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Saturday, May 3, 2014

High price of a weak financial regulator

THE fallout from the end of the trial of the Anglo Irish bankers has spoken volumes. Now that little matter is out of the way, the wheels of justice, we are assured, will grind a little faster.
A banking inquiry by an Oireachtas committee will finally apportion blame for the mother of all recessions. It will be, to use a favoured Shinner term, “a truth recovery process”.
First in the stocks is expected to be Pat Neary, the hapless former head of the Financial Regulator, who had some shocking memory lapses while giving evidence. Now that Sean Fitzpatrick was found not guilty of proffering illegal loans, and his former colleagues, Pat Whelan and Willie McAteer, are not going to jail, the focus can move onto Neary.
All of the available evidence suggests that each shovel dug into the past will throw up further opprobrium for Neary. The trial showed him to be a man who acted with deference, rather than authority, towards the banks. At the height of the crisis, he appears to have been acting like the proverbial Chinese monkeys— closing his eyes, ears, and mouth to anything that might discommode him. Then, he walked away from the wreckage with a pay-off of €640,000, and an annual pension of €140,000. The least he might be expected to do for the State that has padded out his retirement is to rummage around his memory, and enlighten the people’s representatives on what, exactly, was going on.
A view is hardening that Neary can now move to the front of the queue as culprit-in-chief for the economic collapse. He, quite obviously, was not up to the job.
But what if he had been? What if Neary had been, in the best tradition of independent overseers, a highly competent, conscientious, and strong-willed individual? Would he have survived the culture of the times, or would he have been escorted to the door while the party was in full flow? There are plenty of examples to show that Neary was not out of line with the political and economic culture.
Take a speech given by one of the architects of boom-time Ireland — Charlie McCreevy — in December, 2005.
At the annual lunch for the Irish Financial Services Centre, McCreevy gave his view on how nation builders should be let off the leash.
His message for the regulator, on that occasion, was: “Don’t try to protect everybody from every possible accident… and leave industry with the space to breathe, and investors with the freedom to learn from their mistakes.”
McCreevy stuck his chest out, and explained how “many of us, in this room, are from the generations that had the luck to grow up before governments got working and lawyers got rich on regulating our lives. We were part of the ‘unregulated generation’ — the generation that has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem-solvers and inventors.” That was McCreevy’s island, a place for tough guys who took risks, guys who knew what they were doing and didn’t need to be regulated.
The tough guys ran the show, as was evidenced in 2006 when the Revenue Commissioners made a modest proposal on taxing the stock market instrument, contracts for difference (CFD). A punter could bet up to 10 times what was, effectively, a deposit, on the future direction of shares. It has been described as “the crack cocaine of the stock market”, and had the added incentive of provision for secrecy.
Sean Quinn secretly built up his huge stake in Anglo Irish Bank through contracts for difference. By 2006, CFDs accounted for between 30% and 50% of dealing on the Irish Stock Exchange. In a market shooting north, thousands of high-net-worth individuals in this country were raking in fortunes.
Then, along comes a modest proposal to apply a 1% tax to CDFs, as was already the case for ordinary share dealing.
After serious lobbying from a range of industry bodies, Minister for Finance Brian Cowen backed down. No tax would apply.
Off you go lads, pump up those risks, safe in the knowledge that you operate in a tax-free zone.
Cowen said he acted on foot of advice from his officials. He wasn’t obliged to take that advice, but it gave him cover, and also demonstrated that the people in the department were equally in thrall to the risk takers.
While all of that was going on, the man charged with policing the corporate world was snowed under. For two years, up to 2007, the Director of Corporate Enforcement pleaded for more resources, in a country that was being swamped by risk-takers and tough guys.
On February 28, 2007, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told the Dáil that the director would have to wait in line.
“The reason he’s not getting all the staffing is that we made a priority in that department to create new labour inspectors,” Ahern said. Two years previously, when the scandal of the ‘slave labour’ of the Gama Turkish workers was uncovered, it had emerged that there were just two labour inspectors for the country. Now, Ahern was saying that in this low-tax, risk-taking economy, swelling with money, it wasn’t possible to properly police both the workplace and the boardroom.
That was the culture that existed. It went beyond a gormless regulator like Neary.
It went beyond even a craven politician like Ahern. It infected every echelon of the power centres that ran the country, and nobody in the main opposition parties had any problem with it.
Would a tough, or even competent, regulator have survived in those times? Well, just look at what happened in 2010, two years after the economy collapsed. A new regulator, Englishman Matthew Elderfield, was in town, doing his job to a high degree of competence.
He found it necessary, in March that year, to place the Quinn Group in administration.
For that, he was roundly criticised in the political and business arena. Quinn was a champion risk-taker, who had bet the house on Anglo and lost. All of that was known by 2010, yet the regulator, rather than reckless Quinn, was cast as the bad guy.
In the same week that Quinn was placed in administration, one TD rose in the Dáil to opine that Elderfield needed to cut the banks some slack. Yes! The same banks that had run the country into the ground.
If given time, Ned O’Keeffe said, “they (the banks) won’t be depending on the State and Mr Elderfield to tell us what to do. We don’t want foreigners in here. Michael Collins, Liam Lynch, Padraig Pearse and James Connolly wouldn’t have those foreigners running our business.”
That was the level of debate, on regulation, that informed public discourse in 2010, with the country on its knees. A few years previously, when the risk-takers and tough guys were calling the shots, would any proper regulator have been permitted to put a brake on the madness?

