Accountability

We heard on RTE radio yesterday that the shopping centre in Bandon which is now under flood was build in an area known to locals as “the swamp”.   Other councils and planners were also known to have allowed buildings to be erected in the flood plains of rivers over the boom period.  How can they be held to account?  

Consultants also face inefficient incentive structures.  Will PWC lose any future contracts for failing to highlight the importance, in their report to the Minister for Finance, of the €7 billion deposit that ILAP had placed in Anglo-Irish Bank?  This was damaging to the credibility of the Minister for Finance and his department when it emerged into the public domain several months later (Irish Times, February 12, 2009). 

A correspondent recently drew my attention to a statement from the same Minister on November 28, 2008.  Referring to a report he had received on the Bank Guarantee Scheme, the Minister noted that:

 “The report confirmed that the capital position of each of the institutions reviewed is in excess of regulatory requirements as at 30 September 2008. The report also concludes that even in certain stress scenarios the capital levels in the financial institutions will remain within regulatory requirements in the period to 2011.” 

Since the report remains confidential, the extent to which the Minister’s interpretation and explication may have been politically motivated remains unclear; i.e. how broad a range of the stress scenarios does his statement refer to?  If the report’s authors got it completely wrong, then surely they should have consequences to face?  

The powers and remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General need to be extended to cover such matters.

 

64 replies on “Accountability”

Is there an argument, Frank, for demanding greater accountability from the Irish people, in terms of their failure to perform their civic duty?

Democracy ensuring we get the govt we deserve and all that, isn’t the real failure among the voters in not exercising their democratic duty to oust crony capitalists and force those in power to be accountable.

I have often marvelled at the asymmetry between the notion of civil rights and civil duties. How can we suppose that we have an entitlement to live in a society which upholds our rights, without us feeling the slightest obligation to defend those rights through active civic participation?

Not only is it negligent and immoral to not vote, but it is even negligent and immoral to fail to inform yourself as much as possible as to the qualifications and the political activities of your elected representatives.

Delegating this task to the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Courts, the European Commission or whoever else is not an adequate substitute for democratic participation of the citizenry.

I wonder what level of professional indemnity insurance PWC had to carry for the purposes of that appointment and what their liability was capped at, if at all.

Interesting point. However, it seems that the courts in Ireland place a higher value on the concept of ‘reputational capital’ to keep firms in check rather the direct punitive measure. So I would imagine the disclaimers that PwC had in the report will hold.

On a similar point though, direction taken by Europe in relation to auditing seems to removing the liabilities (and there wasn’t much to start with) from from the auditors in what can be construed to be fear of one of the Big Four being removed and a tri-opoly being formed in the profession.

@ Graham,
I fully agree that the electorate has to accept its share of the responsibility, and it bothers me to hear everyone (particularly non-voters!) say that “we’re not to blame for the crisis, so why do we have to pay?”. The theory of representative democracy though is that representatives are elected to devote their time to master and adjudicate upon complex issues that the electorate does not have the time, experience or resources to adjudicate upon. Our system clearly functions poorly in this respect. The Public Accounts Committee, chaired by the Opposition, is one of the few effective ways in which the
legislature performs as a check on the executive, and it is serviced by the C&AG. Clearly other deeper institutional changes are required as well. I am writing on this at present.

@Graham
Speaking for myself, I just never believed our Government could be so bad. I thought they were like the fictional Arthur Daley, likeable rogues, they turned out to be closer to the fictional Gordon Gekko!
You will see a lot of accountability at the next election but will that change the political sytem? I don’t think it fundamentally will. It’s NOT the voters fault. For world class salaries we deserve world class accountability.

@Frank
Our incentive structures are indeed chronically inefficient and there is no sign of any reform. The following are some further questions I had about NAMA. I think your opening post needs a full debate. I don’t want to derail this discussion. People should just keep these questions in mind as some of them do concern outside experts. Particularly how they are appointed and how much we are told of their role in decisions.

If anyone can provide answers to the following, after the thread has run its course, I would be grateful:

From an excellent report by DKM referenced by Mr Lane, Sept 09.
http://www.dkm.ie/uploads/economy_watch/Economy%20Watch%20September%202009.pdf

“The concept of NAMA was born out of a report by Dr.
Peter Bacon, an economist turned property developer.”
I and many people believed this too. But from the report below it looks like Bacon was told to come up with risk insurance or a bad bank.
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/finance/2009/0220/1224241489832.html
Just wondering who made the initial decision that the options were risk insurance or a bad bank rather than say preprivatisation?
Also, was there an appointments process for Dr Bacon?
On 20 May 09 Vincent Browne wrote about Michael Sommer’s evidence:
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/0520/1224246950210.html
It is clear from this that the minister selected Brendan McDonagh.
Was there an appointments process?
On what basis did the minister direct the hiring of Merrill Lynch?
Was there an appointments process?
“He also revealed he had had very serious reservations about Anglo Irish Bank as far back as 2007. Such was his alarm about this bank that he did not want to deposit any NTMA cash with that bank, although he was under considerable pressure to do so”.

I have problems with the Oireachtas website so I can’t open Sommer’s evidence. Did he clarify:
Who was putting him under pressure?
Who did he tell about his serious reservations?
What did they reply?

The minister directed the NPRF to pour €7 BN of the nation’s pension fund into AIB and BOI. After doing so, why did he leave the boards of AIB and BOI intact and allow the appointment of insiders as chief executive, especially to AIB? Is this being careful with the nation’s money?
http://www.nprf.ie/Investments/directedInvestments.htm

Also, I talked before about the acutely incestuous process relating to government bank director and Anglo chief executive appointments.
How those the appointments procedure work for directors who are watching our huge “investments” in Anglo, AIB and BOI?

@ Frank

Yes Frank, what you say is correct. One of the first and without any doubt the most important, issue is to establish clear accountability in the workings of government. While politicians can compel faceless civil servants and agents of government to do their bidding and then protect those same civil servants and agents from any accountability when things go wrong, we will never build a strong economy.

