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The following is the truth as it appears in the Sports section of the Irish Times.

“The work was simple. I used to go around the small towns and villages and these estates going up left, right and centre. Cootehall! Tulsk! Frenchpark! Where were all the people going to come from? I remember saying to someone around 2004: ‘this thing is going to fu**ing blow up sometime. But hopefully not in the next 12 years and we will get a good touch out of it’. – Shane Curran, Veteran GAA goalkeeper quoted in The Irish Times Oct. 4th 2014

This man like thousands of others is not stupid. He could see the evidence of the property scam all around him and he knew damn well that it would end badly. He discussed it with lots of other people who like him were perfectly capable of interpreting the evidence that was all around them. However, most commentators these days would have us believe that Shane Curran was remarkably perceptive and almost alone in reading the signs.

Why is this lie so frequently promulgated? Well, it’s like this. Unless the majority is prepared to believe the lie, a large number of people face a fall. The truth is that a person would have to be monumentally stupid or to have been willfully blind to have failed to see what Shane saw. The next question may be shocking but it needs to be faced. What jobs in Ireland are suited to the monumentally stupid or the willfully blind?

The answer of course is few, if any. Certainly stupidity on this scale should rule out journalism, broadcast presenter, teaching and certainly employment in any part of banking or financial services. Our problem is that those proven to be too stupid are still in place.

See also:


There is a report in today’s Irish Times on papers presented to this year’s McGill Summer School on the theme, “How stands the republic?” The report headlines the contribution of Professor Diarmuid Ferriter. ( )

Diarmuid says, “If we accept a definition of republicanism that is about participation, a say in our fate, civic engagement and realising freedom and self-determination among citizens, we face the conclusion that any exaggerated celebrations in 2016 will mask the persistence of ambiguity and the endurance of the gulf between rhetoric and reality.”

That definition would be at odds with a minority staging a rising and with the views of the founding elite of the new state. Moreover, there has never been a gulf between rhetoric and reality. Apart from misuse of the word “republican”, their rhetoric matched the reality they created.

He also says, “One of the chief causes of the contemporary crisis was the absence of alternative views and insufficient scrutiny of flawed decision-making,”

In a republic the media provide citizens with challenging viewpoints and citizens are expected to think, speak and come to judgement. This did not happen because we tolerate poor performance and lack of personal integrity particularly among our professional elite – journalists, academics, teachers, managers etc. The crisis was certainly caused by political policy and ideology but it was also caused by very many people failing to do what they were paid to do and thereby letting down their fellow citizens. Those people are still in place:

The McGill choice of theme, “How stands the republic?”, is revealing. It implies an argument: that we are engaged in evaluation of an ideal or a project, that we can go on as we are with some minor changes. A better theme would be, “Should we create a republic?” Such a starting point would argue that we are thinking about doing something that we’ve not done before, breaking with the 1916 founding myth and its tawdry legacy of oppression, cruelty and malfunctioning elites.

Let’s be clear. This was an Irish scam. Lending companies had access to lots of relatively cheap “international” money. This was “imported” and lent to the relatively poor so that extraordinary property prices could be paid to the rich.

In terms of page-one economics the price of a house was determined by whatever people were prepared to pay. The graph shows that income and costs increased steadily but house prices took off on a bewildering upward trajectory.
From Michael Taft’s Notes from the Front.

Traditional lending conventions linking income with loan size were dropped in order to maximise borrowing and this made large payments to the rich chancers possible (” ). The scam was greased by making some people desperate (“You need to get on the property ladder.”) and by convincing others that they too could be successful speculators (“It’s a no brainer; property prices don’t fall in Ireland.”).

The interesting question is this: How did so many people fall for the scam? Firstly, it needs to be emphasised that not everyone fell for it. Secondly, while citizens correctly expect those of their fellow citizens who are paid to think, manage and comment to warn them of scams, they were sorely let down. I’ve argued elsewhere that these well-paid failures who did not speak out time and again either because they were too stupid to see the scam or so lacking in integrity that they abandoned their jobs to hide within the scam, should now be moved to jobs more suited to their shortcomings. In short a significant portion (perhaps a majority) of Ireland’s professional elite has been exposed as thick or turpid or both. (” )

It is, however, a mistake to view all of the victims of the scam as blameless. No matter how many times managers and media encourage a person to be foolish there remains a personal obligation to be prudent. Of course there are times when a scam is so well done that little or no blame can attach to the victim but that is not the case in relation to the Irish lending scam. Despite the elite chatter and media torrent in support of foolishness, ordinary conversations about the dangers were commonplace and there were many warning voices which could have been heeded. Moreover, as the scam developed there was increasing concrete evidence in plain sight sufficient to warn all but the wilfully blind or the addicted risk-taker.

