Stand down the mob

In a press release issued yesterday, the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) criticised what it described as the ‘Government policy of imposing the entire burden of fiscal adjustment on working people and the less well-off, while the wealthy are insulated from any requirement to contribute at all.’ All of this serves as a prelude to their campaign to bring about a change of government policy, to reverse public service cuts and to protect public sector pay.

But for the moment I am not concerned with the justifiability or otherwise of any SIPTU campaign. Indeed, I am not particularly meaning to have a go at SIPTU specifically, but I am wondering about the rhetoric which has become more and more common and of which the quote above is fairly typical. Alongside this are the increasingly wild campaigns of personal criticism directed against property developers, bankers, politicians and businesspeople. While I would certainly not wish to defend those who have abused their positions, wealth or power, we have reached the point at which lynch mobs are being sent out the moment a politician is seen in the vicinity of Dublin airport.

If we are to achieve a speedy recovery from our current problems, we need to stop this hysteria. The government may be good or bad (and I have’t been too impressed of late), but it certainly doesn’t have a policy of ‘imposing the entire burden’ on working people. NAMA may be right or wrong, but its purpose is not to protect miscreant bankers – it is to allow the financial system to provide the necessary service to those who need finance. Politicians may all too often have abused the system, but it is not a sign of national decay and corruption if a minister goes on a business trip to London and stays in a hotel rather than sleep in a doorway. PAYE taxpayers may well be destined to pay more tax to help restore public finances, but some of these are quite well off, and those who are well off are being asked to pay more. Not every senior public figure has behaved like Rody Molloy. And while John O’Donoghue did, in my opinion, need to step down because his expenses really were way out of line, even he should have been given an opportunity to state his case before somebody started fixing the rope to the tree.

We have got ourselves into a condition of frenzy, and this is doing us no good at all. Maybe the next campaign should be one to combat righteous indignation and to restore a sense of proportion to our state of mind. We need to think and act rationally at this point, and to stop baying for blood all the time. And we need to be careful that we do not create an atmosphere in which entrepreneurship and wealth creation are seen as wicked, because once we have got to that point we are throttling our best hopes of recovery.

Frankly, it’s time to calm down.

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17 Comments on “Stand down the mob”

  1. Vincent Says:

    No, it is not time to calm down. Not until the idiots cop on to what has been done.
    There is nothing wrong with a ‘Bull’ market, any more than there is with a ‘Bear’ market. The error is in ‘believing’ that one or the other is permanent, and thereby not having any contingency plans in place. Are they really that stupid in the areas of Government treating with Finance that they do not play ‘War Games’.
    Now, the notion that we are in the thrall of ‘Global Trends’ and therefore can do nothing ourselves to mitigate most of the pain. Bullshit. That is part of the problem. If Wall St investment banks never existed for them to fall we would still be in this situation.
    When the value of property -or any asset- is vastly more that can be realised from it. It WILL fall. The very simple maths of a three-bed-semi @ E10,000rent should be 150,000 at the absolute outside, not 500,000. And that Finance and the politicians could not see this requires a remedy.
    As to NAMA, the banks are Limited, the State is not. It is foolish in the extreme to play this game of paying for Moody assets. All we will end up with is an economy stagnant for twenty years or more. On the notion that Banks are systemic, well they are but again the error, this lot are not. And it is the debts of the banks that are much of the problem not as has been touted the debts owed to them.
    SIPTU are correct to be fractious, and I for the life of me cannot think why the Opposition do not simply say that they will repudiate any and all Legislation. Remember this was not part of any programme for Government, and therefore fair game.

  2. Jilly Says:

    Actually I think that considerable levels of indignation are entirely justified. I certainly don’t suggest that all senior public figures are like Roddy Malloy. But his and O’Donoghue’s story are disgraceful both in themselves and as unavoidable indicators of how a section of the political class think.

    Firstly, O’Donoghue’s expenses were outrageous. I don’t expect him to sleep in a doorway when he goes on official trips, but I don’t expect him to live at rock-star costs either. Many of us in the public sector have access to expenses if we travel for work. But we have to provide receipts for every last cent, and would be questioned very closely (and not reimbursed) if we had spent vast sums of money on travel, accommodation etc which could have been purchased much cheaper at no suffering to ourselves. Also, the idea of claiming for my partner’s costs if he accompanied me on such a trip makes my blood run cold at the thought of the response I’d get! I’ve actually been surprised at how little comment there’s been about that aspect of his expenses.

    And more broadly, it DOES matter that politicians or other very senior public figures are clocking up vast expenses on limos, top-of-the-line hotel suites and private jet travel whilst simultaneously telling the voters that they have to tighten their belts. And that’s even before we consider the campaign of hate being launched against ordinary public sector workers (a campaign very clearly orchestrated out of certain political offices) on the grounds that they are ‘pampered’ etc.

