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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Terry Prone: Worst thing is, none of us know who we can trust anymore

We thought the worst was over. Tough winter. Damaged economy. But, such is our relentless optimism that the longer evenings, the bit of warmth in the sun, all added up to a sense of hope and direction and recovery.

Maybe we couldn't get away at Easter like we used to, but spring, if not summer, was in the air and all would be well. Even when Met Eireann talked of "a cold snap", we didn't expect storm-driven sleet would find us with our umbrellas blowing inside out as we fought to get doors open.

It looked as if nature was in sympathy with the economy. We got into our cars, put the heater on and turned up the radio. It didn't matter what station we turned to. It was all the same. Brian Lenihan, in that slightly breathless way he always had, rushing us through the disaster. He was honest. Authentic. And terrifying.

"The detailed information that has emerged from the banks in the course of the NAMA process is truly shocking," he told us. "At every hand's turn our worst fears have been confirmed."

For the first time, the scale and scope and duration of the tragedy crystallised for most people in this country. For the first time, we realised that this was a historic setback that would affect each one of us painfully and personally. Every man, woman and child in this country is going to have to divvy up €2,000 a year, some commentator said.

Except that if you take away the people who are too young or too old from the general working population, even THAT sum comes apart at the tots, and you realise that you, the worker, are going to have to pay a lot more than that amount every year. How much more? Who knows? For how long? Who has a clue? How can you do it, since you're already making economies you never thought you'd have to make? Your guess is as good as mine. It wasn't just the scale of the bad news that has us floored. It's the helplessness and the rage.

The banks that are now closing small businesses and sending threatening letters to people missing a couple of mortgage payments are the same banks that lent money to every jumped-up builder who fancied himself as a property-developer.

They didn't just build more hotels than we could fill even if the Red Army came on holiday to Ireland. They built apartments and houses we couldn't fill if families of 12 kids came back into fashion.

What were they thinking? And why is it us ordinary slobs who have to carry their can?

The sleet beat against our windscreens, the traffic slowed to a crawl, the interiors of our cars misted up, and we started to do sums on the glass in the mist as Brian Lenihan told us he understood we'd love to end Anglo, rather than save it. End it?

We'd like to squash it flat and keep the cow-pat remainder as a memorial to an era of vulgarity and self-deception, when our heroes were people like Seanie FitzPatrick and Sean Quinn.

The minister did his brave best to convince us that, despite the years of denial on the Taoiseach's part and despite not predicting, just a few months ago, how bad it was going to get, they now have a handle on the disaster.

We listened, and we wondered how shameful today's coverage in the international media would be. How foolish we would look. How noticeable our shame would be, coming to international attention long after most other downed economies have begun to turn around.

Into the middle of the national, generational horror came the news about Quinn Insurance, and despite all the reassurances that their premiums were safe, people insured with the group got shivers up their spine.

Because none of us know who we can trust any more.

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