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Archive for March, 2012

Michael Noonan is a Man in a Hurry

WHAT was Michael Noonan up to on Wednesday night? The Minister for Finance told the Dail that a deal was close in the talks on the Anglo debt. No deal was done, but it was on the way.

The minister’s words, not for the first time, were in marked contrast to Enda Kenny’s lofty stance that wise men keep their mouths firmly shut during negotiations.

Shane Ross, Joint Committee on Economic & Regulatory Affairs 08/07/09

This Cat is Still Creaming it

I NEVER thought I would say a good word about Richie Boucher. Well, I won’t. But the Bank of Ireland chief must be saluted as a genius, the sort of guy you would like on your side when you were eyeballing a spineless cabinet minister.

Richie’s pay is capped at €500,000 a year. The poor sinner has been condemned to live on 10 grand a week.

Richie sometimes makes bystanders weep when he waffles on about his big cut in salary, although he has never told us about all the jobs he must have turned down to stay at home and save the bank he helped to ruin.

Shane at Stepaside Rally

Three Cheers for Joan Burton

Ireland is, for once, in the driving seat in Europe. Let us enjoy the experience.

Enda Kenny was suddenly centre stage in Brussels on Thursday. No longer on the sidelines, you can bet your bottom deutschmark that Angela Merkel whispered in his ear; that she asked sotto voce if he could help her pet project — the fiscal treaty — over the referendum hurdle.

Angela will have been looking for the inside track.

In theory, the Irish referendum was not on the agenda, but it was on everyone’s lips.

Hopefully, Enda affected to be doubtful about the outcome when Angela or Nicolas tapped him on the shoulder and asked him for the lowdown on the referendum.

Perhaps he even confided in them, hinting at the results of a few negative private opinion polls. Hesitantly, he could have explained to Angela that we Irish are a very forgiving people. We bear no grudges, but are not gluttons for her austerity treaty.

He would do his best — but, funnily enough, yes… she could help.

Then perhaps he appealed for solidarity from his Christian Democratic sister, the German chancellor. And he could even have muttered a few timely reminders about the nightmare of the Lisbon referendum.

Let us hope he put the wind up Angela. And that he rather enjoyed the experience.

European leaders are keen as mustard that Ireland votes ‘Yes’. They are spinning a narrative of nonchalance. They are briefing that the treaty can go ahead with only 12 countries, that if Ireland wants to be left behind… well, who cares?

They are even saying that this referendum is different — because, this time, no country has a veto on the treaty.

The spinners are bluffing.

They certainly care. Otherwise they would never have agreed to tailor the wording of the treaty specifically to avoid a referendum in Ireland.

Now that they have failed with this little dodge, they will wish to soothe the wounds of the Irish people.

The last thing that European leaders need is for Ireland to opt out of this treaty.

In their eyes, the new rules of enforcement are necessary because of wayward souls like ourselves, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy. They are horrified at the prospect of an errant outrider breaking the rules of fiscal rectitude, while remaining within the eurozone.

Europe is on a bit of a spit.

Bravo. It is time that Enda played hardball, took advantage of their dilemma — and put Ireland first.

He must seek a substantial write-off of the Anglo promissory notes — the vehicle that threatens to impose austerity on us for years to come — as the price of an easy passage for the plebiscite.

Kenny is playing a canny game — publicly. Good for him. On Thursday, he insisted that the Anglo promissory note is a completely separate matter from the referendum.

The Taoiseach says there is no linkage. Indeed he said “the Irish people will not be bribed” to pass the treaty.

Of course not. But it sure would help if we were given a leg-up on the debt.

Eamon Gilmore was peddling the same line in the Dail, just as Enda was on the plane for Brussels. He repeated that there was no link between the two.

Nobody is fooled. Taoiseach and Tanaiste know that powerful European leaders, with massive egos, cannot be seen back home to have surrendered in the face of threats from little Ireland.

But at long last we have been handed a weapon.

Nobody seems to have told Joan Burton — the woman who should have been Gilmore’s candidate for finance minister — not to fire the torpedo.

Joan, the Social Protection Minister, released the exocet when speaking to the Financial Times on Thursday. (It is a moot question what a Social Protection Minister was doing talking to the FT about a fiscal compact on behalf of the Irish Government.)

But Joan told the truth — which is a dangerous path to take in the current Coalition’s spinning game.

