Paul Sweeney: This weekend’s Financial Times magazine has a six page feature on Ireland called “Toxic Town”. It is worth a read on how we have fallen – brought down by “the venal politicians who actively discouraged regulation and provided a phenomenal array of tax breaks to builders and an environment of cheap money and easy credit.” These politicians were of course, aided and abetted by leading business people, too many of the top civil servants in the economic departments and many journalists and economists in the liberal frenzy of the boom.
The article, written by David Gardner, describes Bertie Ahern as “the Taoiseach who presided over the alchemical prolongation of the boom and hides his shrewdness behind a blokish bonhomie and mangled syntax.” In 2006 he said “the boom was getting more boommier”.
It quotes Fintan O Toole on the “Celtic informational twilight of things which are known but not known.” Patrick Honahan is described as “the most respected economist of his generation.” As the Governor of the Central Bank he is refreshingly quoted as saying “we put our hands up and it admit it: the regulator simply did not do his job.”
The article is highly critical of Irish business governance. It describes it as the “cat’s cradle of cross directorships, the same names recurring across the privates and public sectors.” This is timely, as TASC’s superb Mapping the Golden Circle report published last week details so graphically. Honahan describes the property bubble as “rich and powerful people talking to rich and powerful people; that’s my experience.”
Gardner says there is little ideological difference between FF and FG, both "populist, centre-right and run like family firms.” One of Bertie’s predecessors defined the difference between the two as “When we’re in – they are out.” The FT says “no wonder Ireland lost the run of itself.”
Are we bound to let history repeat itself or will we truly reform politics and business? Despite the anger, the evidence that the elite will allow radical reform is thin. They cant wait for the magical “green shoots” and to get BTBAU – “back to business as usual.”
Paul Sweeney is former Chief Economist of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. He is a member of the Economic Committee of the ETUC and chair of TASC’s Economists’ Network. He was a President of the Statistical and Social Enquiry Society of Ireland, a member of the National Competitiveness Council of Ireland, the National Statistics Board, the ESB, TUAC, (advisor to OECD) and several other bodies. He has written three books on the Irish economy and two on public enterprise, including The Celtic Tiger; Ireland’s Economic Miracle Explained and Selling Out: Privatisation in Ireland, chapters in other books and many articles on economics.