The hope is that the Oireachtas inquiry will be more than just a show trial for Neary and Fianna Fáil. Don’t hold your breath.

Michael Clifford

Photos: Magnificent Sight.......

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Video: Wonderful London in 1924 & 2014 in mixed scenes

Barry Clifford: Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Looking for a working/reliable computer for a mainly housebound woman. She suffers severe arthritis and on a disability allowance and cannot afford to buy one. Her old computer packed up which was literally the window to her world. That window is now firmly closed and needs a little help from a friend. If you can help, please leave a message here with your contact details and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Barry Clifford

Barry Clifford: Martin Quigley-Predator On The Prowl

                                                                      Martin Quigley

What do you need today to get into prison. You would think that after 12 previous convictions that included assault and public order offences that that at least would get him a few days. No such luck in Ireland. How about after that this predator then sexually assaults a teenage girl and only gets a suspended sentence of two years. Then the very next day he is back in court for not paying full compensation of €5000 for having previously sexually assaulted a man, that also resulted in permanent scarring to his victim’s head. I suppose if you call yourself a businessman you can afford to pay the money and even not pay it because the judge then allowed Quigley more time to come up with the money.

So, Martin Quigley is now a free man and the state and the judge, Barry Hickey, must bear equal responsibility for what he will do next. At 48 years old, it is a good bet that Martin is betting he will never see the inside of a prison cell as long as he has the money to buy his way out of one. The principle of justice has been completely lost in this case and this predator’s history. It also sends a message to sexual assault victims that, at least in Tralee in Co. Kerry, do not expect justice at their courts.

By Barry Clifford

Monday, April 28, 2014

By Barry Clifford: A Man Called Frank Sinatra

As a child I thought ‘old blue eyes’ was for, well, old people with blue eyes and any other colour as well. I kinda came round a bit a month before my 13th birthday when ‘old blue eyes’ released the song: My Way. Since then it has been a slow but sure affection of who Frank Sinatra was and always will be.

Some people have that certain poise, spark, charisma, chemistry, and sometimes you can’t even put your finger on it, yet Frank had all these things together. His jokes did not have to be funny, you just knew he had something else in his arsenal that very few others had just waiting in the wings and so you waited. It could have been the black suits, white shirts and black tie that did it, but that was a bridge too far. The way he held a drink might have been it but Dean Martin always looked like he did it better, and Dino told a joke that always went down more than Frank’s did. That all changed when Frank started to do what he ultimately did, and what you expected him to do, that was better than anybody, and simply sang. He sang with such an intensity and feeling unmatched yet imitated by many right to this very day.

His song’s like My Way, and New York New York are veritable national anthem’s of many countries and the inspiration to those to try to make it wherever they are, and in the end, remember the trying of it most of all, win or lose.

As he got older, in the September of his years, he would not allow himself to give it up; it was just too much fun. As the voice grew weary I rooted for him in those live recordings to do it what seemed could not be done. He did not matter in the end if he did not hit the note or forgot a word here and there, for you were not just listening to a song, you were watching The Frank Sinatra show and all what that meant. So, just in case I missed this legend in my lifetime, I went to see him in his when he went to perform live in New York around 1993.

The opening act was Shirley Mc Lane in a physical dance routine that defied her years and Frank came out to defy his. I was in a minority of an almost exclusive concert hall of Italian Americans that roared and applauded at this Italian American icon. One of their own but everyone else’s too. He was larger than life.

As the curtain went down for the second and last time that night, I knew that I had witnessed something special: A man who was a legend in his own lifetime and ours, at least those of a certain vintage, and one that will endure in many other lives yet to come.  

By Barry Clifford

Barry Clifford: Sign Your Own Cheques

The actor, Kirk Douglas, now a sprightly 97 year old, was utterly broke when he was in his mid fifties. His lawyer/ adviser, who had power of attorney over his affairs, cleaned out his bank account by getting loans on properties that Kirk had owned. By the time Kirk found out it was too late and the lawyer gone. Along came the movie, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, that saved Kirk and the rest is a happy history.

A carbon copy of this story happened to Gabriel Bryne, the Irish talk show host, who was around the same age as Kirk when it happened to him. The only marked difference was that it was Mr Bryne’s accountant that time around. If you must trust in God when it comes to money, make sure no one else is involved when it comes to parting with it, or when it is about to be shared with someone else other than your wife. Succinctly put: sign your own cheques, and no harm to read the fine print while you are at it as well. 

Bernie Madoff comes to mind; king of all the conmen. The actor, John Malkovich, said he was ‘ruined’ financially by the scam that the infamous Bernie was running. His simple statement spoke volumes for him and for too many others.

In the movie Scarface, the main character bemoans the fact that he just gave €10 million dollars to a very dodgy bank and all he got was a piece of paper in return otherwise called a receipt. He could have been easily referring to the latest line of Bankster’s in the media as well that took drug money to launder for murderous dealers like Scarface. Bangsters cheating gangsters- can you spot the difference.

A good conman will try to transfer his guilt be telling anyone that would listen that he only ever conned a greedy man, that is ultimately him.  The only note of caution must be: never trust anyone with your money, not even yourself, for a healthy skepticism will ensure that you will not run away with your own hype before someone else runs away with your own money. 

By Barry Clifford    

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