A good example of this was the former Financial Regulator, Patrick Neary (a career civil servant), who was asleep at the wheel back in 2007–2008 when our bankers were engaged in illegally giving themselves millions in secret loans and shifting billions of illegally disguised deposits between one another’s banks.

In an interview in May 2008, Neary said that there were signs “‘we might be coming out the other end” of the liquidity crisis in the banks and criticised the rumour-mongering about Anglo Irish Bank and other Irish banks as being close to collapse. “These rumours are groundless”, he said.
Then five months later, the government was forced to bail out the entire Irish banking system with a guarantee of €485 billion.

It seems extraordinary that the Financial Regulator should be so ill-informed about the finances at Anglo Irish and the other Irish banks under his control.

On 9 January 2009, he announced his intention to retire at the end of the month, following the completion of a report into his institution’s mishandling of loans to directors at Anglo Irish Bank. Commenting on the contents of the report, Neary said he was not advised of any such issues until they were raised by the Minister for Finance in December 2008.
So, Neary had openly admitted that he failed to properly carry out the function of Financial Regulator.

How was Neary punished for this clear dereliction of duty?

Neary retired with a lump sum of €428,000, equivalent to one-and-a-half times his annual salary of €5,900 per week, even though he had only been appointed to the job in 2003. He was also paid a special bonus of €202,000, equivalent to eight months’ salary, in respect of the two years left on his contract. Oh, and I nearly forgot, he also got full pension rights of €2,700 per week for life, with increases equal to the pay increases granted to subsequent holder of the position of Financial Regulator, for his lifetime.

The list goes on and on and will continue to do so until senior banking executives and other white collar criminals go to jail.

But don’t hold your breath Frank, because we don’t do accountability in this country.

You guys are poking about at the entrance to a wasps nest. The wasps will become very belligerent if you persist and are successful in opening up the nest. Wasps, unlike bees, can sting many times!

The principle issue is whether or not we do have a democratic and accountable state, or a slightly democratic state, which is grimly unequal, socially, politically and economically. My guess its the latter. Correcting this is not possible – at least not using constitutional means. This is not meant to be a pessimistic assessment – its just just the way that it is. I don’t like. Many don’t like it. We are powerless to force reforms.

Vote! you say. I have never failed to do so. Its the choice I am afflicted with that is the issue. They (our legislators) wear different ‘strip’ – when in fact they are actually all members of the same ‘team’: a sad bunch of players and substitutes. We citizens deserve better, but no better will be offered.

If I live long enough, we will encounter a severe energy shock, then TSWHTF! ‘Till then, its a few bottles of the best. Keep up the pressure though – you never what may turn up.

B Peter

@ frank& graham

I agree with both of you. We need to take reponsibility as voters and our Banks, Government and professions likewise.

But what are the options? Our political and electoral systems are badly broken and yet it is our elected politicians we entrust with fixing them.

Our system has been contaminated by years of abuse and the sort of corruption that can only come from having the same dominant political party in power for 90% of the last 60 years.

Electing another party or parties to work along side a civil service that is badly broken and has been built by the dominant force in their own image will delay a return to the same ol same ol for about 4 years.

I am afraid that it is a lot more than a general election this country needs if it is to fix itself.

Which makes your point on civic responsibility even more relevant Frank.

But can anybody come up with a way that the people can change the system, one that does not involve violence or is there no other way.

Doesn’t economic theory suggest that any given individual should not vote, since voting has a cost (get yourself informed, trudge up to the polls), and it is unlikely that one vote will make a difference?

Obviously some people get something out of the act of voting – a sense of having done their civic duty, perhaps? However, some people don’t, as seen by the declining turnout in our elections. Maybe we need to make voting compulsory.

Even then, I doubt it would make much of a difference. Some of my smartest friends are on the opposite side of the political spectrum to me. They look at the same world I do, and, due to differing views on issues like freedom and equality, come to a different conclusion.

@MB, BP Woods
Please don’t talk about violence the country has enough problems.
A constitutional amendment for free speech would do wonders.
Breaking up media monopolies – including RTE – would help further.
A smaller but financially and in every way independent state media would be hugely beneficial. Eliminating the power of politicians/civil servants on Garda appointments would make a huge difference. Changing the laws and amending the constitution to make prosecution for corruption much easier and the consequences much more severe would have a dramatic effect. Similarly judicial appointments and appointing the DPP should be taken out of politicians hands as far as possible.
Not to mention empowering Oireachtas committees.
There are a thousand things that could be done.

@E43BILLION,
I agree that a constitutional amendment on free speech could have very beneficial effects. I argued for this in a paper with UCD barrister John O’Dowd, published in Studies in 2001, when we were considering possible alternatives to our hugely cumbersome but very valuable tribunals. A precis of the paper is available at:

http://www.studiesirishreview.ie/j/page385

@E43Billion Yes, there are many things that COULD be done, but won’t be. Its not that I am being pessimistic – its the fact (and you can certainly challenge me on this) that those with the power to do the things (our legislators) either are incompetent (can’t even imagine the ideas), or don’t want to (keep Business-as-Usual). Wait a sec, I’ll throw a die: Its a four! – the’re incompetent! If this appears cynical its not! There is such a condition as Skilled Incompetence – or just plain, vanilla varnished, unmitigated arrogance.

Everything you suggest I strongly agree with. I have an even longer list. The real predicament is that there has to be a meaningful intellectual debate about the principles under which we operate – not a tit-for-tat about the merits or otherwise of ‘modifying’ the existing arrangements, when in fact they need shredding.

As I said earlier, keep this up. Someone will notice (I hope!). Whether they have the intestinal fortitude for action is another matter entirely. But please remember, that whilst stones on the ground are mute, stones in the air speak volumes!

B Peter

15 January 2009

The Government has today decided, having consulted with the Board of Anglo Irish Bank Corporation plc (“Anglo”), to take steps that will enable the Bank to be taken into public ownership. This decision has been taken after consultation with the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator which has confirmed that Anglo Irish Bank remains solvent.

