OPINION: Last night Leviathan discussed NAMA. The panel consisted of journalist Margaret E. Ward, banker Peter Matthews, Green Party Chairman, Dan Boyle, and Frank Fahy, the Fianna Fáil TD. The latter two spoke in favour of NAMA, and the other two, virulently against. David McWilliams chaired, though he himself is strongly against the implementation of the legislation.
I left feeling angry, upset and disappointed. Not at Leviathan itself, which is something I back fully, but the attitude of parts of the audience – who I reckon represent a large element of Irish society in this instance – and the two political panelists.
Frank Fahy disgraced himself and was an embarrassment to the position of teachta dala. He’s not worth words.
I was disappointed by Dan Boyle. I can only hope the print journalists there quote him extensively in their publications. He admitted he thought the numbers upon which NAMA are based are fantastically optimistic [not a direct quote, but very close]. He said he didn’t expect NAMA to make a profit and that he’d “settle for a small loss”. He was speaking in front of an audience of maybe 350 people and did things and said things he would never do or say on a mass-audience broadcast. The comment on the “NAMA may not profit” raised a question that changed how I was feeling. The Question: why then did his party demand that a windfall tax be part of the NAMA legislation in order for them to support it?
My guess as to why? Because it made things politically digestible for the Green Party membership before their vote on the programme for Government.
That word, “politically”, angers.
NAMA should not be a political decision, it’s far too serious for that. That’s not to say politicians shouldn’t be involved, but rather that party politics should play no part in the development of the legislation. Yet party politics has clearly had an influence. The Greens’ demand for a windfall tax on monies a representative of their leadership believes is unlikely to appear is evidence of that, I feel. It tells me the Green leadership will work towards guarantees to appease their party membership solely to stay in Government.
The focus and nature of my emotions soon changed once again however. When someone sitting close by shouted “you’re only in it for the power” in the direction of Dan Boyle there were whoops and cheers, laughing and clinking glasses all around me. Then the conversation moved back to NAMA… but the whooping, cheering, clinking and laughing continued. That upset me – not teary upset, now, but upset-stomachy type upset.
One of the instances struck me particularly. Frank Fahy was bluffing on about NAMA being comparable to the successful actions of a foreign government, David McWilliams challenged him on this, saying NAMA was nothing like this other foreign agency. “They were buying prime land, land that had the potential to improve in value”, McWilliams said [I paraphrase, I was off-duty], “but we’re buying… lumps of mud ten miles outside Mullingar“.
Cue the group of well-dressed lads in the nook of couches in front of me cracking up laughing. These were well-dressed lads, mid-thirties, not banker or developer types, but upper-middle class, I’d guess. They were laughing at the line about the taxpayer buying parcels of land outside Mullingar. And not the absurdity of it, as far as I could make out from their continuing conversation, but the idea itself.
This type of chuckling and giggling at aspects of the proposed NAMA legislation continued in some parts – not near all, I should note – of the audience over the course of the night. I believe this small groups’ refusal to seriously accept and comprehend the sheer size and potential impact of NAMA is reflected in a considerable section of Irish society. I’m not sure if it’s a refusal, or people not informing themselves, but it is worrying either way. I don’t think there’s anything funny about NAMA when being discussed by political leaders, no matter the context or how insane their utterances may seem.
We are buying bits of mud outside Mullingar. We are placing €54bn somewhere other than the country’s coffers. This isn’t a win-lose situation, it’s a win-ruin situation that simply has to be got right. It’s not the same as an individual taking a €400,000 risk on an apartment block in Bulgaria or the Government deciding on whether or not to buy cervical cancer vaccines, it’s decision that will impact the lives of you and I and unborn Irish for decades to come. This is not a Shakespearean play, it’s a country.
When a member of the Oireachtas is speaking on the topic, whether on a straight-laced RTÉ show or political cabaret like Leviathan, there is nothing laughable about any of it.
I fear the reality of that hasn’t been fully undertaken as of yet. Dan Boyle’s differing tones and statements don’t help. And Frank Fahy’s comments are unhelpful regardless of topic.
The comments box is open – yes, this is more a “bloggy” type post than I usually place here. I’m happy to discuss and debate my opinions. Maybe I’m taking life too seriously? Maybe I’ve misinterpreted what Leviathan is about? Let me know below.
PS Dan Boyle and Frank Fahy made have floundered at times last night, but the people who egged them afterwards should be ashamed of themselves. Anyone who knows enough about this country to recognise Dan Boyle and Frank Fahy should have more intelligence and self-respect than to lower themselves to throwing eggs.