Her choice of the FT — with its European and global reach — may have made her cabinet colleagues mental. It will have raised eyebrows — and no little trepidation — in Brussels, where it will have been widely read.

The FT’s story was unambiguous, stating clearly that: “The European Union should cut the cost of Ireland’s banking bailout to help it pass the eurozone fiscal pact in a high- stakes referendum, according to a senior Irish minister.”

It went on to quote the minister as saying that “a move by Europe on the promissory notes would be very helpful in the referendum campaign and would be noted by the Irish people”. And in a direct link with the annual payment to repay the Anglo debt, she added: “Yes, of course it would be helpful, because €3.1bn is almost as much as the public spending cuts that have taken place annually.”

Wow. The shorthand was devastating: No more Anglo repayments means no more public spending cuts.

Burton was on the button. That is exactly what the people want to hear. Three cheers for an honest minister.

Cynics are suggesting that Joan was part of a more devious strategy. Was she sent out to relay the real message to Merkozy? A more menacing message that could be delivered by a maverick minister while the Taoiseach and Tanaiste hold the official line?

Perhaps, but Joan is no puppet of party leader Gilmore — who, after all, gave her no support when she was pitching for the big prize of Finance. She owes him nothing.

Yet there is undoubtedly a sub-plot operating. The strange refusal of the Government to give any indication of a referendum date is consistent with a deeper strategy. Presumably they are hoping to announce a deal on the Anglo promissory notes a couple of weeks before polling day?

Irish diplomats are probably working overtime in all 27 European capitals.

If the deal is struck, in accordance with their promises to Angela and Nicolas, Enda and Eamon will insist that the two issues are in no way linked. They will claim a “historic breakthrough”, but will maintain that the timing — just before polling day — is a coincidence.

Joan can express her pleasure at the achievement of her ambitions. And then she can demand, following the historic debt write-off, that her Department of Social Protection is spared any further cuts.

Mad bankers in Europe and mad bankers in Ireland created the Anglo debt. Citizens are being asked to repay it. The Irish public is entitled to demand that the European austerity treaty is matched by a reduction in austerity elsewhere. The link between the Anglo promissory notes and the future austerity of the treaty is crystal clear.

Enda and Eamon have been gifted an unexpected opening. They dreaded the prospect of a referendum, anticipating a humiliating defeat.

Suddenly they can turn it into a positive opportunity.

The referendum provides them with a sudden lever in their efforts to extract concessions on our debt from Europe. If Europe delivers on the debt, Ireland can deliver on the treaty.

Enda Needs Jobs, Not Photos

Okay Enda, but what about the jobless back home in Ireland? They are beginning to repeat an old joke around Leinster House: Taoiseach Enda Kenny will soon be paying a State visit to Ireland — he wants to reconnect with the problems of his native people.

Kenny is on a global roll. Last week, after waving goodbye to his new friend, Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping, he announced that he himself would be heading over to China pronto — next month, presumably before the jet-lagged Xi forgets who he is.

Last Tuesday and Wednesday, Enda dropped into Dail Eireann to answer a few questions before jetting over to Berlin for dinner with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Last Friday he flew to Rome to share his thoughts with the Italian premier, Mario Monti.

The photos were good.

The meeting with Merkel was not as exclusive as we were led to believe. Enda was lumped in with the third division European premiers of Latvia and the Czech Republic. The dinner wasn’t a one-to-one with Angela, but he still made it into division three.

The photos were good.

This week the Taoiseach is popping over to Brussels to tell all 27 European premiers how Ireland is toeing the European line.

The photos will be good.

Enda, the newly born statesman, has only just returned from the US pow-wowing with ex-president Bill Clinton, his second transatlantic visit in two weeks.

Kenny the world leader will be barging his way into the White House in three weeks on St Patrick’s Day to greet his old friend Barack. Hopefully he will manage to squeeze Barack in between his return trip to China and Easter recess. Earlier this month he was in Downing Street rubbing shoulders with David Cameron; in January he hosted a visit to Dublin for the UK’s deputy PM Nick Clegg.

Xi’s visit to Ireland was probably the highlight of Enda’s weeks of mixing with international statesmen. It has been hailed as “historic” and maybe it will be — but you can be sure that the only aspect of the Chinese VP’s stay in Ireland that will be remembered by the masses will be the photos of his gallant attempts at kicking a football and swinging a hurley.

