How would Michael Collins have treated the Bankers?

Recently as the anniversary of Michael Collins’s death approached, a man from my neighbourhood tied the end of a rope to a tree, fed the other end through his car window, tied it around his neck and drove off- decapitating himself. The action was shocking but the outcome has become a common place in modern Ireland, suicide is now running at over 50% pre-crash levels.

This terrible statistic is part of the aftershock from the blow delivered to Ireland by a variety of corrupt lazy politicians, senior civil servants, bankers, businessmen, lawyers, accountants and stockbrokers.

We have lost our economic sovereignty. Our young people are shoaling out of the country. There is an army of unemployed and we are told that we have given some 65 billion to “Our” banks. They have reciprocated, not by lending to industry but by allowing jumped up bank clerks to tell decent people that they can’t afford Sky television and that ten euro a day is too much  money to spend on food.

On this the anniversary of Michael Collin’s death, in a newspaper with origins as Corkonian as his own, I think it would be instructive, and beneficial, for society as a whole to ask what would Collins have done about the banks and the situation they were allowed to create?

Firstly, it should be said that he would not have allowed the crisis to occur, he was skilled in financial matters having worked in the London financial industry and he hated waste. Before going on this point should be emphasized because recently efforts have been made to denigrate his abilities.  Inside Dermot Ferriter there is a fine historian trying to get out but is currently restrained by the self-imposed straight jacket following the publication of his hagiographical work on De Velara which a Fiana Fáil minister installed in every secondary school in the country. As part of the De Valera build up, Ferriter attempts to pull down Collins.

In a recent article in The Irish Times he claimed that Collins was responsible for the unimaginative British treasury policies of our Department of Finance and said his celebrated collection of speeches Path to Freedom, showed little merit.

In fact, had he checked, he would have found that the man who set the Irish Department of Finance on the British path, was an English senior civil servant C.J. Gregg, a friend of W. T. Cosgrave’s.  A man with at least as great a claim to economic expertise as Dermot Ferriter, Sean Lemass is on record as saying that it was Collins’s Path to Freedom that fired his interest in economics. 

One can also turn to a memorandum Collins sent Desmond Fitzgerald shortly before he was killed for examples of far-seeing internationalist thinking. He sighted the examples of countries such as Germany, Denmark, Holland and Switzerland for guidance in agricultural matters, economic development and hydro power. He saw the then new medium of the cinema as a tool of education and argued for a see-change  in our attitude to rural planning. Specifically where banks and banking were concerned, we know that he organized a superbly efficient Dáil loan and had a banking inspector Alan Bell who attempted to interfere with it, shot dead. He did not hesitate to threaten force when banks policies threatened the newly formed Irish Free State.

When the Bank of Ireland refused the government a loan, he announced that he was withdrawing the army guard from the bank’s headquarters, in fact there was no guard but he got the loan. 

When the British proposed to transfer the Registry of British Government Stock from Dublin to Belfast and London his reaction was ruthless and unequivocal: “… there are several retaliatory measures we could take and in fact must take if things of this kind go on.”

“Things” did not go on, the Register stayed in Dublin and a number of other moves initiated by the Unionists were countered.

It is glaringly obvious that our society has been hit by a tsunami of reckless trading and a blatant disregard for the fiduciary responsibility of directors but where are the prosecutions? Nobody has been held accountable for this and as a mood of anger and despair grips the country – nobody goes to jail. The buck stops nowhere.

We are currently suffering from two legal impediments to justice. One is the lack of Fraud Squad backup. The government and opposition are hiding behind the public service embargo to prevent the appointment of the forensic accountants, barristers and solicitors required in white collar crime cases.

The second  was the failure of the government to carry the referendum which would have allowed Dáil committees investigative powers and the ability to make findings of fact. That campaign should be revisited and carried through to fruition.

One of the mortal wounds which the referendum campaign suffered was a round-robin letter from ex-attorney generals objecting to the committees on the grounds that they would interfere with a man’s right to his good name and the independence of the judiciary.

One of the signatories to that letter had been chairman of Allied Irish Banks, Dermot Gleeson, another of Goldman Sachs International, Peter Sutherland. A third, Michael McDowell did not allow his concern for a man’s good name to prevent him handing a document from his office whilst he was Minister for Justice and Táiniste, to the Irish Independent. The document helped to fuel the controversy over whether Frank Connolly had visited his brother in jail in Columbia on a false passport. In the ensuing uproar, the Public Inquiry Institute funded by Chuck Feeney, the philanthropist who gave billions to this country, dissolved and with it Frank Connolly’s role as chief investigative journalist. Bertie Ahern defended the government’s role on the grounds that no other country would allow an outside agency to supply information about its affairs. In the welter of controversy the public failed to learn that the story Connolly and his staff had been working on had been – Bertie Ahern’s financial affairs.

A plethora of political assistants have been employed but because, we are told, of the public service embargo The State has not given its major anti-white collar crime units the CAB and the Fraud Squad the tools it need to do its job, in fact during the relevant period Fraud Squad resources have been cut.

I believe unquestionably Collins would have initiated strong action against the unholy collection of professionals who have done so much to validate George Bernard Shaw’s dictum that all professions are a conspiracy against the public.

I believe Collins would have ended the farce of a de facto collusion between government and opposition to avoid prosecuting the guilty and given the Fraud Squad the tools it would have needed to do the job. Without the requisite forensic accountants, solicitors and barristers, the Garda units attempting court proceedings are like rugby teams crossing the line without the ball.