PROPERTY developer Johnny Ronan was right to apologise yesterday for his injudicious use of the phrase Arbeit Macht Frei (work will set you free) in his statement to the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry.
There can hardly be a context for using that infamous phrase, one exclusively associated with one of the greatest crimes in human history, outside the tragic story of of the great, barbaric savagery inflicted on the people of Europe in the last world war. Its association with an ideology so repugnant, so amoral, makes it redundant in another context.
Former justice minister Alan Shatter was right to ask that it be removed from the public record as it had been used so very unwisely and with such offence, even if unintended, to those who had lost relatives in the Holocaust. However, Mr Ronan’s misuse of the phrase — regretted he assures us and he must be given the benefit of the doubt — raises many issues for Nama and the Government in regard to how the agency has conducted its landmine-strewn business.
The issues, and there are many, must be framed in the reality that any agency asked to resolve the multi-billion euro tangle of debt, ambition, deceit and possibility left by the banking and property market collapse— and the potential for quick, bargain-basement enrichment for those with ready cash — would inevitably be the subject of rumour and accusation. Nama is no exception and the agency is, rightly or wrongly, the subject of disquieting and sometimes incredible rumours in, if not every parish in Ireland, then every second one. It has been accused of being high-handed and under-selling state assets.
In Mr Ronan’s case, he has accused the agency of “operating outside the law”. He alleged yesterday that: “Nama promised its borrowers that they would be treated fairly if they co-operated, but that unfortunately was not the case; co-operating businesses ... were destroyed, with all the consequences of that for Irish jobs and the taxpayer.” Accusations like these demand a detailed response if the integrity of the process and the agency is to be maintained.
Indeed other concerns already public are more than enough to cause for considerable anxiety. They most certainly challenge the Government’s commitment to reform so very blithely offered in Fine Gael’s five-point plan “to stamp out cronyism and low standards”.
The allegations raised in the Dáíl by Deputy Mick Wallace are on such a staggering scale that the Government’s nothing-to-do-with-us shrug only raises more suspicions. Mr Wallace sugested “fixers fees” of €45m were paid out during the controversial sale by Nama of its Northern Ireland loan portfolio. Mr Wallace said the portfolio was sold for about 27p on the pound. “The missing 73 pence has been picked up by the taxpayer in the South,” he claimed. Those who would dismiss his claims should remember the fate of the last minister to do so during the penalty points saga. We waited far too long for a committed but shackled banking inquiry, so surely we won’t have to do the same before Nama’s books are opened to justifible public scrutiny? These issues can’t be ignored.
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