Was Anglo solvent in January 2009?

http://www.finance.gov.ie/viewtxt.asp?DocID=5627&CatID=1

We do live in a Democracy albeit one with more than its fair share of corruption. One does not have to be a Sherlock Holmes to fathom the depth and breadth of political and bureaucratic corruption in Ireland. For example County Council employed planners freelancing for developers, quite acceptable with the Irish voters, a few bob for the boys. Sure who would begrudge them that. Planning applications sitting dormant for months a “campaign contribution” to one or more Councillors or TDs and voila movement. But complications have arisen in the planning department you have to get an engineering report that states that only a
one hundred year tide will flood your site. Your Councillor/TD ever helpful will usually recommend a good man John Joseys son, you know the one that came back from abroad. JJs son will get a couple of thousand and an addditional few of thousand to be disbursed amongst Politicians/TDs who will be helpful to the cause. Wink, nod, nudge a fine fol de doodle doo.
This dance could go a good few rounds up to a 100 thousand over a few years.
I see today a roof flew off an apartment block yesterday, I expect more of this, graft results in poor outcomes. All this can be cleaned up, it will require jailing hundreds of professionals, bureaucrats, politicians and others. This will not happen in my lifetime or in the lifetime of my children.
Corruption is the norm and bred in the bone, the average Irish voter expects it and condones it. Really, when in Rome it is advisable to play by their rules.

@ e43billion

There are a thousand things that can be broken up and made to work better but until we break up the political system that has a vested interest in things remaining as they are, nothing can be done.

My question ( and feel free to offer an answer ) is how does a society break up a political system without getting blood on its hands?

The issue of accountability goes to the heart of so much that is wrong with Ireland.

A sign should be raised on Government Buildings : “Where the Buck Stops Nowhere”

Incompetent ministers legally having responsibility and senior civil servants with responsibility, but who do not have to take responsibility.

Public tolerance for gombeenism is a big part of the problem as is the power of property interests.

When I grew up in Bandon, there was never a flood in the town.

At times in winter, fields would flood before the river reached the town in advance of the salmon weir, which was built in 1625, 15 years after Christchurch was completed (the first Protestant church to be built in Ireland) and the waters would rage over the weir where the family of Central Bank Governor Joseph Brennan, generated electricity for the town, at their adjacent mill, from 1919 until 1939.

@ M.B

It’s an interesting question but it’s 2:35am where I am!

Certainly, the lack of interest in reform is depressing.

@MB
Iceland recently. Eastern Europe in 1989 – where the government were much worse! Peaceful protest. Or simply by public pressure on government backbenchers. We live in one of the most stable democracies in the world. It’s one of our few enduring successes. Let’s keep it that way.

@Frank Galton
There is a huge issue for how valuers and accountants treat property values during and after bubbles. I believe McWilliams made a proposal at the time of the guarantee that they should use some sort of lagging/averaging valuation method. I haven’t heard a lot of public debate on how professionals should respond to what has happened.
They need to radically change.

The stress tests and their criteria should be published in future. By Jan 09 the property bubble had rapidly deflated from a year and three quarters earlier (Mar 07).

@ E43billion

Put pressure on backbenchers! Hardly Che Guevera like.

Its political and electoral reform we need not a medical card.

As for Iceland they were lucky enough to have a total collapse of their economy. Unfortuneatly Europe has provided our sorry lot with a safety net. Hence the limbo in which we currently find ourselves.

How long are we going to be nearly bankrupt for?

Michael Lowry’s topping the poll in election after election says something scary about the Irish psyche.

To paraphrase Jack Nicholson in ‘Batman’, “This country needs an enema”.

I remember a quote from the famous book about the open source software movement by Eric S. Raymond called ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar’.

“Given enough eyes most bugs are shallow”

One thing that strikes me, is that when we (the human species) manage to land a space craft on planet Mars, the photography is offered to the wider public as soon as possible to gaze at it. Some parties do weird stuff. They print out the photos and use them to create art work. Others come up with theories for what the photos might mean. The startling thing was, that the ‘crowd’ managed to come up with some very accurate analysis of the photos that NASA made public.

My question is as follows, where is the central database of helicopter images of towns and regions experiencing flood problems in Ireland at the moment? We have wasted valuable human resources which might be available to us to start engaging in analysis of the problem. These photos should be exposed to the public. I mean, talking to experts that I know in my own immediate social circle, I now understand that flooding in Galway relates often to flood plains rather than rivers.

I noticed someone up further in the thread has expressed an opinion in relation to Bandon. I notice that our use of online based tools in Ireland, in these situations is rather poor. Anyhow, future planners, builders and developers of projects in Ireland should have access to this information also.

I have to say in relation to Corbally in Limerick, a lot of relatively new homes built. Doesn’t the name ‘Shannon Banks’ say something?

Forget about the politicians, the banks, the auditors. A certain amount of the problem could be solved by exposing more information to a wider more public forum. If we can learn anything from the deluge of financial problems and flood water problems, that should be it.

What seems to happen in Ireland is auctioneers and the property industry would not like to see aerial photos of towns in flood put on the internet. Because it might alter the perception of ‘value’ of certain structures built on certain land. Or worse, some piece of land they may have in mind to sell onto the un-informed buyer. But all this means, is it is costing society more down the line and we dig ourselves into a deeper hole than before.

Looking at the aerial photo of the town of Ennis in today’s Irish Times newspaper, automatically from a planning and development point of view, some daft ideas spring to my mind. Maybe they are only art work and silly. But chances are, if the information was compiled together and exposed to enough critics we could save ourselves some money.

I am also reminded of a question that Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth catalog asked after NASA’s first successful missions into space.

“Where are the photographs?”

