Why did we fall for the flash?

Sean Dunne’s analogy betwen his US application for bankruptcy and Resurrection of Jeusus could be dismissed as flippantly tasteless. Or, since that analogy was made in an Irish newspaper on Easter Sunday, a day sacred to all Christians, it could well be seen as arrogantly offensive.

Sean Dunne’s analogy betwen his US application for bankruptcy and Resurrection of Jeusus could be dismissed as flippantly tasteless. Or, since that analogy was made in an Irish newspaper on Easter Sunday, a day sacred to all Christians, it could well be seen as arrogantly offensive.

But the fact that, according to himself, he may well ‘rise again’ exceeds tastelessness and arrogance. It could put the ‘frighteners’ on all of us, ordinary Irish people, who are now paying for his, and for his contemporary developers’ financial adventures.

Reports say that Mr Dunne acknowledges debts of between a half-billion and a billion.

The apparent gap between the two sums would seem trivial if you said it quickly. A bit of a laugh until reality dawns.

That reality is that it has become part of our huge national debt, and although we had no part in its accumulation, part of our own personal debts.

A long time ago, when grandmothers told stories that had a moral message, we heard about the young country boy who came to town ‘without an arse in his pants’.

He worked all the hours God gave him, saved his money, set up his own small business which thrived and grew into a big business. (He could still be locally identified).

He gave good employment, bought a nice house for his family, was widely respected and became a Captain of Industry. As Grannie told it, it was all about the virtues of hard work, an object lesson on how to get on in life.

Gilbert and Sullivan gave the story a bit of Victorian glitz: the office boy in the attorney’s firm who so successfully polished up the brasses on the front door that ‘now he is the leader of the Queen’s navy’.

In grandmotherly speak it was a story about natural progression and making the world a better place. Opportunism? A scrap of ruthlessness? A bit of testosterone? Grannie would never have uttered such words.

But the age through which we have recently passed took a giant leap from that natural progression and limited ambition, into the fabricated and the unreal: the fabrication of the so-called derivatives, and the unreal valuation of land. All fuled by hurricances of testosterone and pursued by get-mega-rich-as-fast-as-possible-merchants, each trying to outdo the other.

And let’s face it - we all bought into the flash generated by the resultant lightening. The multiple homes, the tropical paradises, the private jets, Lamborghinis, several garages, the weddings on Onassis yachts, were at the top of the ostentatious scale.

The rest quickly followed in the slipstream. The rich agricultural land of Ireland became sprinkled with huge houses, accommodating five bathrooms, surrounded by acres of velvet lawns upon which a small vegetable patch would have been an intrusion.

Posh Dublin and London stores accumulated long lists of customers for the latest consignment of Gucci handbags - costing each an average of a thousand Euro. Jimmy Choo shoes cluttered the already over-stocked pull-out show cupboard.

And then came the most of us, committing ourselves to mortgages which several lifetimes of earnings could never re-pay.

There was even the extraordinary story of ordinary Irish people who telephoned Joe Duffy on RTE’s Liveline to tell him, and the nation, about the ‘sheister’ who had diddled them out of their substantial down-payment on apartments in Bulgaria.

Sometime in the future, the rise and fall of Ireland will be the subject of post-graduate research.

Psychologists and sociologists may well conclude that it started at the top. There was a horsey estate, an old Ascendancy mansion, an island off the coast, the necessary appendage of a mistress, funded, as we have discovered, through the medium of expensive inquiries, by money of dubious origin.

From there on the standards plummeted. There was a Minister for Finance, who ignoring Grannie’s warning about the inevitability of the rainy day, declared that he would ‘spend it while I have it’.

And the consequences of his inflation of public expenditure have contributedl to our current problems.

It was flashy and it was popular because what you give you cannot take back.

Then there were those who issued warnings. We were heading for disaster. Pull the brakes.

The Taoiseach labelled them as ‘lullahs’ who ‘should go off and commit suicide’ Caught up in the glare of the flash, must of us would have agreed with him.

On Easter Day morning, returning from Mass, the Sunday newspapers, containing the Dunne warning of his personal resurrection, tucked under my arm, I saw a small group of people assembled in Davis Road.

They carried placards proclaiming that Clonmel objected to paying the property tax. They stood buffeted by a viciously cold wind from the east.

Did I join them? No, I did not. I believe that the property tax is a legitimate tax, and that its removal, in the form of rates, in 1977 was a disgraceful political ploy.

But I did admire the endurance of those few protesters.

And it seems to me that, perhaps, it is time that we ordinary Irish people had a shared national soul-searching.

Why did we allow ourselves to be conned? Why we we lose our commonsense, our sense of what was right and valuable?

Why did we fall for the tacky, the brash, and as we have now discovered to our cost, the ultimately, lethal, flash.

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