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Dublin: 12 °C Saturday 25 October, 2014

Column: Miracle on O’Connell St – what the Clerys rescue says about Ireland

An institution was saved – which just goes to show how badly Irish homeowners are being treated in comparison, writes Arthur Doohan.

Arthur Doohan

WE LIVE IN an age of wonders.

Just two weeks ago we saw Clerys executed and brought back to life faster than Jesus, courtesy of the laying on and writing off of taxpayer-provided bank capital.

The smooth and efficient process whereby the ‘execution’ of this artifact of Mammon was decided upon, a saviour obtained, an executioner… sorry, ‘receiver’ of the corpse appointed and a resurrection effected within the space of 24 hours – courtesy of a compliant judiciary – is a testament to our trust in shibboleths of our most dearly held faith, Capitalism.

Another such wonder is the transformation of legal fictions into ‘people’ by the prophets of the US Republican Party, by means of granting them rights such as ‘freedom of speech’.

On this side of the pond, ‘right-thinking’ people are inclined to roll their eyes in knowing awareness of our smug superiority when we hear the Republicans attempt to assert that notion. Indeed, the Republicans seems strangely conflicted in their urges to grant rights of personhood to corporations and foetuses in the name of liberty,while at the same time constraining the rights of humans in the cause of fighting terrorism.

Our smug superiority is based on belief that such gross distortions would never be allowed to exist in our civilized post-modern liberal economies with our fine human, civil and trade-unions rights protections.

The hypocritical reality of life in Ireland is that there is a brutal contrast between the modern privileges accorded to corporations and the Victorian morality implied in laws affecting persons; a sad illustration of the ongoing hypocrisy of our culture and inadequacy of our governance.

Resurrection

The resurrection of Clerys as a redeemed, forgiven and re-empowered business by means of Bank of Ireland’s realistic 50 per cent write down in its debts – all within 24 hours – stands in stark contrast to how all of the banks and all of the politicians and all of the courts treat the citizens of this republic. This level of write-down for personal debts normally implies bankruptcy for the sinner for eight years, which is a temporary financial hell despite its trade description as purgatory. Yet this level of debt write-down is exactly what is required by a large proportion of our young mortgage holders, if they and the wider economy are to have any chance of recovery and redemption.

This double standard is applied in many other areas of life.

We go to great lengths to bring foreign capital and corporations into this company but we erect barriers to migration despite the talents and qualifications of many of the migrants. We allow any kind of financial agglomeration but have only recently allowed divorce for humans and have relegated same-sex unions to a second-class status. We have a legal limbo where abortion is concerned with potential extreme legal and social sanctions but killing a corporation for private gain (to avoid loss or tax) is barely frowned on.

And last week the Governor of the Central Bank said that we needed to do more to facilitate the ‘restructuring of businesses finances’. Yet for the last three years his organisation – and the Dept of Finance and the Government – tried give more power to the banks (our most privileged corporations) at the expense of the citizens. The proposed new bankruptcy legislation puts the banks and not the courts in the driving seat when ‘restructuring people’s finances’.

That these absurdities are taken as ‘normal’ is a measure of the dysfunction of our society. We are engaged in a program of punishing the citizens for the mistakes of the banks and the administration in order to prop up the absurd property values the banks fostered so that the banks can escape the consequences of their greed and incompetence.

Welcome to modern Ireland where corporations have more rights and better rights than people. We are clearly second class citizens, and while we might not actually be the ‘slaves’ of the corporations… it sure feels like it.

Arthur Doohan is a banker by experience and a web consultant by choice. He writes at doohan.org.

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