BERTIE AHERN HAS said the easy availability of loans led to Ireland’s financial meltdown noting that “everybody started living on credit” during the boom years.
The former taoiseach was giving his latest assessment of the crash in an interview with BBC Radio 4′s Today programme as part of an extended package examining whether the EU might collapse.
Speaking to veteran broadcaster John Humphrys, Ahern said that the availability of cheap credit through Ireland’s involvement in the eurozone created “a huge problem”.
“Everybody started living on credit and credit was whatever you wanted yourself,” he said.
“Anyone could walk into any institution and seem to get any amount of money and this is where the cocky bit came in. Unfortunately, collectively as a country, we started leveraging one off the next.
So Joe Soap and Mary Soap, who never had a lot, got the loans for the second house and leveraged the third house off the second house and the fourth on the third, and you know, what are you having yourself. So that was a huge problem.
“But where did that problem come from? That problem came from the availability, which we had never had since the foundation of the state, of cheap money through the European system.”
Ahern’s comments were criticised by Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín this evening. The Meath West deputy said they appear to contradict what Ahern told the banking inquiry.
“What is even more peculiar is that in the banking inquiry Bertie told the committee that: ‘I mean, look what happened in the commercial property side. I mean, there was where the madness really took place.’
So unless Joe and Mary Soap are developers he seems to have changed his story.
“This is a typical Fianna Fáil approach of trying to diminish the disastrous role they played in the crash by shifting the blame onto the average family who bought a mortgage.
Joe and Mary Soap did not cause the collapse of the economy under Fianna Fáil and no amount of revisionism by Bertie Ahern or Micheál Martin can change that.
In the interview with the BBC, Ahern also called for greater European integration, saying the idea of “100% sovereignty” is “nonsense”:
The days of people believing that they can paddle their own canoe with 100% sovereignty for themselves is nonsense and anyone who believes that should get off this planet quick in my view.
You must pool your sovereignty to have the dream. What’s wrong now – not that the dream is wrong – is we lost the dreamers and we need to invent some new dreamers.
Ahern’s remarks come less than two months after he told an audience in Dublin he had “absolutely nothing to do” with the 2008 bank guarantee.
The former Fianna Fáil leader told a book launch in October that he had “long left government” by the time of the bank guarantee. He resigned as taoiseach in May 2008 with the bank guarantee introduced in September of that year.
Ahern has previously said the hardest thing he had to tackle was the banking crisis and joked that it was the reason he went grey in just six months.
Appearing before the banking inquiry last July, Ahern apologised for the mistakes his government made between 1997 and 2008, but insisted that he got “a lot of things right”.
Of course, I apologise for my mistakes, but I am also pleased that I did get a lot of things right.
He told the inquiry that he wished he could have foreseen the crisis, remarking: “If hindsight was foresight, I’d be a billionaire.”