By TANA FRENCH
DUBLIN — FOR the past month, Ireland has been outraged by tapes of Anglo Irish Bank officials, back in 2008, discussing lying to the government about how big a loan they needed, and how they knew there was no chance that the loan would ever be repaid. That loan was the first domino in a sequence that ended with the whole Irish economy flat on its face.
It’s not the bankers’ actions that have outraged people — pretty much everyone had a fair idea that this was what had gone down. It’s the overpowering sense of amorality revealed on the recordings, which were released by the Irish Independent newspaper. The bankers have a great laugh about the situation. It genuinely never seems to mean anything to them that the taxpayer is going to be forced to pay their bills, to the tune of tens of billions. More than that: it never seems to occur to them that their actions might harm people.
I write psychological crime, so I spend a fair amount of time thinking about morality and amorality and what underlies them. And it seems to me that this amorality could be a symptom of something deeper: a total disconnect between action and consequence.
Ireland’s population is just over half that of New York City’s. Our ruling class — including many of the politicians, bankers and property developers who wrecked the economy — is a tiny community, interwoven by friendship, marriages, education, sports and financial transactions to a degree that would be unimaginable in a bigger country. That interweaving has created a safety net that won’t let any of the ruling elite fall. If you’re a banker and your golf buddy’s kid wants to be a banker, then it doesn’t matter if the kid is an idiot, or if he kills cats for kicks: you’ll take him on, and you’ll keep him on.
For many of these people, action and consequence don’t apply; their lives are mapped out from birth, and nothing they do will alter that map. It seems to me that that would be intensely disempowering, even terrifying. Instead of being a series of interlinked actions, life is made up of a scattering of events that have no discernible relationship to one another and that you don’t influence in any real way. In that climate, it would be difficult to develop the sense that your actions make any difference, that you have any responsibility for the consequences. Without cause and effect, there’s no foundation for morality.
I’m not saying this is an excuse. It isn’t. But, like everyone in Ireland, I want answers — for the taxes piled on taxes, for the enormous cuts to essential services, for the dole queues and the flood of emigration, for the desperation in the voices of people who are trapped in ghost estates and don’t have the money to buy their kids shoes. And I wonder if this could be one small facet of one of the answers.
Another question, maybe a more interesting one, is how people who weren’t part of that powerful elite got sucked into the property pyramid scheme that fueled the boom. Some commentators have implied that the answer is basically the same: people got deep into credit-card debt, or took out mortgages for 10 times their income, because they were temporarily sucked into the psychosis of the powerful and it didn’t occur to them that there might be consequences.
But I wonder if, for these people, the truth might actually be the opposite.
Throughout the economic boom, the politicians and bankers and property developers, along with the news media, were telling all of us that cause and effect were perfectly, inextricably linked: “If you buy a vastly overpriced and shoddily built house in the middle of nowhere, the economy will keep growing, and in a few years your house’s value will have doubled, and you can sell it to some other sucker and buy something you actually want and live happily ever after and UTOPIA!!!” It was as simple and certain as sticking a coin into a vending machine: insert Action X, and the life machine will inevitably whir and beep and spit out Future Y.
THE Irish are notoriously cynical, but the Utopia myth hit at exactly the moment when we were most open to unquestioning belief. The majority of Irish people were so desperately poor, for most of the country’s history, that when suddenly we weren’t broke any longer, the cynicism was washed away by the flood of prosperity. We needed to believe that the Celtic Tiger hadn’t simply wandered in, because that would mean it could wander out again. We needed to believe that we had somehow made it happen, and that therefore there were things we could do, like buying overpriced houses, to make it keep happening. We needed, basically, to believe in that chain of action and consequence.
And so the Irish tendency to raise an eyebrow at anything that’s presented as certain paradise dissolved just at the moment when it was needed most.
A lot of my generation believed that chain was unbreakable. When it shattered, so did they — not just financially (although that too), but also psychologically. Their whole sense of a world governed by coherent cause and effect, of their ability to have any agency in their own lives, came under attack.
Those people, the ones who trusted too deeply in action and consequence, were the ones who got utterly, shamelessly destroyed by the people who had no such belief. I’m pretty sure the effects of that betrayal, for Ireland, will take decades to fully unfurl.
Tana French is the author, most recently, of the novel “Broken Harbor.”
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Tips on enjoying “threesomes” paid for by Irish taxpayer, American donations.
All this just goes to prove that we still have a number of fun people in the Government. Well done James Reilly. I hope the scheme is a runaway success
Dublin: An Irish government-funded website, SpunOut.ie, aimed at teens or “young people” provides tips on how to enjoy “threesomes.” Seriously. The site is also backed by Atlantic Philanthropies, founded by Irish American billionaire Chuck Feeney.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry? Don’t get me wrong. I’m steamed about this. I keep repeating to myself: how dare they? How dare they so deliberately undermine what my wife and I teach our children? And how dare it be done with our money?
