| 14.4°C Dublin

Turning his pen on the authors of Ireland's destruction

IN Matt Cooper's new book How Ireland Really Went Bust, he recalls an evening last January when Brian Cowen came to his Today FM studio for a radio interview.

As chance would have it, the most unpopular Taoiseach in history found himself sharing a lift with one of his greatest tormentors, Gift Grub star Mario Rosenstock.

Cowen said with a straight face, "I'm giving you a lot of material these days," to which Rosenstock replied, "You're the gift that keeps giving."

Matt Cooper must feel much the same way. The presenter has already written one hefty volume about our Celtic Tiger folly, last year's bestseller Who Really Runs Ireland.

This equally impressive follow-up brings the story bang up to date, showing how the infamous banking guarantee of September 2008 set in motion a train of events that culminated in the IMF's arrival on the streets of Dublin.

As you would expect from one of the country's most experienced journalists, Cooper does not pull his punches.

"What had happened to the country was not the fault of the vast majority of ordinary people, be they public or private sector workers, the unemployed or students, the elderly or children," he writes.



Incompetence

"The crisis resulted from the reckless actions of the wealthy elite, greedy bankers and their property developer mates, the incompetent regulators and the inept government up to 2008; and it had been compounded by the disastrous error involved in guaranteeing non-essential banks such as Anglo Irish and Irish Nationwide and the invention of NAMA.

"There was nothing fair or moral about those without responsibility for the crisis being landed with the bill, but that's where it landed."

The chapter titles alone provide a good flavour of the book's contents, including The Hangover, Welcoming Mr Chopra, Developers in Denial, A Very Irish Monster and Carry On Regardless.

While the subject matter is familiar, however, the depth of Cooper's research puts his book in a different league to most of his rivals.

If you thought you already knew everything there is to know about NAMA, bank bailouts and the incompetence of our last government, the book reveals that it was even worse than you thought.

Since Cooper regularly interviewed the main players on his radio show, he is a good position to size up their characters. Here is his devastating verdict on Cowen himself:

"Cowen's mood swings... made it difficult for those working close to him. Timing was important, as he wasn't always in good form in the mornings. He suffered from a sleep disorder, apnoea, which his alcohol consumption made worse.



Drinking

"While the regularity of his drinking as a means of escape was nothing like the legend that had developed, nonetheless he did not cope well with hangovers and tended to snap at those who displeased him when he was suffering from them.

"More importantly, many began to fear that his use of alcohol was a symptom of deeper, underlying problems.

"Cowen was shell-shocked by what he'd had to go through, as well as having to deal with feelings of guilt. It was as if he were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder."

When Cooper once asked Cowen about his lack of communication skills, the Taoiseach retorted that he was more interested in substance over style.



Substance

The problem was, he couldn't get the substance right. His banking guarantee, which the late finance minister Brian Lenihan said would be "the cheapest bailout in history", turned out to be a horrendous mistake that pushed Ireland to the brink of bankruptcy.

In Cooper's colourful language, "the blindfolds were being put on for the march to the abyss... they inhaled the bulls*** and gagged."

Even when the IMF came knocking last November, Cowen seemed to believe that we couldn't handle the truth.

He didn't even tell his colleagues what was happening, which caused ministers such as Dermot Ahern and Noel Dempsey to make complete twits of themselves by declaring that the rumours were "fiction".

It was left to the Central Bank governor to treat us like adults, going on Morning Ireland against the Taoiseach's wishes and confirming that Ajai 'Chopper' Chopra had checked into the Merrion Hotel.

Cooper's book is driven by his palpable anger at the lack of accountability for those who got us into this mess. As he points out, no banker has yet been put behind bars.

Cooper also slams the people who are prepared to tolerate low standards in high places, his most surprising target being Colm Toibin.



Witch-hunt

The award-winning novelist bizarrely claimed that he would not join the "witch-hunt" against Michael 'Fingers' Fingleton because the Irish Nationwide chief had helped him to get his first mortgage.

"When somebody who is regarded as one of the country's leading intellectuals, and formerly a formidable journalist who had been willing to subject the establishment to forensic investigation, excuses Fingleton on the basis that he once gave him a loan, it becomes clear just how unwilling this country can be to confront serious issues," the author laments.

Nobody could accuse Cooper of the same thing. His book contains ideas for the future as well as analysis of the past, including his "debt-for-equity swap" solution to the negative equity crisis that he first outlined in an RTE documentary last year.

There are also revealing anecdotes, such as EU commissioner Olli Rehn deciding that Ireland hadn't suffered enough austerity when he went to L'Ecrivain restaurant on a Monday evening and found it packed.

So what now? In his final chapter, Cooper argues that we need a Plan B for a default on our debts, a Plan C in case we fail to re-enter the bond markets and a Plan D to cope with a break-up of the euro.

All we know for sure at this stage is that if Enda Kenny has these plans locked in a drawer at Government Buildings, he is keeping quiet about them.

Matt Cooper's second book is another brilliant achievement that should be read by anyone interested in the state of the nation.

Let's just hope that his third one is a bit more cheerful.

How Ireland Really Went Bust is published by Penguin Ireland