[i]We heard on RTE radio yesterday that the shopping centre in Bandon which is now under flood was build in an area known to locals as “the swamp”.[/i]

To be accurate it was actually know as ‘the Bogs’ and they built not just a shopping centre, but also added another car-park and an Aldi store … but otherwise your point is very well made.

@E34b

“It’s NOT the voters fault”

Couldn’t disagree more. They knew about the Tent. They knew about Bertie counting his cash. They knew everyone in the HSE was guaranteed their jobs. They knew that decentralisation was an expensive vote getting joke. Everything we have now was voted for, transparently, and consistently, since 1998.

Dr. T.K. Whitaker was a great angler and so was Sean Lemass. Many times they fished for trout on the lakes in the West of Ireland and I imagine it was probably in a boat out on a lake, ‘far from the madding crowd,’ that they discussed a lot of their plans for Ireland.

Dr. Whitaker also fished for salmon on the Caragh River down in Kerry and it was there I first had the pleasure of meeting him.

He has had a very illustrious career and served Ireland well as Secretary of the Department of Finance, Governor of the Central Bank, Chancellor of UCD, he was instrumental in setting up the ESRI and the Inland Fisheries Trust (with Lemass) and made numerous other contributions to Irish life.
One evening I asked him if he had any disappointments in his long career and he told me a story about when he was appointed to Seanad Eireann by Garret Fitzgerald in 1977.

He said “I prepared very well for my maiden speech; the topic was to be the drainage of the Boyne and the TB eradication scheme, two endeavours which wasted millions of scarce resources.”
He said the TB scheme had very limited success and the Boyne scheme had an astronomical cost per acre of land created, in addition to destroying the salmon spawning grounds as they scooped out all the gravel from the river.

He said he wanted to illustrate how millions can be badly spent, when it’s more urgently needed for schools, hospitals and social housing. He said he had all his facts and figures correct and when the day arrived for him to make his maiden speech he stood up and delivered what he believed was a damning indictment of how government funds can be wasted if the proper checks and balances are not in place.

He then told me “you will never know the level of disappointment I felt when I discovered NOBODY CARED.”

@CO’D

aw well he should know that as we sit here in soggy but non-flooded Meath, even though we are a few hundred yards from a tributary of the Boyne, my farming uncle says we were spared disaster due to the Boyne drainage scheme of the 1960’s. 1977 was too short a distance to know what good it would do 🙂

Lets face it, we are all a little lawless!

You could imagine two Politicians complaining about their electorate too:

“You know how many ESB poles I was asked to get moved this week!”
“Thats nothing, have to write a letter to the minister to get a constituents brother early release for beastility, he said he was hurting no one!”

We are also responcable from elevating self/ local interest over the greater interest.

Al

@Sarah. I am very loath to clash keyboards with you, but the voters are given a pretty woeful choice of maggoty meat. Ok, so some voters do vote their reptilian instincts, but many use their neurons. Maybe its the eye shades and ear mufflers they are wearing? Who knows?

Voter turn-out is declining. Political parties are coalescing into a bland homogenized pap of sycophants whose ideologies are barely distinguishable from those of the bureaucracy, and the prolifera of pressure and special interest groups that are running amok in our ‘democracy’. Voters who care are very dispirited, so they stay at home.

Non-voters are another matter entirely. These guys and gals will load up with missiles if a suitable rabble-rouser appears. Make no mistake, our democracy is drifting close to shoal-waters.

It is not, and can never be the fault of citizens if the legislature fails in its moral, ethical and constitutional duties to safeguard each individual citizen at the expense of small, vociferous, well-resourced groups. These groups represent a significant proportion of persons who ALWAYS vote – so the politicians will never do anything (well, almost never) to alienate any of these special interest groups or their many camp-followers. The legislators could sideline these groups and significantly dilute their baleful influences – but they are too cowardly to do so. So us voters is stuck!

Real reforms are desperately required. How about an all-female parliamentary party. Get one representative elected from each constituency (two from each five-seater) – force the current parties into permanent coalition with each other and demand reforms. It would need at least gen. elections to get the current bunches to get the message. You might even get Jackie H-R to smarten up!!

That piece in the IT to-day. Your poking a sharp stick at some very dangerous people. But, unfortunately you are correct!

B Peter

@ All,

I must take the time to read carefully some of the thoughtful comments above, tanks all for contributions. I find myself being attracted by this discussion from some reason. The lure of it. Hopefully what is below will add some value.

@ Sarah Carey,

The OPW scheme on the Boyne in the 1960s was going to come up somewhere as a point for sure. There were OPW schemes all over the country back then in fact. But this is why there aught to be some central place online where people at large can submit their views on floor relief. Because the background to all of those flood relief efforts on the part of the OPW in the 1960’s was they were mainly driven by the concerns of the farming community.

There was an entire generation of fisherman and conservationists who found they lost completely natural habitats in those rivers, because the rivers were converted into the equivalent bottomed out canals. That is feature-less, non-ecologically diverse habitats which are only now a shadow of what they once where. Of course in the 1960s in Ireland the ecological point of view was only a dot on the horizon. There was very little appreciation for the environment like today. Look at what we did to midland peats as another example of how to go about raping mother nature.

As I said, I would feel a lot better uploading some of these opinions and observations of mine to somewhere useful such as a central repository on the subject of flood relief. But what is going to happen is some official on a five year stint in government at Kildare Street – basically a politician is a ‘tourist’ to Kildare Street for all intents and purposes – will repond with some knee jerk reaction and rubber stamp something. It will be the cheapest option and of course it will achieve the ‘objective’ as narrowly defined in terms of flood relief.

We can work to manage and maintain our water systems better. It can be done in ways to conserve natural ecological riches which are native and valuable to an area. The OPW stuff in the 1960s was the lowest common denominator of all. It was the engineer’s approach to flood relief. Basically hire and huge digger and make a canal for miles that is never a shadow of what it once was.

Rivers, perhaps one of the most majestic natural corridors through our landscape of all, have been de-nuded of their value many times in the course of our little state’s history. The weir or dam that everyone talks about so much in the news these days was one of the things that ruined the run of Atlantic salmon in that river. I am no expert in the Shannon itself.

