Rejuvenating Ireland - Like banks, faith must be rebuilt

WHEN St Brendan, one of the great figures of early Irish monasticism, left Kerry’s Brandon Creek in the early years of the fifth century on his seven-year voyage to try to discover Paradise, he must have had many supporters who wished him nothing but the very best though they did not have any great comprehension of where he was going, why he was going or what he might discover.

They may not have had any idea of how vulnerable he and his crew were in their vessels of hides, light timbers and hand-woven sails. Yet, they wished him fair winds.

In so many ways Finance Minister Brian Lenihan might be considered a St Brendan. His ambitions are draped in complexities and terrible uncertainties. He faces known and unknown dangers and he must make great decisions without the benefit of precedent to guide him. He is constantly offered passionate advice, much if it contradictory, and yet he must embrace the unknown if he is to have the success we all need.

Those who travelled with St Brendan – history cannot agree, there were anything from 14 to 60 – had a particular kind of faith but Brian Lenihan cannot rely on the religious zealatory that inspired fifth-century missionaries to sail over the horizon. However, if he rescues this economy he will nearly have earned it, especially when his personal battle is considered.

This week has been dominated by proposals on how to best dispose of the Anglo Irish cadaver and there have been as many responses as there have been interpretations of what has been agreed with our friends in Europe.

Just at the very moment the eurozone debt crisis enters a critical phase, as governments prepare to increase borrowing to sustain faltering economies, clarity was at premium. Instead complexity and political debate made the proposals a matter of faith rather than of clarity. It is impossible to be certain about the proposals much less the outcomes so blind belief in a system that has nearly destroyed this and other small European economies has again assumed a critical importance.

This faith is not as strong as it once was and must be nourished if we are to endure what is being increasingly described as “an age of austerity”.

One of the ways to encourage this faith would be to show that we will not allow the bankers who lied to our Government and destroyed our economy to, as Olivia O’Leary put is so piercingly this week, “play golf in Marbella for the rest of their lives”. Doing this must be as important to rebuilding international investors’ confidence in Ireland as anything else, it certainly is to the vast majority of Irish people.

Two years after the collapse not one of those responsible has been discommoded in the slightest way by our justice system. This week’s Anglo Irish proposals will be accepted because putting an alternative in place is all but impossible.

However, December’s budget will be a different matter. Unless our justice system has moved against the liars and wreckers by then, even someone as optimistic and determined as Brian Lenihan will have great difficulty in winning the reluctant but pragmatic support his measures will require. Even praying to St Brendan may not be enough unless justice is seen to be done.


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