Yet it’s just so outrageous that I find it almost amusing. I keep asking myself: is this the Ireland that the “men of 16” dreamed of? Is this what the Easter Proclamation was about? For what died the sons of Roisín, was it threesomes?
Of course when that little humor wears off I’m burning again.
SpunOut.ie purports to be “dedicated to helping you make informed decisions about things which may be happening in your life.” Well help on having “a fun and safe experience” in a thressome is the sort of help that my wife and I don’t want anyone giving our children.
I am confident that my wife and I have raised our children well, but this official sanctioning of decadence is a slap in our face. This is the government telling our children “pay no heed to what those people say.” Infuriating.
This kind of thing is a leftover from the Celtic Tiger days. Maybe they were so busy working all the hours God sent that they had no time for doing what parents of teenagers ought to do: fight the good fight, say ‘No’ often and mean it!, be resolute and pray that they come out all right on the other end. Maybe making money hand over fist or just keeping up with the Joneses took so much energy that they couldn’t fight the good fight.
Whatever the cause, there was a collective void where parents should have been. A void filled by ideas like those advocated at SpunOut.ie. The difference this time I feel like they’re mocking us parents for our weakness, having advanced to where they are advising our children on “threesomes.”
It’s galling. But the fact that it’s paid for with taxpayers’ money – OUR MONEY – makes it even worse.
The Irish government is funding SpunOut.ie through the Department of Health, a department that is under serious pressure due to the cutbacks in government spending. Or so we’re told.
Ireland’s economic struggles have created a generation of “involuntary non-returns” who have been forced out and are unable to go home.
This is according to leading academic on the Irish in Britain, Professor Mary Hickman , who describes reality of this latest wave of emigration out of Ireland as “depressing”. A long-term researcher on the community in Britain and founder of the Centre for Irish Studies at London’s Metropolitan University, Professor Hickman is preparing to document the new wave of emigration from her new position as Professorial Research Fellow at the Irish studies centre based in St Mary’s University, Twickenham.
“Since the fall of the Celtic tiger we see the proportion of people leaving Ireland, who are Irish born, rising each year, successively,” she said. “I do think there might be an expectation that there is more done for these citizens by the Irish government in the coming years. There may be a feeling that they are owed something more, due to the calamitous catastrophe in Ireland.”
She added: “The issue is even if these people think they are making a positive decision to leave, that they are leaving voluntarily, that becomes involuntary as they can’t go back because there are no opportunities. This is an issue potentially facing quite a number of people – I would call it involuntary non-return. It’s a really difficult situation to be in and it’s important that this is documented.”
In leaving her 25-year role at London Metropolitan University last month Ms Hickman gains the opportunity to do more research while based at St Mary’s – who recently began investing in and expanding their Irish studies centre. “I would be more than happy if this hadn’t happened to Ireland and no one was emigrating unless they really wanted to,” she said.
“Its a bit depressing. We had all that emigration in middle of the 19th century, then in the 1950s, then in the 1980s and here it is again. I think people during the Celtic tiger thought it would not happen again, but it has.” She added: “It will of course inform the work I will be doing over the coming years and my recent move has allowed me the flexibility to do that.”
Regarding the move between universities, she added: “Lots of things fuelled the move, some personal but ultimately I had been at London Metropolitan since wet up the Irish studies centre in 1986. I felt 25 years was enough at any one institution. What is great about St Marys is they are self-evidently investing in Irish studies. There has been a centre there for some years, but it was recently reconfigured and re-launched, it was fortuitous for me at a time when I decided I had done my stint at London Met that they were expanding and approached me to offer the position.
“I held a high profile management job previously, but with this new professorial fellowship the prime axis of what you are doing swings back to research rather than management. This post releases me from all that, which is great as I want to draw together all the research I have done on the Irish in Britain over the past 25 years and this gives me the time to do it.”
via Land of no return.
via Land of no return.
The specter of the immigrant ship lies in wait once again according to Martin Hughes.
Mr. Hughes a leading financial expert has warned that Ireland’s enfeebled economy will soon be dependent on payments sent homes by emigrants.
He is predicting that by 2020, the collapse of the economy will force emigration to levels that will see the country’s population drop to figures last seen in 2004 that in turn will pull down consumption levels and real estate prices.
“Quite different but not, we must add, altogether new. Having not depended on remittances for many decades, Ireland, like Portugal, will come to rely on these once more.”
If this grim scenario is true, it would seem like we are wasting our time repaying the bankers debts. Perhaps the better option is to repudiate the debts and suffer on our own terms. This option might be a brutal but swifter option in getting the country back on a firm financial basis.
Whatever the case it looks like a return to the sad,bad old days of the 50’s where Ireland depended on immigrant money to keep the country ticking over