@ Sarah Carey,

On politics, voters etc Aine Lawlor interviewed Bob Schmuhl recently on ‘One to One’. Schmuhl made several comments which are interesting. He did highlight the fact that journalism in the United State at least seemed to lack the edge required to make a difference. People were fed a line I think was the way he put it.

http://www.rte.ie/player/#v=1060264

I got a chance to read some of the history collected by a Limerick man who worked as a Salmon net fisherman for years. The only online link I could find was this:

http://www.limerickslife.com/theabbeyfishermen.htm

I have (mis-)spent a good deal of my own youth beside waterways and rivers in Ireland. In fact it is one of the few things about this country that I do like. It was very interesting on today’s news show to listen to otherwise intelligent and very well meaning news reporters describe the Shannon as a ‘drain for the country’. My point is, we can go on and view these natural ecological corridors as simply ‘drains’ if we want to. But we have no idea how essential a part they play in maintaining what is still standing of a vulnerable ecological network.

It is interesting to see how discussions are framed and projected onto the minds of people. I am not saying that people are unintelligent, but rivers are a quite complex subject. I also admire the tenacity of hoteliers who build beside rivers to renovate their hotels and so forth. But realistically we need to view rivers as our friends too, rather than bad things that are out to get us. Although, I am sure this point will get lost in the debate. Nature is a funny thing, you try to get too close and it bites back. It is certainly not going to be ‘tamed’ in the manner we sometimes hope.

@ BP Woods

You are right, our democracy is under threat.

I do not think people realise how dangerous this situation can become. An economic collapse such as we are experiencing, historically ends in some sort of revolution, be it of the velvet kind or the violent kind.

Brian Lenihans declaration that the pain, he was about to inflict would lead to anarchy in other countries was a boast made 2 years too early.

You will get pockets of disorganised disturbance but an orchestrated movement historically takes years to develop.

Technology will reduce the time frame as the internet has replaced newspaper as the preferred method of message spreading.

We will be no different. At the moment there is some hope. A belief that it is not as bad as it seems. That hope will eventually disappear and the realisation that the situation is actually a lot worse than we were led to believe will lead to anger and despair.

At this point we have to hope that the person standing in the right place at the right time is more JFK than Joseph Stalin.

@ al

With baited breath Al, but remember do not make your move too soon.

Success comes to those who wait. Long live King Al.

Ireland does have corruption problems, but when compared to corruption in other countries in Africa or Italy Irelands is very small scale.

Obviously we do require to ensure our democratic process is fair and accountable, we have made progress in this but we will always require more improvements etc.

Do I blame the people of Ireland for voting in the same crowd over the last 10 years. Well no, not really. Most people are too busy just getting on with their day to day work. In addition not everybody enjoys politics and the skulduggery behind it etc.

However I do believe that there is a serious lack of quality professional journalism in Ireland. Journalism is not about the truth, its about balance. A article is written, slagging of one side in the first paragraph, in the second paragraph the other side is riddiculed. Wether or not the article actually contains any truth is irrelevant, as long as it contains balance. Maybe time deadlines hamper journalists from compiling quality investigative stories, I am not sure, but I would imagine that commericial pressures will have something to do with it.

For example, two years ago on a radio station lunchtime chat show, the topic of Nuclear power was discussed. Prof A spoke for 2 minutes on the benefits of nuclear power and why Ireland should go down this route. Next up was the candidate B who was against nuclear energy, again given 2 minutes to speak. When the time was up a commercial break was taken and then a new topic started. Balance was provided and the public having been given a balanced debate were now in a position to make up their mind. Just how many interviews, discussions have we listened to which follow this format.

Some interviews adopt a more agressive tone, with questions fired out like bullets, but the answers are not even listed to. In fact before the first question is even half answered the second question is fired out. Just what is the point in asking a question if you are not going to listen to the answer? It’s obvious, some people like the sound of their own voice.

Of course if one is carefull after a certain amount of time one can pick out the truth from black propaganda, but again one needs to be dilligent and have a interest. I learnt more from the Phoenix Magazine every 2 weeks than I ever did from any of the mainstream prints or any Irish TV channels.

I do fear that just as we were led down the path with the banks and property bubble we will be led down the path again in Irelands new era of reformation. I fear calling for constitutional change now, is unwise.

PwC would not need professional indemnity insurance – on their report, they would simply add a waiver, taking no resposibility whatsoever. Standard practice.

Regarding democracy being under threat:
As a nation we have been at this juncture before in our short history.

A similar situation is very well illustrated by W.B. Yeats in his poem ‘The Second Coming.’

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The poem was composed in 1920 and the metaphor of falcon and falconer stands for the youth of post First World War who are abandoning the standards of their parents and moving away from Authority, Law etc., which to Yeats represented an Apocalypse.

He used Christian imagery to describe, what he regarded as, this coming Apocalypse, not realising (maybe) the real Apocalypse which was at hand, the Civil War.
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,” describes the intellectuals and the mob.

So you see we have been here before, let’s hope the solution this time does not end up creating such bitterness and hatred. A solution must be found by way of careful intellectual study and expression.
As with finding solutions to any problem, we must begin by clearly identifying exactly what the problem is.
That can best be done by having a commission which will examine what the causes were of the current financial crisis. This could be very quickly organised and concluded with a final report by the end of March.

Needless to say, certain vested interested would be strongly opposed to this, but failure to proceed in such a manner will allow pressure to build in the system (especially in the coming hard times) and the eventual blow off, in the form of civil unrest, could be very damaging and set us back years.

You might find this story interesting, as President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia describes corruption in his country; http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/nov2009/gb20091118_275349.htm

@ Cearbhall

My point exactly. Russia has suffered from 1 party Government and corruption is endemic. We have the same problem just not on as grand a scale.

Your point about the civil war is well made but intellectual arguments do not win wars.

