Annus horribilis in green - Anger can be catalyst for change

IN far too many ways 2009 has been a year of sterile, exhausting outrage.

An annus horribilis in green.

We, more or less every last one of us, were angry and disappointed far too often. Far too much physical and emotional energy has been wasted in what seemed a constant rage against the unremitting dark.

We were, and still are, angry with the banks. We wonder with increasing frustration how long it might be before someone is charged over the high-roller excesses that did so much to destroy our economy. Sadly, experience tells us that we should not hold our breath as every day that passes makes it harder to refute the old charge that there is, in Ireland, a social class who simply never go to jail or even expect to go to jail.

We were spectacularly angry with the Catholic hierarchy at least twice – over the horrors revealed by Ryan and Murphy reports.

We continue to be angry with these old men who still put the interests of the greatly diminished Catholic church before those of the victims of predatory priests despite all of the disclosures and heartbreak. We may still be angry with ourselves because we allow so many facets of our modern, supposedly European lives to be influenced by an authority now seen as a vestige of another time and one as corrupt as any other in the land.

Farmers are rightly angry that giant food processors and retail conglomerates have used their whip-hand advantage to slash the prices they can expect for their produce thereby pushing most family farms towards the edge of insolvency.

Just yesterday a Government-appointed financial watchdog confirmed what most of us already suspected. It told us that the financial regulator failed in its job of protecting consumers by providing a safe and fair market. The report accuses the financial regulator of being too lenient with the big banks, carrying out useless investigations and, shockingly, not understanding what the bankers were up to.

They didn’t even know the broken rules of the game.

The Consumer Consultative Panel accuses the regulator of sidelining consumer interests at the height of the financial crisis and warns that proposed reforms will not be strong enough to prevent a recurrence of the crisis challenging all our lives.

The report’s authors want an independent investigation into what went wrong and says it is unacceptable that so little has been done to control reckless financiers. Bankers may consider this just one more interlude of amusing finger-wagging but for the rest of us it is a call to arms. Basically, they tell us we have been screwed and that we will be screwed again unless we take a far harder line with these cowboys.

Public servants were furious that their wages have been cut and very many private sector workers were angry that they were not cut sooner and by a greater amount. Trade unions are angry that the process that conferred them with such great power – social partnership – has been mothballed or at least put on hold for the foreseeable future.

For a while we were pointlessly angry with the weather as it seemed we would never see a dry day again. Many of those who bore the brunt of the flooding are still trying, during this Christmas week, to recover what most of us take for granted.

Just this weekend a good number of people are resigned – angry may be too emotional a word – that the promise offered before the climate change conference in Copenhagen has petered out in such a damp, ineffective disappointment. So much more time, that most valuable and irreplaceable or resources, will be wasted before we all confront the only issue that really matters to us all.

We accept that anyone, be they banker or churchman, criminal or regulator appointed by the State to safeguard the interests of us all acts in a vacuum without consequence. Be they local authority planner or a trusted legal advisor it seems they can behave as they wish without consequences.

We had a particularly unnerving example of this just last week when a high-level Dublin criminal was convicted of murder. Witnesses were so afraid that they had to be compelled to tell their stories in court. It has been suggested that senior gardaí have been threatened because of their role in securing this conviction. In another area of the country criminals kill at will and drive around in armour-plated 4x4s. In another region a man convicted of the most violent of sexual assaults is comforted by neighbours as if he had been hard done by.

All of these sad stories point to one thing. The deterrents we impose do not work. We can continue as we are or insist that we expect better.


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