Young people are particularly vulnerable to scams and are often preyed upon. The property scam was no exception. The pressure to “get on the property ladder” was relentless and in a just world a nasty fate would await anyone who dispensed this advice – especially when it was dispensed as it became more and more clear that the end was approaching.

Mature victims drawn into a reckless gamble were less vulnerable and their fellow citizens should be less forgiving of their stupidity and/or avarice.

The argument that the victims should be bailed out for reasons different to those offered for baling out the banks is untenable. There was no moral or legal reason for baling out banks. Leaving aside young people and cases where no blame could attach, there is no moral or legal reason to bail out victims of the scam either. However, a functioning liberal economy or the view that these people in aggregate qualify as “too big to fail” may be very good reasons why careful, thinking citizens will have to bail out these people as well as the banks.

On this morning’s Marian Finucane radio programme * a discussion began about the culpability of former Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, for Ireland’s economic mess. From former minister, Mary O’Rourke, came the familiar routine of “we all had a party, so no one is at fault” and then Eddie Hobbs offered the view that the ordinary person couldn’t be expected to understand an economic bubble and that those he calls “gatekeepers” failed to warn the general public.**

Eddie is wrong. Anyone with normal intelligence, a basic education and a little interest in their surroundings could see that – whatever about the wider world – Ireland was headed for a fall. Failing to see this required enormous stupidity or wilful blindness. It was a topic of discussion among ordinary people, many of whom could see that the property boom was a scam, bound to end. These ordinary people held on to their savings and/or didn’t borrow to buy property.

Eddie is right, however, to blame “gatekeepers” for failing. The term usually refers to media workers but Eddie included public service economists. Two points need to be made. Firstly, the distinction is correctly drawn here between people who are paid to think, write, speak up and manage and the rest who are merely expected to do these things. It is the difference between citizens and those whom society expects to do a particular job because they are paid for it. Who are these people? Clearly, elected politicians, advisers, civil servants, economics professionals, journalists, producers and researchers are included but so too are public commentators, lecturers, teachers and managers – particularly managers in banking and finance.

Secondly, nothing whatsoever has been done about this failure. Let’s be blunt: If an electrician or plumber failed to perform to the point of wrecking the house, they’d hardly be let continue. (Well, in view of the dangerous buildings now coming to light, that may be a topic in itself.) In the case of those paid to think, write and speak up … Nothing! They are all still there. They did not do what they were paid to do and they are all still there. They are known to be useless and they are all still there.

They didn’t fail to perform some difficult task. There are many failures trying to find cover in the fabrication that Ireland’s economic crash came as a surprise. It bears repeating that only a complete fool could have confused a building boom with a productive economy and only the wilfully blind could have failed to see the bricks and mortar evidence accumulating across the country. (That some did see the problem but remained silent is a different kind of failure. ***)

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.
** At about 11.00 mins. into the programme.

I find it unacceptable that work-related pensions are paid to public servants who have failed to do their jobs or who have broken the law or rules specific to their jobs.

This week in the Irish Times Cllr. Dermot Lacey talks about appeals he has made and won to overturn planning decisions made by professionals “in defiance of good planning and in some cases at least the democratically adopted development plans”. [i] Reports of flooding, bizarre building in remote areas and small towns, and structural and safety defects in buildings all point to many public service professionals failing to do their jobs. [ii]

In the Irish Times of Oct. 13th Conor Brady takes former deputy commissioner of An Garda, TJ Ainsworth, to task for failing to do his job adequately. However, he also talks in the plural of Gardaí who in doing the bidding of Charles Haughey and his henchmen, failed in their duty. [iii]

I’ve been arguing that teachers who systematically broke the rules laid out by the Dept. of Education should be denied a pension. [iv]

I’m sure the list of wrongdoers and chancers who enjoy pensions is a long one. That makes it all the more important that something be done about this scandal.

I am informed by the Dept. of Education that the courts have ruled that pensions are private property and cannot be touched. If this is the case, it is worth asking the Criminal Assets Bureau to take a look. CAB have recently expanded their operations to look at tax and welfare cheats. However, it cannot be the case that civil service pensions are untouchable private property, given that they are not paid out of a fund but are paid out of current spending and very significantly they have been touched: they have been reduced in the current fiscal crisis. [v]

Many citizens are deeply offended by the handful of very rich chancers who have retired from public service, walked away from the damage they have done and who now enjoy extraordinary pension payments. The scandal, however, extends far beyond a handful of rich people and into a considerable number of wrongdoers who should not be rewarded for their failure to perform or their active breaking of the rules.

 [v] I’ve reopened correspondence with the Dept. of Education. Having been given the run-around, I’ve now asked formally as a citizen if they will refer this matter for legal advice.