Eventually the intellectuals were on the losing side in our civil war. The coward and the populist led the mob to victory and domination to this very day.

@Brian O’Hanlon (I think! reading all the comments takes time)

I don’t agree. (clash keyboard clash! 😉 )

Now I know that I bring all my blueshirt baggage with me, but I think even the most neutral observer would have to acknowledge that a Brutal (either John, Rickie or their conservative heirs) led government would have been much more prudent in managing the boom. The difference between our parties is slight when manifestos are set beside each other, but the difference in culture is enormous. At the end of the proverbial day the culture of banker/developer/social partnership which gave us the treacherous dependency on consumption taxes and the crippling structural deficit was uniquely Fianna Fail. And they got the votes. Too many liberal urbanites in Dublin got too snobby about FG’s amateur press image and party management (e.g. dumping Dukes/Brutal/Noonan)(regardless of their technical substance) and faffed around voting for the PDs and the Greens. If the 60% who didn’t vote FF in 2003 or 2007 had managed their votes properly, we had a chance to be spared the worst excesses of the FF deficit.

Everyone throws the manifestos at this argument but as Pat Rabbitte told Vincent Browne last week when VB challenged him on “Labour’s No Tax but Spend Anyway” 2007 election manifesto, “Vincent we were trying to win an election!” ie. the people insisted on being bought. FF paid the highest price. Now we’re all paying.

@ BP Woods

Aha! you raise a perfect point and one which the farming uncle mentioned. When he was done praising the OPW works which saved us from floods he started cursing the Inland Fisheries Board (does it still exist?) for objecting to such works on the grounds that you mention. Now one would love if the fisherman and the farmer could be friends, but if there’s a direct trade off here – inland fishing vs flood protection works, then surely the flood works must triumph?

@ B.P. Woods

You said

“Voter turn-out is declining.”

Just not sure about that, as shown here:

http://www.idea.int/vt/country_view.cfm?CountryCode=IE

Percentage figures may be marginally down, but actual Total Vote is still remarkably high.

However, on topic, the Political System we have, PRSTV, surely must be changed, as this encourages clientalism and localism within Parliamentary Constituencies and Political Parties.

Surely we need to look at a complete overhaul, like a Second Republic, a fresh start, whereby the Electoral System, the Cabinet and Executive Government system and the actual Parliamentary Constituency system needs to be radically changed, to allow for expertise in Government, not solely based on the number of votes accumulated, or on geographic location, but on ability to do a job. This would also allow for powerful oversight by House Committees, to hold the Executive totally accountable to Parliament and the Citizens.

Having said the above, I feel the people are ready for such a revolutionary and radical change, but those with their grubby hands on the levers of power, will not voluntarily give up their grasp on this power.

@ Sarey Carey,

agreed, reading all of the discussion etc does take time and effort, worthwhile mind you if one can.

On this comment:

“Everyone throws the manifestos at this argument but as Pat Rabbitte told Vincent Browne last week when VB challenged him on “Labour’s No Tax but Spend Anyway” 2007 election manifesto, “Vincent we were trying to win an election!” ie. the people insisted on being bought. FF paid the highest price. Now we’re all paying.”

I think this was aimed at BP woods, and the fisherman responsed was aimed at BOH.

But in any case, the point about the Labour party and elections and the ‘people being bought’ is well made and will give me quite a bit to think about I think.

As for fishermen, versus flooding. The Hirst Rittel paper is worthy of study some time. In fairness, what we did to the Boyne river and other rivers around Ireland, the Maigue in Co. Limerick for instance was effective no doubt. But the fact is, we can’t continue using that approach. The environment is a much more complex, multi-dimensional thing. We simply do need greater biodiversit in the countryside and in the middle of cities also, like it or lump. It is simply crucial.

Refer to some studies recently done about a basic element in the ecosystem, the honey bee. Which is now unable to survive in many parts of the world. But is still able to flourish in cities, due to the diversity of vegetation and plantlife available in cities. In the countryside, lots of intensive farming techniques and attempts to ‘control’ nature seemed to have backfired on us in massive ways.

I was further elaborating on it, with a couple of links in a comment that seems to have disappeared. But I though the John Gibbons piece in the Irish Times today was worth reading. We are not seeing the ‘problem’ in its entirety. We shouldn’t have to choose between fishermen or flooding. It doesn’t have to be either or, it could be both and. It is about realising the problem in its fullest complexity. Not looking for solutions which give us a kind of smug sense of having contained or won over nature.

Always, in life those kinds of smug assurances happen to people before a pretty big fall or collapse.

Some of the comments here defy belief. So, Bandon shopping centre is flooded. Hence, that must be because the government is corrupt for allowing a shopping centre to be built in a flood plain. Call the bastards to account.

Time for a reality check.

A flood plain doesn’t mean that the land is permanently under water. It means that there is a risk of flooding for a couple of days every 50, 100 years or whatever. Are we seriously to believe that any land that might experience a couple of days flooding once in a lifetime should be left lying derelict, a no-go area for any development and construction? Presumably, by such reckoning, New Orleans should never have been built. And, if Irish academics and environmentalists had been in charge of planning laws in the US, it probably would never have been. Too risky. And what about land that lies in the path of hurricanes? Obviously, the US Government is corrupt for allowing Florida and Texas to be built upon. And what about earthquake zones? Should San Francisco have been built? Obviously, the fact that it was built where it was can only be attributed to lax planning laws and corrupt developers (of whom quite a lot were probably of Irish extraction and with Fianna Fail connections).

Frank,

This a topic that seems to have some traction. Read another article which focussed on the poor infrasructure in the state and wonders why are we so surprised that the flooding damaged us. The OECD has some interesting observations on our flood management strategy and tying in with planning. It was in my humble opinion a leap too far for a state governed with neither vision of accountability.

