Ireland needs this "foreigner" to fix the banks

A few weeks back one of our elected representatives stood up in the parliament (the Dáil) and essentially declared that we don't need foreigners here telling us what to do. Now before you get too upset, Deputy Ned O'Keefe was not referring to me nor was it a reference to any American for that matter nor to any of the so-called 'new Irish' who mostly come from Africa or Asia.

No, Deputy O'Keefe was speaking of one particular "foreigner", the new Financial Regulator, Matthew Elderfield, who is originally from England. Now you can see where Deputy O'Keefe was coming from when he said §, "Michael Collins, Liam Lynch, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, would not have those foreigners running our business. It is about time we looked after our Irish people who are well educated."

The funny thing is, O'Keefe is wrong, totally wrong and I'm not talking about political correctness or revisionist history. I refuse to believe that Collins, Lynch, Pearse or Connolly would have objected to an independent Ireland choosing to appoint an Englishman if that was what was best for Ireland, if the Englishman was the best person for the job. After all Elderfield is still going to be subordinate to his employers, who ultimately are the Irish people.

As far as I can tell O'Keefe is not just wrong, but alone (among non-bankers, anyway)*. Elderfield seems to be mostly winning friends among the Irish people, who don't seem to mind one bit watching an Englishman slap the Irish bankers around. He is like (and has been called) the sheriff in a western coming to clean up the town and drive all the riffraff out or into jail.

Elderfield is, as Irish people say, putting manners on the bankers. He's changing the culture of financial regulation in Ireland, beefing up his staff and basically taking all sorts of stands that would have the bankers howling, if the evidence of their greed and stupidity weren't so well known.

Yesterday, for example, Elderfield declared that the day where a closed clique of a few people could dominate the Boards of Directors of the financial services companies or where ex-CEO's could semi-retire into the Chairman role are OVER. Better oversight of our banks from their Boards of Directors is crucial and Elderfield is going to see that we get it.

It's all great stuff and long may it continue. But I worry. I worry that Elderfield's time laying down the law won't last long enough. Why? Because Ireland is a very small country and Dublin is a small city and Elderfield will quickly find that the people he's busy cracking down on tend to dine out where he dines out, play golf where he plays golf, etc.

Same goes for his wife - she'll find her social outlets also contain quite a few bankers' spouses - and children (I don't know if has children), who will almost certainly be in school with some of the leading bankers' children.

It will take a mighty effort on Elderfield's part not to be sucked into the bankers' milieu and, eventually, their way of thinking. It would be better if he didn't actually live here, but that's asking a lot. I'm confident he'll remain independent long enough for us to get out of the hole we're in. Yet, how long can he remain an outsider, a "foreigner?" Will it be long enough to stop the bankers repeating the same dumb mistakes? Ireland needs the answer to be yes.

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§ Can't link directly to the page, but it's page 4 of the banking motion debate.

* If you read the minutes from the Dáil debate where deputy O'Keefe made his comments, you'll see a member of the opposition implies that O'Keefe's main concern is his own bank shares.

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