It’s difficult to imagine that anyone gets through life without occasionally having their integrity tested. ( There are rare situations where showing integrity might bring appalling consequences – even death – and in such a situation fear unto dishonesty is understandable and forgivable. In most other situations the risk is small. Indeed the most common motivation for failing to act or speak with integrity is an ambition for career advancement. Now, let’s be quite clear here. If someone feels compelled to dishonesty for fear of being sacked, then that may be forgivable if the matter is relatively minor. However, a person who abandons their integrity for the hope of career advancement reveals a paradox: They progress by being precisely the kind of person who is unsuited to a position of trust or of any importance.

It is true too that in our times a calculating, professional, strategic way of thinking tends to be lauded and this provides a ready cover for acting without reference to good or bad.

Today there are calls for the resignation of Cardinal Seán Brady who acted in a professional manner rather than doing what was right. ( As a mature man of 35 years, well into his career, his integrity was tested. He failed the test and is proven to be “the wrong stuff”, i.e. a person lacking in integrity and unsuited to a position of responsibility. The consequences of his failure were dire for a number of abused children. The risk to him of acting with integrity was slight. His life, his family, his livelihood were not on the line. All that was at risk for doing the right thing was a petty hope of promotion.

There are ordinary people who pass such tests. They are rarely dealing with matters so serious. They do however speak up and/or act according to what is right – either morally or for the good of the organisation that employs them. In the short term they accept that they will anger the boss and their career will stall. In the long-term they may never recover that impetus for promotion or they may come to be seen as having integrity, precisely what is required in a more senior position.

Integrity is at the core of another, older post on this blog. ( ) As the Irish property bubble/scam was developed with deliberation, there were those in banking, management generally, media, politics, the professions, education, public service, consultancies etc. who knew that it could end only in tears. Few of them passed the test: They lacked the integrity to speak up time and again. They preferred to take their chances by pretending that they believed in nonsense.

It is true that chancers lacking in integrity often make career progress. However, when they are found out, it is right that they be identified as “the wrong stuff” and asked to go.

Here’s the story:

This story is ridiculous. What it states explicitly is that after the start of the debate about soft vs. hard landings at the end of Ireland’s property-bubble scam, a civil servant wanted to have Ministers warn of a possible collapse. However, the use of the word “whistleblower” misleads and it perpetuates one of the great fairy stories of recent Irish history.

A whistleblower reveals information which is vital to the public good. Without wishing to underestimate the courage of the civil servant at the centre of the story, there are two problems with this story and its framing. Firstly, the incidents related are far too late to have had an enormous bearing on avoiding the damage done to Ireland; once the “landing” appeared on the agenda, all that was in doubt was the scale of the damage.

Secondly and more importantly, what is needed is evidence of earlier civil service opposition to the virtually insane policies that created the bubble. Such evidence would tend to exonerate civil servants generally from the suspicion of utter stupidity or shameful lack of integrity. It is at this point that use of “whistleblower” perpetuates the lie.

You see, what happened in Ireland did not involve a secret and seeing it coming did not require expertise in economics. It happened in plain sight and only a complete fool could have failed to notice and failed to realise that it would end very badly. Very few of those in Ireland who are paid to think and speak (The group includes journalists, managers, teachers, politicians etc.) showed themselves competent. It is not credible that so many professionals are so wilfully ignorant or stupid that they were unaware of the approaching mess. It is more likely that they lacked the integrity to speak out again and again in opposition.

Should journalism want to redeem itself, some of its better practitioners would do well to focus on who stayed silent as the bubble was intentionally inflated before everyone’s eyes.

See here:

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):

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.

I stumbled upon an interesting piece a couple of days ago:


Jun 8th, 2010 by Conor McCabe

I knew that Irish house prices had become ludicrous in relation to salaries but I’d not seen data before. It seems a perfect illustration for page 1 of a basic economics text: that price is dictated by willingness/ability to pay.

A young person ambitious to launch out into life can be vulnerable to overcharging on housing. (I remember!) There was a time when such a person’s ambition/desperation was limited. In the early 70s the building society formula was that loans were for 75% of the house price and the loan amount was calculated thus: 2.5(Annual salary 1) + Annual salary 2.

Take two people on good incomes setting up home in the early 70s. Say, Salary 1 = 1.5K and Salary 2 = 1K. This gives: 2.5(1.5) + 1 = 4.75. That is to say, these two young people could borrow up to 4.75K as 75% of the house price. The house price then comes out at 6.3K. Guess what? In 1970-71 Gallagher’s were selling 3 bed semis in Lucan, Tallaght and Raheny for a tenner less than 5K.

Let’s try this calculation with Euro and today’s incomes. What would be good incomes for two young people today? Well, let’s assume that equality has made strides and that it is two young people on the same income. How about 35K each or a “household income” of 70k?

Here goes: 2.5(35) + 35 = 122.5. That would be a 122.5K mortgage as 75% of the house price. This would give a present day price of 163K for a 3 bed semi in the Dublin “commuter belt”.

