There are many things in Ireland that are popular that I can’t quite get. The government’s insistence on selling off our natural resources to highest bidder, for example. The Saw Doctors. Ray Foley.
But the thing I don’t understand the most also seems to be our biggest problem: the inability to divorce a positive personal interaction with a powerful bigwig, and the egregious wrongdoing they’ve committed.
We’ve seen it with Charles Haughey. For years and years and years his fabulous wealth and the origins thereof was all but an open secret, and yet he was Taoiseach over the course of four parliaments and had the most hysterically loyal following in Christendom.
We’ve seen it with Bertie too, when everyone knew full well he was a devious little gurrier, but sure wasn’t he just an ordinary man who liked a pint and a football match, loved his mammy and got his ashes at the start of Lent?
We’ve seen it with Lowry, who in spite of resigning from the cabinet and his party due to the overwhelming smell of rat, has topped the poll in Tipp North for fifteen straight years, and will only be displaced when his head is chopped off in a sword-fight at the top of a mountain.
And now, we’re seeing it with Sean Quinn. Last week, thousands turned up to a rally in Cavan in support of their friendly neighborhood beleaguered ex-billionaire. Several respected luminaries were in attendance, among them Fr Brian D’Arcy and Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, and a letter was read out from that known paragon of virtue, Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary. The great local conglomerato himself was there too, he even gave an emotional speech to his adoring public, Irish Citizen Kane style. Throughout the rally people paid tribute to his generosity, loyalty, decency and the fact he provided employment for a troubled, deprived area, and he’s been given an awful unfair hard time of it. Paying tribute to someone is perfectly fair and fine, but everyone seemed to be willfully blind as to why he’s in trouble in the first place.
He put a monster bet on Anglo Irish Bank shares that would have seen his fortune go stratospheric, but it didn’t and instead lost billions. To give the whole thing a metaphysical, Alice in Wonderland feel, the money he used to amass a 25% stake in Anglo was borrowed from, eh, Anglo. Worse yet, he borrowed another half a billion to buy some property to use as security. To compound matters, the company siphoned off funds from the profitable sectors of his business to keep the struggling ones up, and played an extended global game of Hide The Assets with the Irish courts, which is what landed his son in prison, made his nephew a fugitive and makes Quinn’s freedom shaky at best.
So in other words, an uber-capitalist takes a massive gamble and loses, to the extent that everyone with an insurance policy in Ireland has to pay an extra 2% because of it, broke the law explicitly and engaged in a flagrantly obstructive and obtuse game of chicken with the courts. But sure, isn’t he a decent fella?
Sean Quinn is merely the latest exhibit to prove that Ireland will never be a country free of corruption, gombeenism or a near-feudal loyalty to parochial heroes. We simply love our blameless, imperious regional sugar daddies too much. People in Cavan and Fermanagh decry the Anglo swine who ruined the country and why aren’t they being put through the ringer, though they’re perfectly blasé about the fact that, at a 25% stake in the company, Sean Quinn *was* Anglo. They hold asinine placards like “Bring back Quinn and let him create jobs”, apparently unaware of the connection between his actions and those like him and the state of the economy that makes expenditure cuts and layoffs the order of the day. Sean Quinn’s net contribution to Irish society at this point is firmly in the red, and it’s an absurd case of mental reservation or blind, bewildering, unwarranted loyalty to say otherwise. But, loads of people are, and why? Because he’s local, and a good honest man he is too.