You might be surprised to hear me saying that I sympathise with Sean Quinn’s struggle against the demands of Anglo, or IBRC as we now call it. After all, here is a former billionaire who made bad investments in a dodgy bank that went belly up, and now the Irish tax-payer is carrying the can for that banking failure, so why wouldn’t Quinn pay what he owes?
I have sympathy for Quinn because, just like me, he doesn’t believe the Irish government should have taken over Anglo’s debts, but that’s where the common ground falls away and we find ourselves standing at the edge of a precipice, with little more than a €100,000 wedding cake to break our fall.
Quinn owes the money to somebody, and whether he likes it or not, that somebody is us. I was going to say that he needs this explained to him, but of course, Sean is no fool and he understands this perfectly well, unlike his former employees protesting on his behalf after losing their jobs.
Let’s be clear. It wasn’t the Irish state that brought down the Quinn group. It wasn’t “urban Ireland”. It was Sean Quinn’s stupidity and greed, but let’s look back a little.
When Quinn became involved with Anglo, where was the Irish taxpayer?
Did we have a shareholding in the bank? No.
Did we have some responsibility to support the bank? No.
Did we have any involvement whatever with the bank? Well, that’s a bit more complicated, since we don’t know the extent of the bank’s private involvement with senior politicians, judges, police, civil servants or anyone else with influence over the way this country is governed. But let’s leave that to one side. Did the State have any formal involvement with Anglo Irish Bank?
The answer is no. It did not.
The Irish State had nothing whatever to do with Anglo-Irish Bank. However, even though it was clear that Anglo was not a bank in any rational sense of the word, Cowen and Lenihan decided to assume responsibility for all of its liabilities on behalf of the nation. There was no good reason to do this, and every commentator since has identified that as the single most disastrous decision in the entire economic debacle we have been living through.
There was no basis for trying to rescue Anglo since Anglo was already dead, and yet the two Brians saddled the Irish people with the full cost of the disaster. Anglo was not a systemic bank, any more than Irish Nationwide was. Both Ponzi schemes were simply vehicles for developers and dodgy bankers to enrich themselves, along with one or two purchased politicians and assorted senior officials. They could safely have been allowed to collapse with no danger at all to the broader Irish economy, and yet B&B decided that our grandchildren should pay for their survival.
It wasn’t a bail-out of banks. It was a bail-out of those who had made foolish investments, but the result was this: you and I were saddled with all the liabilities of these two joke banks, thanks to a decision by two incompetent politicians. We should never have had any obligations for the adventures of Seanie Fitz or Fingers Fingleton. The government should have let the two scams collapse and let the gamblers bear the consequences, but instead they forced the Irish people to bear the pain.
I have been saying from the start that Anglo and Nationwide are not our responsibility. We should repudiate the guarantees given on our behalf, and that’s why I sympathise with Sean Quinn, but that’s where my sympathy ends. His children are right up to a point when they insist that the state had no involvement with Anglo when Sean embarked on his big gamble, but that’s beside the point. We’re involved now, whether we like it or not, thanks to our ownership of Anglo’s debts, and the Quinns owe the money to somebody. The somebody is us because we, the taxpayers are the ones who bought their paper.
Of course, Quinn’s former feudal vassals and serfs in Monaghan don’t see it that way. These semi-detached citizens of the republic have always hedged their bets and they continue to do so, with public marches in support of the local royal family who bestowed such largesse on them in the good days, but now it’s time they faced the reality.
They owe the money to Ireland, so cough up, folks. Thank you very much.