FF in danger of being reduced to the status of a mudguard party


One of the less noticeable consequences of Covid has been to obscure a number of developments
and decisions which have the capacity to be extremely damaging and possibly have fatal
consequences for Fianna Fail. There are a number of those, but today I will just concentrate on one
area – banks and financial institutions.

In the last six weeks Bank of Ireland have closed 88 of its branches, thereby inconveniencing large
swathes of the population. Ulster Bank have announced its withdrawal from Ireland, the Davy
scandal has erupted, and the mortgage tracker issue has come to a head. The response of the
Government to these matters has been underwhelming to put it at its mildest.

Bank of Ireland has survived because Irish taxpayer’s ie (hairdressers, construction workers,
plumbers, etc) were compelled to advance the money necessary to save it. Yet the Governments
response to its blatant disregard for public opinion was merely to shrug its shoulders. We’re told the
Post Offices will take up the slack and will be paid to do so. A Post Office will not and cannot replace
a bank in a community and the pittance which is to be paid by the banks wouldn’t sustain the post
office network for a week. Minority shareholders have certain legal rights under Irish company law.
The Irish people are minority shareholders in Bank of Ireland. There has not been a mention of the
Government seeking to vindicate those rights.

The closure of Ulster Bank was treated in a similar way. Our borrowing rates for homeowners and
small businesses are the highest in Europe due to lack of competition. We need a third banking
force to counteract that trend. However, that seems to be firmly ruled out and we have been
treated to some vague aspirational comment about Credit Unions stepping into the breach. That is
patent nonsense.

In my opinion a strong case can be made that what occurred in Davy’s possibly amounted to “insider
trading” which, under the Companies Act 1990, is a crime punishable by up to 10 years
imprisonment. Yet nobody has been made personally accountable. People within the Ulster Bank
decided coldly and deliberately that bank profitability took precedence over keeping people in their
homes. Nobody is being personally held to account and the Government wrings its hands and claims
there is nothing they can do. They point to the fact that the Bank has incurred a substantial fine as
has Davy’s.

In all my years on this planet. I never met, had a conversation with or otherwise engaged with a
bank or a company, I have engaged with bank employees and “quite often avoided engagement with
bank managers”. When I attend a GAA match in Limerick’s Gaelic grounds, I meet company
employees and when I go to a rugby game in Thomond Park I occasional meet company Directors
and Company shareholders. But as I have said I never met an actual bank or an actual company.
Companies and banks are not real people. They exist only in law. The decisions they make are made

by human beings. Consequently, nobody can be surprised when the public are decidedly
unimpressed when only the legal institutions rather than the human decision makers are held liable.

Some of our members cling to the notion that our popularity levels (which at present barely exceed
those of Covid 19) is all a consequence of the lockdown. They seem to have convinced themselves
that once the lockdown ends, we will once again bask in the warm glow of public approval. Really?
Where is the evidence to support this? I don’t begrudge them whatever comfort they get from this
illusion. However, I cannot help being reminded of Disraeli’s comment about Gladstone “That he
could convince most people of most things but himself of anything”

The problem is that all these issues are feeding into a poisonous narrative and extremely damaging
public perception of Fianna Fáil in particular. People believe that all those issues would have played
out as they did, had Fine Gael been in Government on their own. They expected our participation to
make a difference and obviously it hasn’t. There is a growing perception that the same old system
continues unhindered – one law for the masters of the universe and a different law for everybody

I take no pleasure in saying these things nor do I have any agenda. However, I am extremely worried
about the future of the party which my family have been involved in since its foundation. We are in
grave danger of being reduced to a position where our Dail representation will consist of a small
disparate and dwindling band of individuals who after each election will be looking around to decide
whose groups mudguard we will be on this occasion. That is not the type of party which I joined.
Nor is it the type of party with which I wish to be associated.

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