Is Enda’s hob-nobbing with the mighty doing Ireland’s economy any good? It certainly gives Kenny a wonderful profile. It let him be pictured with Paypal’s vice president, the vivacious Louise Phelan, at a press conference announcing 1,000 jobs. It supposedly adds to his stature, to be greeted by Obama, Cameron, Xi, Merkel and Monti on equal terms. But is it reducing the jobless numbers at home?

Whether Kenny played any part in delivering the 1,000 Paypal jobs to Dundalk is unknown. The success is more likely to have been the result of solid work by the IDA over a number of years. Work that has brought Google, Facebook, Twitter and others to Dublin. But Enda is in the right place at the time of the arrival of more jobs. So he might as well cash in on it — call in the cameras and claim the credit.

God knows how the IDA’s reporting minister, Richard Bruton, feels about Enda stealing his thunder. Maybe Richard will be allowed to get in on the act soon as (according to the most successful of all State agencies) there are more in the pipeline. It is unlikely that the next jobs announcements will be on the same scale, so Richard will probably be allowed a slice of the action when it breaks.

Is there any substance behind the euphoria and the Kenny spinfest of recent events? Or is it just a ball of smoke?

Of course the Paypal expansion is great news. Jobs are gold dust and multinationals come bearing gold. These are genuinely good jobs. They are not part of Enda’s fantasy ‘Jobs Plan’ initiative, with its 270 measures unveiled amid great fanfare just 10 days ago. The 270 measures are unlikely to create even 270 jobs. Nor does the hard-nosed Paypal fit into the fairyland ‘Pathways to Work’ programme launched by Enda and Minister Joan Burton last Thursday.

Multinationals are the saviours of the economy. Without them we might see another 250,000 of our sons and daughters on the dole. One in seven Irish jobs exist courtesy of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Without them, emigration would have erupted, turning a flood of Ireland’s departing youth into a tsunami. US companies are keeping thousands of our sons and daughters at home.

So Enda’s and Richard Bruton’s efforts to bring foreign investment to Ireland should not be greeted by begrudgery. Nevertheless we need not take their role too seriously. Opportunist politicians invariably pop up when the IDA delivers the jobs. The photos fool plenty of people.

The spin is working, but the economy is not.

Amid all the bubbly comment about multinational jobs last week came a reality check.

The domestic economy is as flat as a pancake. Small business is in tatters. Jobs are being lost.

The unhelpful European Commission and the ESRI pricked Enda’s balloon. Both issued gloomy reports. The latest projections for Europe are depressing. The report from the Commission asserted that Europe was now in a “mild recession”; that Irish export growth will slow in 2012; that domestic demand will fall even further because of higher taxes, increased unemployment and households paying down debts.

And what about growth?

The European Commission manages to hold out the hope that it can reach 0.5 per cent. The ESRI puts it as high as 0.9 per cent. Bad news for Enda, who still insists that it will reach 1.3 per cent.

And jobs? The European Commission expects unemployment here to rise again this year. The ESRI anticipates an almost unchanged jobless rate of 14 per cent. It expects a small fall next year, but only because there will be further mass emigration. Even the government poodles in the Department of Finance admit that unemployment will stay above 14 per cent in 2012.

Has the Government simply given up the ghost on the jobless? Small and medium-sized businesses, critically important in the employment game, are closing their doors by the day. The Government is unmoved. The revival of an earlier discarded plan for the Government to dump the cost of statutory sick leave pay on businesses will bury a few struggling outfits and ensure that others lay off staff.

The Government should remember that the problem of absenteeism and statutory sick pay was created by Irish governments, not by small and medium-sized businesses.

Enda will be adding to the jobless numbers if he goes ahead with this.

Two seemingly paradoxical words — “jobless growth” — are creeping back into the economic debate. Decoded, they mean that exports may improve, but that the backbone of employment, the small and medium-sized businesses, are being sacrificed.

Successive governments, including Kenny’s, have played the multinational game skillfully.

Maybe all those trips overseas are paying off, but when Enda next spots Ireland from the government jet, he should ask the pilot to bring him down to earth in a small business park.

Bloodhound or Greyhound

So after all last week’s hullabaloo, how much do we really know about Greyhound Waste?

Well, for a start, did you know that it is a criminal company? You didn’t? Perhaps you should know a bit more.

Last year Greyhound — the outfit that has won a series of State waste contracts — was prosecuted and found guilty of three charges brought by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It was fined and costs were awarded against it.