Infrastructure, the WEF, OECD, Fianna Fail and the Flood

@Brian O’Hanlon

Apologies for mixing up the responses. In the meantime I spoke to my father, who while also a farmer, takes a more holistic approach to nature, rather than the single focus of his work. He recalls that Jim Dooge opposed the Boyne Drainage on two grounds
1. that the speed with which the water could make its way off the land took the trace elements with it and reduced the fertility of the land in the long term. Also that those regular floods spread silt on the land and were good in the long term too. (the Nile delta got a mention as the most extreme example of the consequences of flood prevention).
2. that the speed of drainage also created a problem in itself. Before the drainage scheme it might take two days between the deluge and the main tributary – the Blackwater – to rise. Afterwards it took 6 hours. So while the land around the streams etc was more secure it meant the Blackwater had to be super ready to take a deluge.

However, it did mean that many many acres of land could be farmed safely and without the misery of moving cattle in an emergency. So, apologies for giving perhaps too much detail on this one experience, but it shows that yes, making the earth habitable and profitable for man to live on (after all finding ways to tame and harness nature to suit our purposes is how our race has flourished) involves trade-offs rather than obvious wins.

If these events are more likely, then we have to start looking at some more trade-offs – abandon Abbeyknockmoy and leave it to biodiversity or spend a fortune protecting it?

@ Brian O Hanlon

You are correct in saying “We shouldn’t have to choose between fishermen or flooding. It doesn’t have to be either or, it could be both”

we would never want Ms. Carey’s uncle to be neck high in flood water for the sake of ‘a few oul salmon.’

We don’t have many natural resources in this country, but our wild Atlantic salmon stocks are one and most importantly of all they are a ‘renewable’ resource.
The wealth of that resource lies in exploiting it as a tourism product; there is hardly any country in mainland Europe that still has a run of wild Atlantic salmon.
About 25 years ago the ESRI did a study on the economic value of our wild salmon stocks and arrived at the conclusion that each salmon caught for food was worth £10 to the economy, but as a tourism product it was worth £1,000. The figure today would be many multiples of that.

On PWC, I’d note that in December, they said the following:

“Under the PwC highest stress scenario, Anglo’s core equity and tier 1 ratios are projected to exceed regulatory minima (Tier 1 – 4%) at 30 September 2010 after taking account of operating profits and stressed impairments … We used an independent firm of property valuers (Jones Lang LaSalle) to value a sample of 160 properties held as security in relation to the top 20 land & development exposures on Anglo’s books as identified in our Phase II review and report. The results of this work indicated that impairment charges over the period FY09 to FY11 would fall in a range between the two PwC impairment scenarios but closer PwC’s lower impairment scenario.”

Links here

http://www.irisheconomy.ie/index.php/2009/05/29/pwcs-stress-tests/

@ Sarah Carey,

I am glad I have given you enough reason to pause and reflect on the issue. That is great. I have managed to do something useful then.

A book we were always asked to study in Architecture school was Robert Venturi’s book, Complexity and Contradiction. It is where I remembered the expression ‘both add rather than either or’. I know a couple of great architects in Ireland who have been influenced by the book and integrate its thinking into their approach to their work, in their own simple way. The book certainly offered an alternative to the straight jacket of modern industrial world thinking.

The response above on the subject of rivers is excellent.

Of course, why not stop at the points you raised about over-channel-isation effect in the drainage type of system employed at the Boyne. There are other man-made interventions too, such as commercial coniferous forestry which affect the Ph levels of spawning tributaries. In the old days in many rivers the water levels would remain high for several days after rain.

Fisherman loves this as it enabled fresh stocks of fish to run upriver and therefore create excellent fishing. Now the ‘flood’ lasts a mere day, because the bogs are planted with forestry. Where in the past the bogs would have slowly released their load into the river over an extended period like a hydraulic brake, not it is shed off in one big aggressive dirty flood, by the soil around the commercial forestry is impervious.

It is like rain falling onto hard tarmac. There is one big flood and then the river practically runs dry again. The fisherman cannot cope with this, neither can fish. Species such as seatrout cannot have a chance to run the rivers, spend longer in estuaries and pick up sea lice. Nature is thrown out of whack in all kinds of ways.

But it is not so much about the fish. They are merely the largest species at the top of the chain and act a certain amount like canaries. It is the enthomology working at the lower levels within the river system, which is where the real action takes place, or not. If you study the enthomology of rivers in channel-ised aquatic environments, you don’t find the same rich array of diversity, which was present before.

You notice that trout often become canabals too, as they grow much larger living on midge pupae, fresh water crustaceans, dragonfly larvae and such. Not the Mayflies etc which they would have lived on before channelisation. My point is, it is those really small creatures who live on the river bottoms for 2 years, hatch and then die after two days. It is that level, where you really find the building blocks of the system.

In the UK, the chalkstreams of the southeast are becoming full of silt. Like you say, in the winter time the ancient method of fertilisation was to flood all of the meadows and the silt would be deposited on land. Now it fills up the channel of the river, and in summer time, weeds grow all over the chalkstreams and it is un-fishable. Those streams like the Itchen, the Test etc were considered ‘national treasuries’ in Britain, but are now finding survival hard.

In the fen lands in Great Britain also, where pike, duck and other species were part of great natural cycles, it has also broken down. Scientists understand now that nature instead was responsible for keeping the water crystal clean and supported a huge amount of species. Now the waters are dark and uninhabitated due to lack of oxygenation and plant live etc, which supports all of the other fish species and wild life etc. The government in Britain has managed to preserve a couple of last remaining areas were the old cycle still works.

Amory Lovins’s book Natural capital is a very interesting read which talks about natural processes for cleaning out pollution etc. Processes which require less amounts of energy to do their thing. You can see it nowadays in the washing power industry, where your clothes are cleaned better at lower temperatures. We have a lot to learn from nature if we spend the time and effort. John Thackara’s book, In the Bubble talks extensively along the same lines – humanity has designed itself into difficulty, so we aught to be able to design ourselves out of it too.

