March 22, 2010
When I was in school there were fellas whose Mammies stood behind them with a mallet when they were filling in their CAO forms to make sure they ticked law, accountancy or medicine. The holy of holies of this type of Irish mammy was to have her son in the professions. This was what she had strived for all these years and it would be made concrete by the son’s entry into university and from then on the conveyor belt towards professional respectability.
Most to these lads were decent enough characters and went on to become partners in law firms, doctors or senior managers in the banks and department bosses in the big accountancy firms. They were never risk takers or particularly adventurous. They knew that the system rewarded obedience and conformity. And come to think of it now, they were quite capable of grassing up a messer in class or telling on lads smoking in the jacks. Put simply they were not to sort of lads you wanted beside you if you got into a scrap. They’d run a mile, worse still they’d switch sides if they had to.
Today these type of fellas form a central phalanx of Dublin’s professional class. There have become the “insiders” in Ireland. They have grinded away, kissing ass when necessary and are now rewarded for their good behavior by an equity partnership and a board directorship or three. They are now deep inside the system and realize that their job and their prosperity is based on preserving the status quo.
In the cacophony of moral outrage surrounding Sean Fitzpatrick, these lads are most voluminous because they realize that Seanie constitutes a threat to the status quo. He needs to go down, in order to protect them. The system needs a few scalps in order to spin the line that “we have drawn a line in the sand”. The insiders understand that the Seanie arrest is a damage limitation exercise for the “insiders” which allows them to heap approbrium on one – or maybe a handful of individuals – in order to allow them, the professionals insiders to carry on as if nothing had happened.
Amongst the leading lights of Ireland’s professional class there is a monumental struggle going on for personal and institutional survival. They are trying to pretend that Sean Fitzpatrick acted alone and that he and he alone was responsible for the financial madness of the past ten years.
I am not going to defend Sean Fitzpatrick here but I am going to make the fundamental point that he did not act alone. If we want to learn from this disaster, we need to acknowledge that the system is rotten, not just the generals. Seanie sat atop of a deeply corrupted system which was aided and abetted by insiders —politicians, estate agents, corporate lawyers, accountants and mush of the media – who extracted fees, votes and profits by making the property scam legitimate with the legal opinions, their qwack economics, their glossy brochures and their “oh so clean” set of accounts.
The insiders have made Seanie their moral skip, into which they can throw all the grubby deals that went wrong, all the bad advice they doled out and all the greed that saw them cross the is and dot the ts of yet another syndicated property consortium. Yes they were all involved in the great property scam, wining and dining, taking fees and lording it over others, but you wouldn’t think that now. Now they are distancing themselves from anything to do with Anglo as if the past never existed.
By the time they have rewritten history, Seanie Fitz will have acted alone. There will be no evidence of the dozens of lawyers, other bankers, and accountants who creamed off the top. Not to mention the estate agents and other spoofers who valued the market to validate the bank and property deals which the lawyers and accountants market now as billable services. The aim of the rewriting of history is to make sure that guilt is local not general, that there were a few bad eggs rather than a corrupted system and most crucially, at the end of this the same insiders should remain in positions of power.
To achieve this objective Ireland’s professional classes have constructed what could be called a large “Indignometre” that is chiming away in their heads. The Indignometre measures the level of outrage at Seanie Fitzpatrick and these last few days it has been ratcheted up to full tilt.
I met one of these insiders the other day. He’s a successful lawyer around town and the height of respectability. Sort of bloke who hasn’t put a foot wrong ever since his mammy applied spit to her hanky to wipe of the chocolate stains off his face.
I haven’t seen him for a few years. The last time I met him was in 2006 in the O’Reilly Hall in UCD. I was presenting a business awards ceremony – a sort of Rose of Tralee for men with BMWs and moderate handicaps. Seanie Fitzpatrick was there too – at the top of his game. Back then Seanie was everyone’s friend. There was a queue of admirers coming to kiss the ring of the man who had changed Irish banking. In the world of Irish finance, Seanie was the man. He was Mister Big. He had led the charge and they had followed him. This lawyer was waiting obligingly at the end of the Seanie queue, grovelling for an audience.
Four years ago the sycophants lined up. So called financial journalists who have subsequently dammed Seanie were there paying homage as well as other competing bankers hoping to be noticed, lawyers and accountants hoping for fees, captains of industry and builders, of course the builders, many of whom were made by Seanie.
A few years ago, this lad whose Mammy had pushed him up the greasy respectability pole was all “Seanie this” and “Seanie that”. Back then he was giddy telling me how he and Seanie and the lads were out playing a few holes, putting deals together. Now he is claiming that Seanie acted alone.
So we are to believe now that not only did Seanie run the bank on his own, but he pedaled the shares too, he signed off on the accounts and did the legals on the repacked property deals. Not only that but he wrote the puff pieces in the newspapers and as for the board members of Anglo, sure obviously Seanie didn’t listen to them — they are not to blame either. In fact no one is to blame but Seanie. History is being re-written.
In the great drama that is playing out in the Irish professional classes Seanie Fitz occupies the position of arch villan and there is a desperate struggle now on the part of those who were his best friends not so long ago Sean to distance themselves from him.
Remember these were the same fellas in school who might change sides if you got into a scrap at the bus stop.
The fact that they are trying to rewrite history is not that surprising what is galling however is that these guys who contributed to the mess and profited from it are now being given jobs in NAMA to make sure we pay for their greed. Ernst and Young, Anglo’s auditors have a job with NAMA, along with PWC who claimed Anglo’s losses would be â‚¬3bn rather than the Euro 14 billion it is likely to be. The estate agents who valued the market and created the hysteria are now advising NAMA on valuations and guess what, my lawyer mate who was hobnobbing Anglo three years ago is advising who now? You guessed it, yes he is now being paid by NAMA!
Maybe his Mammy was right all along.