It takes a lot of aggro for the EPA to bring a company to court. Greyhound was served with 10 notices of non-compliance before eventually being forced in front of the beak.

Quite a casual attitude to the law.

Perhaps the errant company learned its lesson? Was it chastened by the experience? Was it a one-time offender?

What do you think? These cowboys of the waste industry seem simply to have carried on as before. Believe it or not, they were visited on the same site in Clondalkin, Dublin, by inspectors nine times in 2011 — after the convictions in court. They were served with a further five non-compliance notices. The court clash seems to have left the lads from Greyhound unfazed.

Last week the EPA told me that even now, once again, there is an active investigation into Greyhound. Amid all the public kerfuffle about Greyhound’s despicable behaviour to its customers on the ground, the EPA had cause to visit them as recently as last Thursday.

The latest EPA report on Greyhound was issued on December 12. It is a damning account of their cavalier attitude to the law. It is clear that they play fast and loose with the rules.

The report found Greyhound was a repeat offender, once again guilty of non-compliance with the conditions of its waste licence. The Agency has threatened it with another court action. The pong around the Clondalkin area has been intensifying in recent months. There were several other health and safety issues on the site in the last few weeks.

This is the company that won the waste contract for CIE, for South Dublin County Council and for Dublin City Council.

All right, they may be a bit cavalier with the courts and immune to the sensitive nostrils of the villagers of Clondalkin — but what else do we know about them?

Well, we know that they are hell-bent on cash upfront. Apparently they have insisted on upfront payments from their targeted 140,000 Dublin City Council customers. That means (subtracting waivers and refusals) that they have probably already trousered well over €4m in cash for the gig. Greyhound has banked this little nest egg.

What sort of a company demands such massive amounts of cash upfront?

And where is this mountain of cash? Does Greyhound really need it badly? Is it in Ireland or stuffed offshore?

Difficult to say. Greyhound is a silent company. It refuses to communicate with the media. It has cutely opted for the road of unlimited liability. That means that neither its employers nor its customers can inspect its accounts. Worse still, its owners have relocated their shareholdings, offshore — to the Isle of Man. As a result, no meaningful post-2009 information about Greyhound is likely to see the light of day.

So we may never get a picture of Greyhound’s financial health. Whether it is solvent, on the pig’s back, or teetering on the brink. Long live the Isle of Man, the guardian of commercial secrets.

Nor will we be able to compare its solvency with its competitors. Yet we do have some indication of how it rates against them in their relative respect for the law. Very tellingly, last week, the EPA made a damning comparison of Greyhound with its peers.

An EPA spokesman told me that the “number of visits [to Greyhound] and non-compliance is high — for any company”.

Competitor waste companies are obviously not so dismissive of the law as Greyhound, but it does not seem to count when contracts are being dished out. Other more law-abiding waste operators were in the frame, but Greyhound was selected.

How in the name of God did they win the contract?

Especially, as they had previous form. Their experience when they were forced to return €1.3m to Iarnrod Eireann for overcharging, as revealed in 2009, should be sufficient to eliminate them from any future State contracts — local or national.

If that alone was not enough, the devastating words of Dick Fearn, chief executive of Iarnrod Eireann, that “basically the money charged [by Greyhound] did not tally with the actual work done” should have sealed its fate for future contracts.

Not at all. These are State contracts, Irish-style.

South Dublin County Council say they did not know about the CIE scam! Dublin City Council say that they did, but awarded the contract to Greyhound anyway!

Which council was worse?

We also know that there was no competitive tender in either case.

We also know that it was Ernst & Young, the disgraced auditors of Anglo Irish fame, who were awarded the job of finding a waste collector; it chose Greyhound for both councils. We also know Ernst & Young received around €250,000 in both cases.

Nor was there any competitive tender for the Ernst & Young task to find a waste operator. E&Y are on a “panel”.

Consultants like E&Y have had a good week. Last week the Department of Finance agreed, under pressure from AIB, not to tell the Irish people how much they had paid another old favourite — PricewaterhouseCoopers — for work done for the State- owned bank. The usual bull of “customer commerciality” was offered as the excuse.

In Ireland insiders protect insiders. The wagons are being circled. AIB and the Department are re-establishing the old culture of secrecy. Keep the gigs in the family. PwC has milked the bankrupt banking sector. E&Y have been faithful servants of the councils.

