Posted By: January 24, 2015

Patrick Murphy. Irish News ( Belfast). Saturday, January 24, 2015

WHY hold a public inquiry when you can view the answer on prime-time television? That is a question which the Dublin government might like to answer. 

You will remember that Taoiseach Enda Kenny thought it would be a clever pre-election move to hold an inquiry into how the previous Fianna Fáil government had crippled the Irish economy by bailing out the banks. 

Like the Bloody Sunday inquiry, which raised every question about events in Derry other than “Why?”, the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry is asking everything apart from “How did Ireland ever get into that position?” 

The answer has been running on RTÉ for the past three weeks. Charlie, a drama based on the political career of former taoiseach Charles Haughey, contains all the ingredients to explain the culture of governance which led to Ireland’s economic collapse. 

It is a culture which has some alarming echoes in Stormont. 

The inquiry is intended to “inquire into the reasons Ireland experienced a systemic banking crisis”. Charlie has all the answers, although it is not totally factual. 

For example, by skipping Haughey’s alleged involvement in attempts to import arms for the fledgling Provisional IRA (using public money) it left out a significant explanatory point for much of Haughey’s subsequent career. (Northerners willing to cooperate with him did not seem to care that, as minister for justice, he had previously introduced the Special Military Courts to defeat the IRA border campaign.) 

However, the significance of the series is not the man but the political culture which propelled him to the top. The details are in the reports of the McCracken and Moriarty Tribunals. They uncovered cash gifts of over £8.5 million to Haughey from leading businessmen over 17 years. 

As taoiseach in 1980 he said: “As a community we are living beyond our means.” He later paid more than £16,000 for silk shirts and dressing gowns at Charvet of Paris, where staff reportedly addressed him as “your excellency”. 

His style of government illustrated that many in Irish politics saw independence from Britain as an opportunity for some former peasants to become landlords. For them, Irish freedom meant the freedom to get rich at the expense of others and the freedom to have double standards in political morality. 

Meanwhile, northern nationalists were fighting a thirty year war for political unity with that same government. It was a system in which power was achieved for power’s sake and although it applied equally to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, Charlie was the prime example of how it operated. Too many of those in office saw no limits, moral or legal, to the use of that power. For some, politics was a career which allowed men (there were few women involved) to be macho by pulling strokes, receiving dig outs and indulging in the cute-hoorism of Irish politics. Political power was primarily for personal gain. They got to a point where they could not think of the interests of others. 

It was a form of government which allowed the largely unregulated growth of a (perfectly legal) banking system in which half of Anglo-Irish Bank’s loans turned bad. Because so much of government had been in the interests of the ruling party and its friends, no one in power knew what to do in the interests of the Irish electorate when the banking system began to collapse. They simply passed the €85 billion bill to the people. 

Their culture of government had conditioned them to think of no other options. The Oireachtas Inquiry will establish who did what, when and where on the night it all went wrong. Charlie explains why. It also explains the collapse of confidence in traditional Irish political parties. 

While there is no suggestion that there is a Charles Haughey in Stormont, that institution is now in danger of copying the cute-hoorism of southern politics. We are living beyond our means, our politicians tell us. It is easy for them. They can conceal their party’s expenses claims and later tell us they broke no rules. 

We must cut 20,000 jobs, they say – but they say it quietly, while organising vociferous sham arguments about flags and language. We must privatise the economy, they say, but none of them said that in their election manifestos. 

The lessons of Charlie are not just to be found in the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry. 

If we are not careful, we may find some of them fuelling the growing public mistrust of Northern Ireland politics and government. But unlike southern politics, Stormont has a built-in safety net of sectarianism. For all his duplicity, even Charlie did not think of that one