    The current government is a disgrace, not just because of their specific behaviour in incidents like this, but more importantly because of the sense of entitlement to power and privilege which that behaviour shows. I hope the mob keeps baying until the government finally accedes and calls an election.

    • Hugh Says:

      Jilly, I agree with much of what you say: the O’Donoghue saga – outrageous; public sector subsistence claims – been there, and been interrogated about cents; public indignation – justified; current government – drunk on power.

      But really, do you think the other lot (any other lot) would be any better? We’re in the middle of a serious crisis at the moment. The unfortunate thing is that there is no other grouping with enough authority or experience of government to be able to manage it effectively. Last month, there were three crises to be managed – Lisbon, the Programme for Government, and stability of the banking system. Two of these have “successfully” been put to bed. We may have questions and doubts about NAMA, but its the only show in town, and we have to get it bedded down before we consider retribution. And retribution there most certainly should be!


    • Jilly, I am not setting out to defend anyone, and I believe that John O’Donoghue was absolutely bound to resign. And I suspect there is more abuse across the system we have not yet heard about. BUT: we are in a democracy (or so we say), and we are therefore bound by principles of due process and fairness. One of these principles is that we don’t decide on either policy or any individual’s fate on the basis of the screams of the mob. That is one of the key lessons of the 20th century, and if we abandon that principle we are on a very slippery slope indeed. No matter how bad the alleged crime, lynch mobs are never right. Ever.

      • Vincent Says:

        Ahhh, you are thinking about the wrong method all together. We have moved on from the days when fathers defenestrate sons attached by the neck to the furniture hoist. These days, open ground and a bit of Hara-kiri.

  3. Sarah Says:

    I think people knew damn well what was coming in 2007 and they went out (well, 40% did) and voted FF cost they thought they could pull of some miraculous stroke that would save us from the inevitable bubble burst. There was no stroke and we are where we are cos the electorate allowed themselves to be bought off by crazy pro-cyclical policies that they knew perfectly well would end in tears.
    The government is a disgrace, but we get the government we deserve.
    As for property developers, how on earth anyone can say they are getting off free is beyond me. For every Dunne with cash stashed somewhere there are 50 others, too small for NAMA who will lose everything.


  4. One comment here suggests there should be retribution. But against whom? Taking what form? and what purpose will it serve?

    One of the reasons why I am so opposed to that way of looking at it is because, if we are even a tiny bit honest, we were virtually all at it as a country. Those who sought unmerited benefits from our recent burst of prosperity included almost anyone investing in property (even very modestly), anyone making a claim for unusual bonuses (and there were hundreds of thousands who did that) – in short, very many people indeed. This whole country went berserk, drunk on the Celtic Tiger. Now we feel that maybe we’ll be less guilty if we see some individuals (but not us) paying the price.

    We need to be more rational about all this, and while there are a good few who deserve close attention and who merit punishment (through proper processes), we should stop the hysteria and mob mentality.

    • Jilly Says:

      But it’s not a ‘lynch mob’, it’s the proper expression of popular political will through the proper channel of the press. It’s not particularly elegant in many ways, but then politics often aren’t: and you could make a good case that elegant politics are far too cosy and unaccountable.

      I generally feel that the press in Ireland is FAR too cosy, too lazy to ask difficult questions and keep asking them until an answer is received, and and in the main has much too close a relationship with the political classes. So I’m glad to see some vigorous debate and forceful expression of political position for once. I also don’t always like the tone or manner in which it’s done: but I definitely think that that tone is the lesser of two evils by comparison to the cosy club of politicians and journalists we normally see.

      Ultimately, I think it’s good for democracy to see a government challenged in the public sphere: it’s also good for governments to fall when they’ve lost the confidence of the people. It’s a messy, aggressive process, but like democracy itself, it’s better than any known alternative.


      • Jilly, I’m amazed! The ‘proper channel’ of the popular will is not the press! It’s the ballot box. The press does have a hugely important role, but bringing about a change of government is not one of them.

        I confess that some of what we are experiencing scares me. Let me illustrate that a little further. I recently was given a political pamphlet, and I take this extract from it: ‘The end of capitalism is imminent. It has been caused by the natural greed of the owners of capital, and by the reckless behaviour of the banking system, pushing people and firms into excessive debt, and seeking unearned and scandalous personal benefits for the bankers. It has been sealed by the corrupt and self-serving behaviour of the established politicians. Capitalism is dead, and we will help to bury it.’

        The pamphlet was published in 1932 by the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (the Nazis).

    • Hugh Says:

      I’m the one who made the comment about retribution. To answer your questions: against the government, by denying them our votes at the next election, and to show them that their behaviour has been, and continues to be, unacceptable.
      This form of retribution is thoroughly honourable and entirely legal. The government has let us down by woeful mismanagement of the country and appaling oversight of the entire financial system. It is simply not good enough to blame the Financial Regulator for failure of oversight. It is the government’s responsibility.

