Sympathy for the Bedevilled

The Four Courts - surprisingly, not a development owned by NAMA. Yet.

We don’t make it easy on them, to be fair.

The Irish are not an easy bunch to rule in a conventional sense.

We don’t really pay much attention to laws and rules and regulations; most of our times is spent looking for loopholes to circumvent them, rather than trying to understand why they might be a good idea.

In the few instances where these cannot be found, we simply ignore or flout them. During the 80s an entire generation of people would rather fly through the windscreen of a car than submit to the indignity of wearing a seatbelt as laid down by law.

The same with drink-driving. No amount of legislation could convince a man that he wasn’t fit to drive a car after six or seven pints. Especially not after he’d had six or seven pints.

That our politicians should be so loathe to regulate us should come as no surprise; contrary to popular belief, they do not simply spring up in Leinster House like wallflowers. They come from among us.

But the problem arises when things get out of control, like they did with the property market or the banking system or the Catholic Church. Allowing such entities to police themselves never works – how could it? It’s not in their interest to police themselves.

Nor do we do accountability particularly well, if at all. On this Good Friday, there is no evidence of bankers, politicians or developers crawling to the cross to confess their sins and declare their regret and shame before the public.

On the contrary, many of them still believe that they have done nothing wrong and legally at least, no crimes have yet been proven.

And in many cases, they won’t be. Staggeringly, as Nick Leeson has pointed out, financial stupidity is not a crime – if it was, those responsible for the financial mess would be behind bars long ago.

But the vast majority of their actions were entirely legal – they were not against the law because no such laws exist.

In the few cases where blame can be apportioned, there is the usual marked reluctance to do so. Nyberg swapped his Finnish pragmatism for Irish fudge, the latest in a long line of reports that refused to apportion blame by name.

We must be the only nation whereby the billions spent on the tribunal or investigation is an end in itself.

However long this government lasts, it’s biggest job will not be to repair the banking system or to create jobs, as that will eventually happen anyway thanks to the (often violent) self-correction of markets.

The biggest task that this and subsequent governments face is the rebuilding of Irish society from the ground up.

We need to redefine our attitudes to money, to wealth, to Europe and to each other.

We need to understand our responsibilities to ourselves, our families and our neighbours.

And we need to accept that our actions have consequences, and that if we act in a way that is not in the best interests of our society, then we will have to suffer those consequences.

It’s time we grew up. And in doing so, we might force our politicians to do the same.