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Journalists have become far too prone to cooperation in the development of  Orwellian Newspeak. An example is the use of “political class” in public discourse about Ireland’s economic crisis. Firstly, talk of a “political class” is an evasion of a responsibility to take sides. It is support for an old, old FF stance: “Sure, we’re all rogues and you may as well vote for us because we’re affable rogues.”  This is dangerous nonsense and SF etc. are clearly aware of its possibilities.

Secondly, to place blame exclusively on any group of politicians – even FF – is to suppress what really happened in Ireland and make the necessary degree of reform less likely. A very real danger is that far too few people will fall in the process of change. Look at it this way: What if most of the prominent FF TDs lose their seats and a banker or two goes to jail, and the Irish rest happy that sacrifice had been offered? Well, then the army of fools and rogues who created and contributed to this mess could hold on to their positions and inflict their stupidity on Ireland in the future. I am not saying this as a socialist advancing an alternative. I am saying that as liberal/capitalist policy goes the FF creation of a construction bubble was foolishness on a hitherto unimaginable scale, BUT they were far from alone in its creation.

Ireland is suffering the consequences of a global problem but is also suffering the consequences of a carefully considered, willfully created boom based on building. The problems have been plain for years. Anyone with an eye in their head could see the rash of houses in under-populated areas, the crazy number of furniture stores along major roads, the glut of hotels and the competition to buy “development” sites at virtually any price. Only a complete fool could have failed to see that this was unsustainable madness. Now, over those years it was possible for people with different degrees of public profile, power, influence etc. to speak out. (No, to scream out and repeatedly!) Why would those in such positions stay quiet? Well, if they didn’t see the problem, they’re too stupid for any position of responsibility; and if they did see it and remained silent – say, for a quiet life or career reasons – they lack the integrity necessary for any position of responsibility.

There should be a clear out well beyond the fall of a few FF politicians and the sacrificial jailing of a banker or two. I’m not talking about ordinary people who behaved foolishly and invested their savings in property and other scams, or bought houses at prices they could ill-afford. I’m talking about those who are PAID TO THINK. Let’s take the management of banks for example. It’s not unreasonable to demand that banks be run by people of moderate intelligence and integrity. We certainly should not tolerate anyone – from branch manager and upwards – who did not speak out. “Sensible people in the banking and finance industry must have felt intimidated by the tide of nonsense in support of the clearly unsustainable; they must have had to weigh good conduct against career prospects.” Oh, here’s the complete blog entry (it’s short, I promise): http://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/appointments-in-irish-banking-and-finance/

Let’s take journalists and broadcasters as another example. I recall the constant urging of young people towards ruin (to “get on the property ladder” as soon as possible) and the urging of ordinary people to try to acquire a property “portfolio” because it was a “no-brainer”. No, I’m not referring to the property supplements.

Similarly, it’s not unreasonable to demand that other categories be people of moderate intelligence and integrity. Make a list starting with senior civil servants, teachers, commentators, senior managers . . .

It’s possible to salvage a test from this Irish-made fiasco. Prominent people were tested for ability and integrity. Those who failed should leave the stage and live quietly in modest comfort – and have the decency to remain silent.

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4 Comments

  1. I support your view that the net needs to be cast wider when examining those who are responsible for the current crisis. Many State bodies were rarely called to account for their stewardship unless there was a crisis. Even then, Ministers would tend to protect them. Local authorities share the responsibility for the crisis with the Cabinets of this and several previous governments because they actively encouraged the building boom within their respective jurisdictions. Elected members are responsible for the zoning of agricultural land to residential and commercial, which facilitates the granting of planning permission. However, County Managers, Chief Planning Officers and other directors of services are also responsible, since the granting of planning permission is an executive decision. Some senior officials did try to hold back the tide, but many others stayed quiet. The same is true of some of the appointed members and executives in State or State-sponsored bodies.

    While this clearout of the stables is desirable and necessary on many levels, we should remember that private enterprise operates within a comprehensive regulatory framework. Those who work in executive positions or have a non-executive function (such as a member of a board or as a local councillor) in the regulatory bodies are responsible for policing those regulations and thus the main burden of responsibility falls on them.

  2. David,
    Thank you for your comment.

    What I’m suggesting is not a cruel purge of competent people who made a mistake or two, or of people who had to obey or be fired. I want rid of those who did not speak up and have no excuse; either they were too stupid to see the obvious or they lacked the basic integrity necessary merely to saying the truth. When I say “basic integrity”, I’m not looking back seeking great sacrifice for truth; just some indication of a published piece, an e-mail, a memo, a point put at a meeting to indicate that here is a person of normal intelligence, willing for just once to stand apart from the bleating herd.

    While I accept your point that those responsible for implementing regulations bore an extra responsibility, that did not relieve others of the responsibility simply to speak. Some had many opportunities to speak and a public profile; others had simply a well-paid job whose remit included thought and communication. My list of those PAID to think would include journalists, media presenters, teachers, academics, most managers etc.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree. I remember the intervention on the Late Late Show by Eoghan Harris and Eamon Dunphy urging people to vote for Bertie and extolling his virtues (for which Harris was rewarded). However you could probably fill a double decker bus with the people responsible. TASC did a study of the number of people who run Irish business and if I remember correctly it was only about the mid 40’s so it should be easy enough to name and shame those responsible and remove them from any position of responsibility into the future.

  4. Peter,
    I see a double decker bus as the start of a change which is necessary to reconstituting the Irish elite as a force with ability and integrity. This is not only about 40 “top” people. What is required is something more pervasive involving many more dunces. Some had many opportunities to speak and a public profile; others had simply a well-paid job whose remit included thought and communication. My list of those PAID to think would include journalists, media presenters, teachers, academics, most managers etc. Where they did not demonstrate thinking, they shoud now go.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] is at the core of another, older post on this blog. (http://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/time-for-a-clear-out-who-misled-and-who-remained-sile… ) As the Irish property bubble/scam was developed with deliberation, there were those in banking, [...]

  2. […] It is simply implausible to suggest that some kind of recovery could be achieved while so many of those paid to think and to manage are demonstrably unable or unwilling to do their jobs. __________________________________________________________________ * http://www.rte.ie/radio/radioplayer/rteradioweb.html#!rii=9%3A10146436%3A70%3A12%2D05%2D2013%3A ** At about 11.00 mins. into the programme. *** http://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/time-for-a-clear-out-who-misled-and-who-remained-sile… […]

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