and laying claim with his wife over €1m, which originally came in a loan from Anglo Irish (now the people’s bank, or, more appropriately, the mugs’ bank).

While that dispute is in abeyance, his wife requires €9,000 in living expenses, to pay fees for private schools for her children’s education, and golf-club membership, and, presumably, a weekly shop many miles from any discount supermarket.

Most notably, she requires €3,500 a month to rent in salubrious Ballsbridge, after the family home, in Shrewsbury Road, was repossessed. The judge obviously agreed that these folks shouldn’t be expected to slum it beyond the boundaries of desirable Dublin 4.

A few months back, a row broke out over guidelines in the new Personal Insolvency Act, about whether or not people availing of it should be permitted allowance for cable TV. The act is designed mainly for the ‘little people,’ who can’t pay mortgages taken out on family homes.

While the ‘little people’ are expected to lower their basic standards of living, those who bestrode the property bubble are allowed to carry on as if the illusory wealth had never vanished into thin air. That this kind of stuff is sanctioned by a court should be a matter of concern.

But if it’s winners you’re after, look no further than the adult offsprings of Charlie Haughey.

Last week, it emerged that the former family home, Abbeyville, had been bought for €5m by an overseas buyer. The Haugheys got out at the top of the bubble, pulling in €45m when they sold it, in 2004, to a house-building firm.

That’s about €11m a skull for each of the four siblings, money that they inherited from a property their father maintained like a feudal landlord while living on a politician’s salary.

We now know that he owed his good fortune to benefactors, who supported him while he double-jobbed as a tribune of the people and secret agent for a tiny elite of benefactors. His offsprings have inherited wealth that has moral foundations of quicksand. With it comes the usual power that accrues to the wealthy to shape society as they see fit.

The world may have been turned upside down since the heady days of 2006, but the more things change for some, the more they stay the same for others.

Let’s look on the bright side, though. We are waving goodbye to the Troika. This is presented as a matter of national pride, but caution should accompany any such notion. Considering the record of governments of all hue over the last 30 years or so, there may well be a case for asking outsiders to hang around and keep an eye on things. Left to our own devices, it seems likely that the madness will return again to do its thing.

Keep the head down.


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