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Too many witches and not enough fires burning?


Sunday Independent Jan 31 2010. John Drennan.

Cowan decries witch hunting  


WE hate to be the bearer of evil tidings, but it's time to tell you that our "anointed" betters are not happy. It is bad enough that the people are letting our leaders down by their failure to put a brave face on things and an inability to embrace their "patriotic duties". Ultimately, the great fear -- and the sensitive ones among you may avert your eyes -- is that the petite bourgeoisie and the lower orders are abandoning themselves to licentious witch hunting.

Brian Cowen in particular is quite unhappy about the public's desire for scapegoats -- and he is not alone, for Mary Hanafin, the Minister for Finance and our cherished Health Minister Mary Harney are equally concerned.

Inevitably, the intelligentsia's equivalent of Sam the American Bald Eagle -- otherwise known as the Irish Times columnist Noel Whelan -- has treated us to the usual patronising pomp and circumstance about the dangers of witch hunts. And -- though it has not fully surfaced within the dinner parties of bankers, barristers, "entrepreneurs", builders, levy-dodging judges and the best-paid hospital consultants, college lecturers and civil service mandarins in the world -- all the talk is of how we must combat the dissipated joys of the witch hunt.

Sadly, our attempt to help the establishment by taking on this witch hunt did not fare at all well for, oddly enough -- and perhaps the fault lies in us, Mr Cowen -- despite the sotto voce mutterings by the plump feathered hens of Irish public life about "Salem", there is a problem: it was incredibly difficult to find.

Seeing as the jaded age of consumerism is over, we did hope that joining the blood, fire and fury of a Dublin city- centre mob might occupy our Saturday afternoons.

However, when it came to finding a leader of a popular uprising of the proletariat, the only candidate we could find wasRichard Boyd Barrett, the celebrity socialist.

Instead, the closest version we could find of an Irish cabal of Jacobins was the four angry men roadshow of Matt Cooper,Shane RossPat Leahy and David McWilliams, and, with the best of wills, a book club --no matter how cross -- is not a revolutionary movement.

There have been some agitated letters into the Irish Times, hurt and upset people have described the horror this Government has made of their lives on Frontline, and there has been a plethora of "I told you so" articles by Fintan O'Toole. But this, Mr Cowen, is merely democratic debate and it does tend to happen outside the Fianna Fail tent.

Of course, our bankers have been experiencing some criticism, but so far the worst that has happened is Dermot Gleeson being hit with an egg.

Sean FitzPatrick was followed at a brisk walking pace into an underground car park by Prime Time, but that really is a small price to pay for the destruction of a country.

There have been changes in the bank boardrooms but, like the unknown soldier who died with his boots on, our wastrel bankers have all retired with full fiscal honours.

Our bankers are not unique in their ability to dodge the witch hunt. There was much merriment on the top table when our Finance mandarins got their figures utterly wrong every year.

That was all well and good when the errors were on the plus side. But, now that everything has gone south, other than Rody Molloy, not one of those mandarins who elevated self-service into a core value of public service has resigned over their role in turning the country into a basket case.

Of course, Patrick Neary resigned from our utterly incompetent Financial Regulator's office, but the disaster over which poor old Paddy the scapegoat presided was hardly the creation of one man, and we haven't exactly seen a diaspora of regulatory incompetents from office.

In fairness, some wealthy builders have lost everything, but that is capitalism. When it comes to how we treat wealthy elites, no one could possibly accuse the Irish legal system of engaging in a witch hunt.

Indeed, it could be argued that it is genuinely astonishing that, two years after we discovered that our builders and bankers had created an unregulated €100bn pyramid scheme, not one soul has been arrested. It is inevitably said in these circumstances that you cannot jail the white-collar classes for acts of stupidity, but any analysis of our over-crowded jails suggests that stupidity is the prime qualification for incarceration.

It does strike us that, with all respect to those brave opponents of a witch hunt of the wealthy, jailing a few bankers for being stupid means the rest would be a lot more careful with our cash.

We can also ease Mr Cowen's worries by revealing

that the impotent aged Venetian doges of our trade unions will certainly not lead a workers' revolution. Instead, the performance of figures like 'I'm all right Jack' O'Connor has been epitomised by the unguarded admission by Lenihan that he couldn't believe the Government had got away with some of its actions.

The Government must be equally shocked and pleased that the only political casualty of the recession has consisted of a mouse rather than a mountain, courtesy of John O'Donoghueresigning as Ceann Comhairle.

Ironically, the only members of our elite who have experienced any accountability over the collapse of the little tin gods of Church and State are the bishops, who have accepted culpability for past actions without the consolation of €1m pay-offs.

We are indeed in a strange place when the bishops are an ethical role model for the rest of our establishment.

But, back to Mr Cowen's great witch hunt, we cannot stop it until it actually starts.

Then, just as we began to wonder if Mr Cowen's hysteria might be yet another example of how our elite are so used to "embedding" their feet in the public's throat that any questioning is seen as being subversive, we did at least discover three major scapegoats for our economic collapse.

They are our starving breakfast roll men, the middle classes, and lower paid public sector workers. If you think you're having it hard, Brian, you should see what they are going through.

Sunday Independent