July 11th 2002
Dáil debate on Ansbacher - Speech by Martin Ferris
The Ansbacher Report confirms what the ordinary working people of Ireland have known for most of their lives - ours is a society of unequals. An inequality that is institutionalised and leveraged by the powerful for their own political advantage and monetary gains. An inequality that is sustained and nurtured by the political system, which regulates for it. There is one set of rules for the rich and the self-appointed great and another set of rules for the rest of us.
Simply, the Ansbacher Report uncovers the dirty little world of privilege and power that money can buy. A world of exceptions to the common good. A parallel universe for members only.
The Report makes transparent what most ordinary people have always suspected. It exposes the hypocritical double standard that permeates all sectors of this society down to the very core of the political system.
Despite protestations that the Report contains no accuser, no accused, and no one found guilty, Ansbacher defines a cynical and abusive class system that is guilty as charged in the court of public opinion. A shadowy system of secrets, lies, and spoils built off the backs of working people and sustained by a colonial culture of deference for the so-called `good and great' of the land.
We didn't need Ansbacher to tell us that this state has always had two banking systems. One for the rich and one for everyone else. The rich regularly take advantage of low interest loans and high deposits while the poor and working people are afforded no similar access to capital. It is high interest loans and low interest dividends for small earners and savers. Institutionalised inequality with incalculable economic consequences.
Indictment on all successive governments
The revelation that an illegal banking system flourished for the last three decades right under the nose of the Central Bank and other government regulators speaks directly to the sleazy fault line that runs through this state. It is an indictment on all successive governments over the past thirty years.
The Central Bank is the government's premier banking authority and regulator. It is culpable and accountable for the litany of regulatory violations documented in the Report. It is ultimately accountable to the people for the wholesale loss of taxpayers' money and the blatant exploitation of the public trust. The Central Bank facilitated the Ansbacher run on the taxpayer's money by turning a blind eye to the highly irregular and illegal banking practices of the scam.
I am curious to know how the Central Bank reconciled that one of its Directors, Mr O'Reilly-Hyland, was an Ansbacher client? At best, a conflict of interest given the on-going investigations at the time. But potentially much more insidious than that.
Despite `something not tasting right' to investigators, the Central Bank did not pursue investigatory insights as the matter was deemed to be a bit too delicate. Rather, the regulators took Des Traynor's word that all was on the up and up with his banking practices. I wonder how often that same leniency has been extended to an ordinary person who may have overdrawn their bank account? Clearly the Central Bank was compromised in its ability to perform its duties.
Economic climate 70s and 80s
Meanwhile as the powerful and mighty milked the system for millions and millions of pounds, ordinary people suffered the burden of excessive tax rates and didn't have a Des Traynor to oblige them with a secret banking system as an alternative. They just paid their taxes. And, when people protested in 1979 taking to the streets to voice their objections to a system of repressive taxation that reduced their pay to a pittance, the elite golden circle closed ranks and told them to go home and stop whinging.
Let's remember what things were like here in the seventies and eighties - in the days before the much-acclaimed Celtic Tiger. The economy was highly vulnerable. Unemployment was rampant. Services required and demanded could not be supplied. Inflation was spiralling. The national debt rocketed. Infrastructure was dated and sub-standard. The new landlords of the society - the banks - were repossessing houses as families faltered in their mortgage payments. Young couples could not make ends meet, never mind afford a home as mortgage rates escalated on the back of rising taxes. People were forced to leave the country in droves for distant shores in hope of making a living wage. The social fabric was damaged as families had members displaced all over the world. Fathers going to London and sending back wage packets. Young people couldn't get out of the place fast enough. The brain drain was staggering. Rural villages became ghost towns. Areas couldn't field GAA teams.
Against this backdrop, tax rates soared. There was no other way to service the debt and fund the economy. And it was the ordinary people who paid the tax bills while the Ansbacher thieves took their money out of the reach of revenue collectors - even out of the country - significantly reducing the money available to government to fund economic essentials.
The knock on effect to the economy of the massive loss of tax revenue - millions and millions of pounds - in this time period is immeasurable. We will never know the full extent of the loss in actual money or the cost of all the opportunities that were not realised. How do you calculate or model the cost of the years and years of forced emigration from this island?
And how do you explain that when every single pound of tax collected could have made a difference and at a time when the economy was at its worst, the so-called `good and great' of this state took their money and robbed their fellow citizens of the collective benefits of tax revenue? Why? Simply because they could. There was a no one to stop them. They weren't afraid of getting caught. This was business as usual.
In fact, `they' included a former Taoiseach - and a Director of the Central Bank along with a high-powered group of selfish elites who were not concerned about social consequences, law enforcement, or harm to others.
What made them believe they would get away with it? Simply a culture with a colonial hangover that has one set of rules for the rich and another for the rest of us.
