Read the following paragraph and see if you can guess the name of the bank in question:
Sounds very familiar doesn't it? It's not Anglo though, of course, but it shows how incapable we are of learning from mistakes of the past. The above is Frank McDonald & Kathy Sheridan's description of the goings-on of Patrick Gallagher and his Merchant Banking Limited bank, in the 1970s up to its collapse in the early 1990s, in their superb book The Builders. No punishment was meted out to Gallagher here but no mercy was shown by the authorities in Northern Ireland. When I think back over a lot of the dodgy dealings between business/banks and politicians over the years I wonder is it now a mindset, cast in stone, that the law does not and should not apply to white collar crime in this country, especially when some politicians seem to benefit directly. And is the current Government seriously committed or even capable of finally tackling and ending the crony corruption in this country, or is it an accepted feature of Irish politics, business and life? Is it a requirement for them to exist? Is it their raison d'être? A perceived perk for entering political life?[the bank] collapsed with the rest of his property empire, having provided a handy source of cheap credit for the group over many years. When the crash came, it emerged that there was a shortfall of £4 million, with hundreds of depositors left high and dry, including many who had lost their life savings. It also emerged that a 'loan' of £30,000 had been made to Charlie Haughey, and no interest was ever charged on it. The liquidator's report to the High Court said bluntly that the bank had been 'operated and run by the directors with scandalous disregard not only for the Companies Act but also for the Central Bank Act'. Acccording to liquidator Paddy Shortall, possible offences included bribery, conspiracy, corrupt transactions, falsifying or destroying books, publishing fraudulent statements, making false returns to the Central Bank, concealment of property and obtaining credit by false pretences. On foot of his report, the Garda Fraud Squad was called in, but no further action was taken against [him] in this jurisdiction. However, he was prosecuted for fraud in Northern Ireland, where [the bank] had a subsidiary, and served two years in Crumlin Road jail, Belfast. After his release in 1992 he made a new career in South Africa. In a 1998 interview with Frank Connolly of the Sunday Business Post, he revealed that Haughey had approached him two days before coming Taoiseach in December 1979 to request help in clearing a £1 million debt he had with AIB. [He] gave him £300,000 out of his own pocket - and out of a 'sense of duty', just as his father had done before. But since the money was coming from the group's funds, rather than his own, it was dressed up as a 'deposit' on the purchase of Abbeville
When I look at Brian Lenihan I always ask myself how this man could seriously have stayed with his party. A former leader misappropriated money, for his own personal use, from funds raised for Lenihan's late father's life-saving liver transplant. I mean how low is that? And would you stay with that party after this dirty deed? Would you continue to support that leader? Lenihan did so I have to ask does he (and Cowen) have the moral authority to clean up Irish politics and business? Does he really know the difference between what's right and wrong, what's acceptable and what's not, and when the line has been crossed?
When dodgy politicians, bankers and businesspeople look at our track record in tackling white collar crime and see the very obvious lack of (or meaningless) punishment is it not an incentive for them to continue to bend and break the rules, knowing full well there won't be any repercussions? And the fairy tales and obstructive behaviour seen at the various Tribunals is disheartening in that it shows many people are determined to defend the old way of doing things in this dirty little country. Dermot Ahern's much touted Anti-Corruption initiative is never heard of. The website hasn't been updated since 2008. Another case of pretending to be proactive to calm public outrage? And the fact some senior bankers, at the very heart of our current economic mess, have just sailed off into the sunset with multi-million payoffs and massive, lucrative pensions to do as they please, with no hard questions asked it seems.
So what do we as a country need to do to seriously tackle and end corruption here? More powers to committed Financial & Corporate Regulators are essential. An end to all political donations by businesses must be seriously considered. And tough financial and custodial sentences have to be seen to be meted out here as a deterrent to others.
Unless we kill off this cancer in Irish political and business life we, as a nation, will just find ourselves stumbling from decade to decade, for the rest of our lives and maybe even for all eternity, revealing one scandal after another. Another politican found to have been paid off in return for political favour, or using public money to invest in private facilities from which they'll draw handsome fees and directorships upon their retirement? And while our disgraced bankers improve their golf handicap in the Mediterranean or Floridian sunshine, wining and dining to their merry hearts' content, future generations of taxpayers will sit under the grey skies of Ireland and pay the price for unpunished crooks.