I heard Kevin Whelan speak a number of years ago about the Aran Islands and the landscape in Ireland in general. Every landscape being affected in some way or other through human intervention. Kevin Kelly’s book, Out of Control has some fantastic chapters about bee keeping, forest fires and lots of different things. His bibliography in OOC is worth looking at too. A funny thing about OOC also, the Matrix movie actors were all expected to study the book as part of their contract.

There is one big problem with all of what I say above. What I am describing is a kind of understanding of the environment and systems, which is spread over far too many disciplines. Little bits of knowledge and understanding essential to obtaining the full picture are scattered all over the places. Furthermore, I have met people who seem to know a lot of the information I hint at above – but who do not have the mental machinery and logical skills to process it into useful policies or study. I think you need people with good design brains as part of the solution. But even those people are limited to suggesting quick fix solutions. The solution has to be financially sustainable and cheap. That is why renewable energy faces such up hill battles. How does it compete with cheap fossil fuels?

All of these are tough challenges going forward. But getting people to slow down a little and think through something a couple of times, from a few different angles, is always worth the effort. The RTE news reporter who described the Shannon as a ‘drain’ for the entire country was making quite a useful, if blunt observation. But we shouldn’t allow some nerd because he understands hydraulic physics to come along and completely define the problem as they see it. I know there are whole chunks of it, I haven’t figured out myself, or never will.

Auditing firms, if they still are unincorporated, are now too big to fail! Hence they can set the terms for all their work and the moral hazard can mean larger fees to recoup insurance fee increases for “lapses”. They will game the sytem even more keenly!

to Graham Stull

Compulsory voting seems to work in Australia. There is more respect for equality in the law. A judge was sent to prison for saying he was not driving and attempting to avoid a speeding fine for example. Graham Stull makes a very good point that citizens need to exercise power or else it will wither. Exercise does one good!

Given the ubiquity of electronic means of communication, why should government business, all of it, not be available on the web for perusal? No FOI at all. Just every transaction recorded on the web? Every conversation by email only, no telephony? Or else use software to record every meeting and phone call?

Those engaged in law enforcement to have a delay fuction of say a year?

Glasnost?

The Fabians are said to have orchestrated the current global events or more accurately, timed them and planned for them, with a view to world government. As they set up the LSE and established economists as an occupation (or scourge?) it is safe to say many of these people are both.

The regional power bloc structure is to be subsumed by a concern for the environment, so a global tax on carbon, is to be instituted, with proceeds for distribution to less developed areas of the world.

Laudable, but sub rosa and methods involve theft and lies.

The problem I have with Rockefeller’s declared intent on this matter, is that it is possibly all a lie. The elite, get more wealth and a pristine environment in which to play. The betas get to organize everyone else who get bread and circuses. The one government may simply institutionalize the lies of a “just war” as a “police action” and there will be no escape for dissenters except to the psych ward care of a caring government!

Anyone thinking this large or do we just care about the Irish economy as the blog says? We are not an island anymore! The role of Ireland as tax haven to the mega rich may attract some. But will we be bought off by this? Or are we able to shape the world that is evolving?

@Brian O’Hanlon and Cearbhall

“We don’t have many natural resources in this country, but our wild Atlantic salmon stocks are one and most importantly of all they are a ‘renewable’ resource.”

So are crops and animals. I’m acknowledging that this issue is complex and involves trade-offs between man and farming and fisherman. You seem to be asserting the superiority of the fishing. A fish might well be worth €1000. But how much is a cow worth? Alan Matthews, where are you? 🙂

@ Sarah,

thanks for your replies above. I had in mind to write a little bit more around this subject this evening, but unfortunately my day/evening got filled up with other stuff. I would really enough debating the various angles of it some time. You never know, we may meet at a conference or something some time.

Full weeks starting Monday and a lot of preparation still left to do. Drag. The thing with Irish economy debates, is they are very interesting sometimes and a lot of it really pays off the effort.

Best wishes. B.

The Abbey Fisherman is a book I read last Christmas. I think it was published then I think by a man who had worked as a Salmon net fisherman in the estuary at Limerick. The book is a real nice social history of the kind of economy that used to exist around the ‘natural renewable resource’ of salmon and rivers.

I forget the authors name now, but the point is, many Irish in Ireland may have had a similar kind of history. I don’t know. I said I would mention the book anyhow.

@All
I spoke to someone who worked on the audit of a bank at a non-senior level. They said that under accounting standards accountants would have had to value property assets at the bubble prices they were purchased at during the boom. If accountants had not done so they would have had to put a note in the accounts to say that they were not following accounting standards. This is just not done, ever. Accounting standards must change to reflect economic bubbles as they are compelling the absurd.

@Frank
“Will PWC lose any future contracts for failing to highlight the importance, in their report to the Minister for Finance, of the €7 billion deposit that ILAP had placed in Anglo-Irish Bank?”
I think that this did appear in the PWC report?

As we all know consultants give the reports that those who ask for them want. Otherwise they would quickly go out of business. I would suggest
that if Lenihan wanted a report to show Anglo as solvent those preparing it were going to need a lot of evidence before reporting otherwise. The reaction of other clients to valuers and accountants giving the terrible truth about the property market would probably have damaged both of their businesses. It was never likely to happen.

@Frank
It is striking that since the foundation of the state the Gardai have not to my knowledge been responsible for a single prosecution for corruption against a single government TD. All of the prosecutions that I am aware of occurred after the activities of the politicians were already revealed by tribunals. The Gardai and the Dept of Justice should be urgently reviewing how they dealt with allegations of political corruption in the past. Given that the following ethically challenged individuals were Ministers for Justice it is not surprising:
Charles Haughey, Ray Burke, Padraig Flynn, Sean Doherty, Maire Geoghean Quinn (see Fintan O’Toole’s recent story).

Israel charged a serving PM with corruption. Until serving ministers are charged here we will know that nothing has changed. The Gardai treat government ministers and banking chiefs like they did the bishops and government TDs like offending priests.

Comments are closed.