This is criminal
The flagrant theft to tax revenue, and by extension taxpayer money, over the past thirty years under the eye of multiple governments and government regulators is a crime against our society and our economy as a whole. No one is more harmed than the tax compliant Irish worker. They are the victims of this crime.
Words like fraud, intent, corruption, conspiracy, irregularity, tax avoidance, tax evasion, only add insult to injury by using language to mask the depravity of what was done. Caution from the Director of Corporate Enforcement that no implication of tax evasion or avoidance, and definitely no criminality, can be deduced or ascribed to the 179 clients named in the Report add little value in the search for justice and restitution.
Posturing aside, the criminal scheme documented in the Report is called theft - larceny of grand proportions. The type of crime that would land an ordinary person a very long jail sentence and a very substantial fine. But this is white-collar crime we are told. And again, a different set of rules seems to apply. A different type of enforcement. And possibly a different set of penalties. Maybe none at all.
The implication being that white-collar crime as opposed to blue-collar crime is crime of a different sort. A lesser type of crime in the hierarchy of offences? A more understandable criminality because it has been committed by the professional versus the working class?
Just more of the same old and very tired story. Exactly the type of thinking and class based distinction that furthers the inequality in this society. There is no context in which to justify what has gone on here. On that I am certain we can all agree.
Ending the sleaze
Today we are called into a special session to debate Ansbacher. Actually, there is no debate among reasonable people. Each and every one of us here appreciates fully the enormity of the violation of public trust documented by the Report.
The time has come to end, once and for all, the inequality, which anchors this state and the sleazy culture it promotes. Tribunal after tribunal has exposed the corruption and greed that runs unrestrained in this society. And we all know there is more to come. For openers, there are thirty cases outside the Ansbacher scheme presently under investigation.
When totalled the price tag for all of this investigation and the Tribunals - with still more to come - is astronomical.
The Minister for Justice has informed the public that he will be asking the High Court to order the E3.2 million cost of the Ansbacher investigation to be borne by the parties named. However, it would appear that the costs could only be levied against corporation, not individuals. To date, E17.97 million has been collected from 55 individuals as part of an agreed deal to halt accruing interest charges. There is speculation that civil fines and penalties for Ansbacher clients in different categories may be a small as 1900 Euro. Revenue investigators are quoted as saying, ``the majority are not cooperating - they are not giving us what we are looking for.'' The Taoiseach has called for prosecutions on the back of the Report.
Yet, we are told that mounting criminal prosecutions will be difficult given standards and admissibility of evidence. Apparently, some deals have already been done in exchange for settlement of outstanding tax liability. Whether the individuals named in Ansbacher are ever sanctioned with anything more than a fleeting sense of shame is the real question for debate.
Ansbacher is only a symptom
However, the Ansbacher scheme is only a symptom of what is wrong in Ireland today. Lies built upon lies and an untruthful past for a manifesto is the legacy of the last three decades of governance. As we have seen documented, many a wealthy pocket has been richly lined by this culture of greed and corruption. The rhetoric and pretence of equality needs to end. The empty promises of social justice from government have been exposed. There is no acceptable level of inequality.
There is no room in our future for what has passed as acceptable for some in the past. Government needs to be held accountable for more than the intent embodied in tribunals and investigations and reports. Government needs to enforce the laws systematically and equally without regard to artificial class distinctions or positional hierarchies. Government needs to recover the trust and confidence of all the people. And needs to do so with rigor.
In this regard, action speaks louder than words. The totality of the cost of the Ansbacher greed has impaired this economy and our people in obvious and sinister ways. The lost tax harvest, the magnitude of which may never be known and the lost opportunity costs combine to paint a picture of the irreparable harm done.
The lack of confidence in government to act as a guardian of the public good. The insidious message of who matters and who doesn't in our society. Troubling moral lessons to our children of a two-tiered code of behaviour.
And just imagine for a minute what we might have been today if the stolen resources and time and energy went into society and were used effectively to improve infrastructure for all. Services that are so necessary for people in need - for all the people. An improved sense of comfort and well being for everyone, not exclusive to the rich and the powerful. This is the equality people want. This is the equality people deserve. People want a level playing field. And they should not have to bargain for it. It is theirs by right.
An Ireland of Equals
I am certain that all of us would like to return to our constituencies after this session and be able to tell people that the era of greed is behind us. That justice will be done. That government facilitation of corporate and wealthy interests has ended.
However, decades of systemic fraud and institutionalised inequality will not be eradicated overnight. Nor will it be eradicated with good intentions and words. We must take back our destiny, with full accountability and authority, and never again allow power to accrue to the so-called ``good and great''. Their record speaks for itself. The challenge ahead is to institutionalise the common motivation in our society to create an Ireland of equals.
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