I accept that these calculations ignore many variables. They’re rough! However, they indicate that an affordable 3 bed semi with gardens to which two Dublin residents on good incomes might aspire should be about 160K. The price today – AFTER all the reductions of the past year or so – is still in the 220 to 300k range.

The scam was worked by abandoning the 2.5(X) + Y formula and giving 100% + mortgages to people made desperate by incessant talk about the “property ladder”.

Breda O’Brien in The Irish Times of Saturday, February 20, seeks to minimize the blame which should attach to those who did not rise to protect children. She reckons that they are being too strenuously tested, that few of us would pass what she calls the “challenge-the-culture test”. How depressing! She is very wrong to set such low standards.

 Excusing inaction on – or even participation in – wrongdoing on the basis of a dishonest understanding of “culture” has become a familiar evasion in Ireland and one that seeks to give a lick of dignity to a life or a career that is in truth unworthy of a citizen – or indeed unworthy of any kind of right thinking person. It is shameful and slavish to claim that as long as misconduct is so common as to attract the term “culture”, one can avoid blame for letting it happen. It is alarming that so many people seem to think that the holder of a post is not required to take some sort of stand against wrongdoing or stupidity.

It is certain that many of our scandals rest on past acceptance of this contemptible nonsense. Now it needs to be up-rooted to ensure the appointment of people of better character.

Very few of us will get through life without being asked at times to make some kind of stand and it could be argued that such tests are necessary to a full life. In extreme cases the risks will be too great. Standing up might result in death, imprisonment, exile or loss of a job. Faced with such risks, no one could be blamed for keeping quiet and surviving. However, when the risks are merely to one’s popularity, one’s quiet life or one’s chances of promotion, failure to take a stand should be condemned.

It is certain that in the case of extensive child abuse removing the “culture” fig leaf should cause many to fall from respectability. The excuse is, however, more widely used. For example, employment in the banking industry during the damaging years asked questions about courage and integrity. Now only those who spoke out should remain in anything but junior positions.

In short, whining about “the culture of the time” or “the culture of the industry” etc. is not an excuse for complicity.

There are three components to the Irish financial mess. 1. The decline of the export economy. 2. The international banking nonsense. 3. The Irish government policy that created and sustained a property bubble.

In last Saturday’s Irish Times Garrett Fitzgerald argued for a public enquiry into number 1, the true death of the “Celtic Tiger”. He’s right: In the long run this is the most important issue. Employers organisations and both Garret and John Fitzgerald argue that wages at the lower end will have to compete with low wage economies. Essentially what they are saying is that Ireland must WIN a race to the bottom.

Socialists should join Garrett’s call for an enquiry as it would open a debate on different conceptions of or routes to economic development.

It was obvious from RTE’s Frontline programme last night that many have swallowed the popular storyline that Ireland’s boom was destroyed by developers and bankers. Ireland is indeed cursed with chancers and an incompetent ruling class but that’s one just part of the story. Ireland’s FF/PD/Green governments maintained the appearance of a thriving economy by stoking a building boom; it was criminal folly. However, the fact is that the flourishing export-led economy ended years ago as industry relocated to cheaper countries. Any fool driving around the country could see this as the factories closed and the furniture warehouses multiplied. On TV last night over and over again the simplistic view was aired: builders and bankers killed our lovely Celtic tiger!

It was sad to see on this programme too an ambulance driver making a case for maintaining his small income and in so doing protecting a group of people who were conspicuously absent: rich public servants. None of the private sector workers whose function in the programme was to attack fellow workers was prepared to have a go at poor public servants. Unfortunately, the word “rich” was never used; it seems to have been banished from our vocabulary. Instead both sides seemed to want to attack “administrators” so that “frontline” staff can be protected. It was a depressing sight: two sets of workers baying for the dismissal of poor office workers while the rich sat at home watching the spectacle.

The Chief Economist with Ulster Bank has retired. He was interviewed this morning on Newstalk and spoke of the role of the economist in public life, emphasising the difficulty of making predictions. He pointed out that most Irish economists predicted a “soft landing” as the property boom ended. The interviewer didn’t refer to the more serious issue. The record of public figures – not just economists – should be judged not on whether they predicted a “soft landing” or a “crash” but on whether they spent years screaming warnings about the flight itself and its daft altitude.

Any sensible, prudent person could see that quite ordinary people as well as property developers and builders were being lured into reckless investment, usually financed by borrowing, by relentless public argument and propaganda carried by uncritical media. We had years of favourable comment: it was a “no-brainer”; everyone should have a “property portfolio”. Of course all those who fell for this were foolish but that doesn’t exonerate those who encouraged, capitalised on or facilitated their foolishness.

Any contributor to public debate who did not over the years see the folly or who did see it and failed to speak out time and again, and those in the media who failed to find and give a platform to sensible contributors should never again be taken seriously.