      I, also, am against “lynch mobs”. Always. But you try to be reasonable; you try to look at both sides of the argument; you try to allow for distortions in the media; you try to give somebody the benefit of the doubt when you know you don’t have all the facts. And then you hear John O’Donoghue bleat on about being a scapegoat, or you read that Prof. Brendan Drumm has been awarded a bonus of €70,000 while essential services are slashed and frontline medical staff are at their wits’ end trying to keep the health service afloat. Let me say it again: “I’m against lynch mobs. Always.” But its hard….its very, very hard.


      • Hugh, my approach would always be to vote at the election in accordance with my considered view as to which party or group of parties will form the best government. I may be guided in this by my perception of what parties have done in the past, but never by thoughts of retribution.

        All parties can lose their way. The 1980s coalition of Fine Gael and Labour presided over a terrible recession, and in fairness it has to be said strongly that it was Fianna Fail, under Haughey, that got a grip on the situation.

  5. Jilly Says:

    Oh, but that comparison isn’t reasonable. We are entitled to question the nature and structures of modern capitalism in this era (whatever conclusions we might come to about it), and the fact that the NSP published what it did in 1932 is not a reason for us to avoid a discussion of capitalism today. And to be fair, the discussions about capitalism today don’t actually bear much resemblance to those of 1930s Germany (thank god).

    As for the role of the press, as you say, they have a vital role to play in the free and fair exercise of democracy. I would argue (following Jurgen Habermas) that it is essential to the proper functioning of democracy. The ballot box is there to elect a particular set of politicians/government, but they’re not then given a mandate to do whatever they please for the next 5 years. They have to be held to account, and they have to maintain the confidence of the electorate: and the only practicable way for that to happen effectively is through the press.

    Do you really think that the Irish press normally does a good job in performing this role in our society? I certainly don’t, and I’m always glad to see them showing some teeth. I loathe the manner of some journalists’ disregard for accuracy and nuance as much as you do (naming no names!), but a free press at least provides some possibility of that being balanced out across the range of debate. No other system offers even a hope of functioning democracy.

  6. Vincent Says:

    ‘The ‘proper channel’ of the popular will is not the press! It’s the ballot box’. Except you would argue when the issue is too complex.

  7. Perry Share Says:

    ‘This whole country went berserk, drunk on the Celtic Tiger’ – speak for yourself F! – but don’t try to implicate the whole population in the creation of the crisis. This is part of an insidious discourse that seeks to say we are all responsible for the clear policy failures of a government that were fully aware of what they were doing. Admittedly 40% of the population continued to vote for FF but that is probably more to do with entrenched political culture and the politics of fear and spin. Apparently the message is now beginning to get through and electoral support for FF is shrinking to a few rural areas. I think that we will see a significant political realignment at the next election – perhaps one that will finally see an end to irrelevant civil war politics.


    • Gosh, Perry, you can be sure that even if they lose the next election, Fianna Fail will be back strongly at the one after that. That’s how it works. I wouldn’t even be so sure they’ll lose – that will depend a whole lot on what happens between now and then. If economic recovery does come next year, that can change opinions very quickly.

      And I’ll stick to my other point. Much of the population *was* implicated. I don’t even think that it’s a terribly controversial point to make. That doesn’t excuse bad leadership, but it’s still true. I can say this from the vantage point of the National Competitiveness Council, of which I am a member. We predicted where we were heading back in 2005. Our views were widely dismissed, and not just by the government.

      • Perry Share Says:

        It’s possible FF could be in terminal decline, especially if FG can take the centre-right vote. FF is certainly losing ground on the left, particularly in Dublin, but also in areas like Limerick and Donegal. In Queensland the National Party, which was remarkably similar in many ways to FF, held sway for over 30 years, but is now a minor political force, having lost to both Labor on the left and the Liberals on the right. In Canada the Progressive Conservatives (sic!)were practically wiped out in 1993, though of course the right has since constituted itself in a new party.

        What is perhaps striking in Ireland is the way that FF has insinuated itself into civic society, with a huge number of apparatchiks on state boards, in the judiciary, in voluntary and sporting organisations &c. Even if FF were out of power for a decade or more, many of these people would continue to shape Irish small-p politics. Interesting days ahead.

        As to the other point, there may have been quite a few people that gained from the CT (myself included)- but that does not mean that the majority of the population is responsible for the maladministration of the economy nor that they should feel morally responsible for the failings of the political and financial elite, even if they were beguiled into voting for them.


  8. Interesting points. I’d like to see where we would be if Bush was still in office and we didn’t have obama’s stimulus package!


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