Legacy of the Crisis

The financial crisis did not lead to civil unrest as it did in Greece, and Irish politics in 2010 had, according to Michael Lewis, a ‘frozen-in-time quality.’ A country that fought a war of independence in the early twentieth century became, it seemed, compliant and docile in the face of the exposure of systemic corruption, the destruction of that independence nearly a century later, and that those responsible were not made accountable and punished for their misdeeds. Many answers and theories were offered as to why this was the case, including the post-colonial mindset, the underlying political stability of Ireland over an extended period with an accompanying lack of ideological debate, the dominance of the Catholic Church and the resultant absence of a strong civic culture and dissent. But the crisis led to considerable reflection on the nature of Irish decision-making, political leadership, the lack of distribution of power and links between business and politics.

In the last few years of his life, former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald (who died in 2011) occasionally broached the issue of corruption in Irish politics, suggesting in 2010 that the civil war generation through its ‘unselfish patriotism’ provided a barrier “to the spread to politics of the socially inadequate value system that we, as a people, had inherited from our colonial past”. There is some truth, but it may be too sweeping an assertion. In 2012, the Mahon Report, which examined allegations of corrupt payments to politicians in more recent decades, concluded such corruption was ‘systemic and endemic’. But the network of alliances, powerful vested interests and pressure groups that were built up and facilitated corruption did not just emerge in recent decades; they thrived initially in the early years of the state in a small, protected economy and in a society that may be perceived as snobbish and hierarchical.

The existence of such groups is a reminder that because of the way in which political culture evolved after independence it bred a cynicism and selfishness about how to do business and make money in Ireland, and the hierarchy of influence. While there was attachment to the tradition of parliamentary democracy there was a parallel devotion on the part of a minority to a culture of self-advancement, which was about whom you knew and what you could pay. There were many venal people willing to buy Irish politicians, and politicians who were exposed as corrupt or untruthful continued to be elected and endorsed. Some of those who called for accountability within this culture experienced fear, menace and intimidation.


Next - Decision-Making Processesnext