Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong idea

The international banking crisis has become the first phoney war of the 21st century.

Just like Europe in 1913, propaganda and ignorance on the part of the powers that be is clouding any attempt at tackling a deep-seated and poisonous problem, and we are all suffering because of it.

Tanaiste Mary Coughlan is calling for Irish Nationwide CEO Michael Fingleton to return a €1 million bonus, in line with the Government's new, seemingly morally superior code on pay for bank executives following the State guarantee.

Once more, this is just the Government emitting hot air. Once more, it is Minister Coughlan who is responsible for it.

All over the developed world (excluding Canada, of course) senior bankers are being subjected to nothing short of a witch hunt. What is most unsettling is that this mass vilification is being backed, legitimised and encouraged by governments.

Senior bankers deserve little clemency from anyone, of course. The more we learn, the more we have come to realise that the dispensing of bad credit and seepage of toxic debt was derived from greed and irresponsibility by the people who were in charge of our money.

But with our exchequer bleeding and the toughest budget since The Emergency likely to come in the coming weeks, the last thing we need is this sort of mindless populism from the Tanaiste.

Wasting time, effort and what little political capital the Government has left going after individual bankers shows a clear lack of ideas and leadership.

Making Fingleton hand back his bonus will not fix the shocking lack of regulation in Irish banking that let men like him award themselves this money in the first place. But crippling bank CEO's wages will only serve to ensure that the best people for these jobs will look elsewhere when asked to take up the stewardship of our banks in the medium and long term.

There is no joined up thinking here.

This Government, bereft as they are of popular support, have been reduced to dispensing soundbites that play on the anger and confusion of ordinary people towards the banks.

Because the ineptitude of Minister Coughlan and her cabinet colleagues becomes clear with even the slightest scrutiny, they are determined to direct the eyes and the fury of the Irish people at anyone but themselves.

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