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The Bank Bailout and the case for a workers’ enquiry

Five years into the bank bailout the Fine Gael/Labour coalition has suggested that it might be appropriate to investigate the catastrophe that engulfed Ireland. The process was given added impetus when audio tapes were released exposing leading figures at Anglo-Irish bank conspiring to transfer the debt to the Irish government and, ultimately, to the shoulders of Irish workers. 

The idea that capitalism would spontaneously confess its crimes did not last long. Taoiseach Enda Kenny indicated that an investigation into the banking collapse and the events leading up to it would be held without involving the most notorious gangsters of them all, the Anglo Irish Bank. The leading player, Anglo-Irish bank, should be excluded from the enquiry and it should be circumscribed in other directions in order not to overlap possible criminal prosecutions. The proposal is farcical. Ostensibly it is the fear of jeopardizing the case against Sean Fitzpatrick and his colleagues that prevent the proposed investigation from including Anglo’s activities. 

A leading figure in the European Central Bank, indicated that he would not give evidence. Everything could be explained by the Irish Central Bank, the local representatives of the ECB. We are to hear nothing about ECB insistence that Ireland guarantee the bondholders or about how it provided the financial instruments and guarantees that made possible the transformation of bankers and bondholders debt into sovereign debt. 

The killer punch came from Patrick Honohan, Chair of the Central bank. The Anglo tapes could be dismissed. The bankers had been boorish and insensitive, but there was no evidence of criminality! 

In reality the entire project is a cynical attempt to clear the Irish ruling class by producing a whitewash which at most will scapegoat a few of the most criminal of the banking conspirators and obscure the role of everyone else. 

The leaked Anglo recordings reveal a conspiracy to force the bank debt onto the shoulders of Irish workers. What is evident is that the Irish political elite were willing dupes, anxious to assure their imperial masters in Berlin, London and Washington that they would protect reckless bondholders. It is also clear that David Begg, Jack O’Connor and the trade union leadership were centrally involved in the cover-up. Now the entire elite want a fake enquiry for the sole purpose of burying their criminal behaviour. 

The working class needs an enquiry for a different reason. We do not need to be told what we already know; that the banks collapsed and we are paying for it; that there has been a massive transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest; or to pose the possibility of “early retirement” for one or two cynical bankers. Any revelations will not make us “feel a little better” about being robbed of our modest comforts and our children’s futures. 

We need to know precisely what the leadership of the Irish working class did and said to the bankers and the state in the face of the capitalist crisis and why they betrayed the working masses so completely. Working people need to understand the mechanism by which a banking crisis became a fiscal crisis; by which bank debt and sharp practices translated into lost jobs, schools, homes and hospital beds. How was this sleight of hand carried out? Why did David Begg, who was sitting on the board of the Central Bank at the time, allow this theft to take place without acting? He along with Jack O’Connor, was present on the night the decision was made to bail out the banks and he arrogantly refuses to give any account of himself to the people he should have been representing at that meeting. 

We need a workers enquiry as a step on the road to our own defence. We are kept helpless by being constantly told that the bank bailout is the result of a complex and mysterious operation of financial laws that cannot be resisted, that Ireland has no future other than subjugation to imperialism and that the only possible policy is to immediately meet the every whim of the transnational companies. That we are not victims because we are all, rich and poor, all in this together. 

A workers enquiry is the first step to reconstituting ourselves as a class, to having our own policy, our own view and our own solutions and to begin to say no to endless victimization and predation by capitalism and imperialism. 

An enquiry is not at all difficult. It does not involve deep knowledge of financial derivatives – only that we see things clearly and say what they are. It does not require university professors, although supportive academics would be useful, but it requires ordinary workers willing to step forward in defiance of their current leaders. The chief difficulty is the acceptance by many socialists of the fake reformist programme of the union bureaucracy, built in the narrow confines of paying the debt. 

Building an enquiry that told us how we were robbed by the Gombeen state and the real role of our existing leadership in this catastrophe would define a new political starting point for working class resistance.


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