herald

Wednesday 15 August 2018

Andrew Lynch: After all of this pain, who - if anyone - is actually going to end up in the dock?

It should go down in history as Black Thursday.

Today's admission from the Central Bank that the cost of bailing out Anglo Irish could reach €34bn is devastating.

The 'Anglo Avenger' who drove a cement truck into the gates of Leinster House yesterday may have been a reckless idiot -- but as a political statement, his 'Toxic Bank' slogan was bang on the money.

So who's going to pay the price?

On a financial level, every man, woman and child will have to stump up over €8,000.



Eerie

On a political level, the Government will certainly be hammered at the next election. On a legal level, there is nothing but an eerie silence -- and that, above all, is why people feel so angry today.

Brian Lenihan's statement makes for grim reading, but at least it brings a certain amount of clarity to our budgetary situation. It should have been accompanied by an announcement from Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, declaring that the wasters who landed us in this mess will now be pursued by the full vigour of the law. Two years on from the banking guarantee, we have yet to see any of its culprits being put in the dock -- and if it's true that we get the politicians we deserve, it's equally true that we get the scandals we're prepared to tolerate.

The sins of Sean FitzPatrick and Michael Fingleton have been well rehearsed.

While it is far from clear that any legal action will be brought against them, the public at least has the satisfaction of knowing that they will be social pariahs for the rest of their days.

The notion that these two chancers caused the entire banking crisis between them, however, is obviously absurd.

Behind Seanie and Fingers, there was a small army of equally reckless bankers who blew up the property bubble with their crazy lending and then effectively lied about it to the Government.

On a moral level, they are as reprehensible as any petty thief -- and if they can't be put behind bars, they should at least be named, shamed and asked to publicly account for their actions.

The basic facts of the scandal are worth repeat-ing. On the fateful night of September 29 in 2008, a group of senior bank executives went to Government Buildings and put a gun to Brian Cowen's head.

They told him that without an unlimited guarantee from the State, the country's ATM machines would run out of cash within a matter of weeks.

We now know that the biggest financial decision in Irish history was taken on the basis of false information. The banks claimed that they merely had a liquidity problem, while in reality they were on the verge of insolvency. Whether or not they were fooling themselves as well as the Government, they did not tell the truth -- and the devastating consequences for future generations are now plain for all to see.

Last January, the Government bowed to public pressure by setting up a banking inquiry but insisted that it would be largely held behind closed doors. Since then, we have heard virtually nothing about it.

The chances are that it will end up with a bland legal report, which might be of some interest to historians but will do nothing to assuage the public's fury.

It is still not too late to rectify the situation. If the Government had the political will, it could haul some of the chief suspects before a special Oireachtas committee next week and ask them a few tough questions. It might not end with people in stripy shirts being bundled into police vans, but it will surely be more satisfactory than the legal vacuum we seem to have now.

The public is looking for banking heads on plates. If the politicians cannot provide them, they will surely end up getting scalped instead.

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