Thursday, May 25, 2017

Seán Fitzpatrick Trial Collapses - Irish Media Lets the Nation Down

To an institution, the Irish media made the wrong call yesterday. Everybody – Morning Ireland, all the papers, Newstalk and the rest – saw the Manchester bombing as the most important story of the day. It wasn’t. Not in Ireland.

The collapse of the Seán Fitzpatrick trial was the more important story from an Irish perspective, and the across-the-board failure to cover that properly is another erosion of the public’s faith in the institutions of the state – an erosion that can lead to the washing away of the state entirely if it’s not addressed.

Seán Fitzpatrick was the face of the Irish Economic Crash. He was chairman of Anglo-Irish Bank, the bank that lead the field in terms of funny business, and which had over-extended itself to such a degree that the Government felt it had no option but to guarantee all debts of all Irish banks in 2008.

For the past ten years, the feeling has existed that the crash was due to reckless banking practices and it seemed right and just that certain reckless bankers should pay for that. But the collapse of the Seán Fitzpatrick trial suggests that’s really not going to happen.

The reasons why the trial collapsed or whether or not the law that deals with white collar crime is fit for purpose are questions for another day. What I’m concerned with this is the media’s inability to realise the importance of this story concerning Seán Fitzpatrick and the collapse of his trial.

In trying to come to terms with how someone so very unsuited to the job is currently President of the United States of America in Monday’s New York Times, David Brooks had some fascinating things to say about the phenomenon of alienation. It was, after all, the alienated who voted for Trump – those traditional Democratic voters in Wisconsin whom Hillary Clinton could not be bothered canvassing, for instance.

Angry voters made a few things abundantly clear: that modern democratic capitalism is not working for them; that basic institutions like the family and communities are falling apart; that we have a college educated elite that has found ingenious ways to make everybody else feel invisible, that has managed to transfer wealth upward to itself, that crashes the hammer of political correctness down on anybody who does not have faculty lounge views.

Does that sound at all familiar?

Fianna Fáil suffered the most catastrophic election result in its history in 2011 as a result of the electorate’s anger at the crash and, despite a recovery in 2016, the party is still struggling to regain lost ground. The electorate, meanwhile, disenfranchised with the last government because of a Labour betrayal and a tone-deaf Fine Gael slogan, remains in hostile mood as it still struggles to understand if democracy works in this country.

That’s what makes the Seán Fitzpatrick trial so important. The nation was going to come to terms with what happened through that trial. The nation would have become more educated in how banks and the state interact, the system would be able to strengthen its regulatory powers, all sorts of good and healing things would happen.

Not only will those things not now happen, the establishment of the state – and remember always that the media is the Fourth Estate of the Establishment – doesn’t even seem to register the nature of the crisis.

People are quivering with anger over the collapse of the Seán Fitzpatrick trial. They turned on Morning Ireland yesterday morning to hear about it and all they heard about was Manchester. The papers were all Manchester, and that’s how it continued throughout the day.

Micheál Martin told the Dáil yesterday that the collapse of the trial was a damning indictment of the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement, and the Taoiseach agreed with him. But what does that mean, really? What is the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement? Where is it? Who’s in charge of it? To whom does it answer?

We don’t know. The Office seems just another quango, that just exists for the sake of existing, without ever doing anything. The nearest we came to finding out what exactly the ODCE does was from RTÉ’s Orla O’Donnell’s frankly terrifying account of why the trial collapsed which gained no media traction, not even in the “National Broadcaster” itself.

If your correspondent were in charge, Ms O’Donnell’s story would the front page story on my newspaper, the first story on my radio show. Instead; silence and the shrugging of shoulders.

The media are enjoying the soap opera of the Fine Gael leadership race or else hand-wringing about when we’ll have a Labour Party progressives can believe in. In the meantime, the poor sods who get up and go to work and pay tax and send the kids to school and hope they’ll have some future look at all this and wonder: what’s going on, and why doesn’t someone do something about it?

In their alienation, the citizens of the US took a chance on Trump. In whom will the Irish place their trust when the time comes?