Greyhound has responded to its favoured status by seeking blood from its new victims. Hard-pressed citizens claim that its behaviour merited it being renamed “Bloodhound Waste”. It initially refused to empty the bins of 18,000 customers who had not paid the €100 upfront fee and registered with it for collection.

Eventually, as Greyhound began to feel the heat from the Dail, it conceded ground. It began collecting waste from everyone — but by that time it had already extracted the cash upfront from the vast majority of customers.

So there we have it : an outfit with convictions for law breaking; whose latest accounts are not available; owned offshore in the Isle of Man; which has been forced to cough up €1.3m for overcharging; whose charges “did not tally with the work done”; which demands payment upfront.

What an ideal company to sweep the boards in Ireland’s mysterious world of waste.

With qualities like that there is no need for such an outrageous indulgence as a competitive tender.

In the Dail last week, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, declined to respond to suggestions that there was anything unusual in giving the contract to such a company.

Nothing has changed.

Maybe the Taoiseach was right. No rivals could possibly compete with Greyhound and offer all these unique ingredients for a State contract, Irish-style.

Stench as Rubbish Firm Wins

Concoct a good story. Among your cast of characters include the late lamented auditors of Anglo Irish Bank, a dodgy semi-state transport company, a collection of Dublin city councillors, and an outfit owned by an offshore Isle of Man business.

What would you expect?

Hardly the tale of the 12 apostles? Something a little murkier?

Somehow, that unseemly bunch has regrouped in mysterious business dealings. The unlikely heroes are a collection of Dublin city councillors.

At the centre of the story is a waste outfit called Greyhound. It makes oodles of money. So much that it has decided to hide its accounts from public inspection.

In December 2010, Greyhound adopted unlimited liability status. As a result, Greyhound will not be obliged to reveal its figures. At the same time Greyhound’s owners — Buckley brothers Brian and Michael — transferred their shares to limited liability companies in the Isle of Man.

The Buckley brothers — one a former investment banker, the other an accountant — know their way around. Happily for them, the Isle of Man does not require such entities to publish accounts.

So the wily brethren do not have to publish their accounts while still reaping the benefits of limited liability. Now we will never know how much loot they are making. Rather a pity, because rather a lot of the loot is our loot.

Greyhound is in the news because last month it took over Dublin City Council’s waste collection. Last year it won a gold-plated contract to handle South Dublin County Council’s waste collection service. The Buckley brothers, Michael and Brian, must have thought they had won the lotto.

They had. For the second time.

And how did they win it?

Apparently, this versatile company was selected by a well-known firm of buccaneers in suits, a company that disgraced itself as auditor to Anglo Irish Bank.

Indeed it lost the Anglo audit after its failure to spot the sudden transfer of chairman Sean FitzPatrick’s multi-million loans out of Anglo’s books into the books of Irish Nationwide — every year-end for eight years.

Quite a faux pas from Ernst & Young. They should be in the State’s doghouse. Instead, the same blue-blood auditors are creaming off State work.

For some unknown reason, the former Anglo auditors were employed by the council to choose a new waste firm for its juicy waste contract. For some even less obvious reason E&Y were given an outrageous €250,000 for coming up with the name of Greyhound.

It is far from clear why the council could not pick the waste operators themselves. They have a waste department, presumably with a more specialist knowledge than Ernst & Young. Instead, they lashed out €250,000 of taxpayer’s money to Ernst & Young, the villains of the Anglo fiasco.

What more, in the name of God, does a company have to do to find itself struck off the State’s list of favourites?

If Ernst & Young cannot be blacklisted for their Anglo howler, they should surely have been given the cold shoulder for State or local government work for several years? If they had waved the red flag on Anglo we might never have been left in our financial pickle. They didn’t. Every year for eight years they missed their chance to rumble Anglo.

So the council’s award of a contract to Ernst & Young, and then to Greyhound, demands public explanation. The big question is: how much did Ernst & Young or Dublin City Council know about Greyhound?

Not much. Or so it seems.

Last year, after I became aware of the earlier award of South Dublin Co Council’s gig to Greyhound, I wrote to the council protesting that they were unfit to handle the contract. I had a good reason. Greyhound had already won the lotto — for the first time — a few years ago. They had already milked a semi-state body of lashings of taxpayers’ loot. It emerged in an Oireachtas Transport Committee enquiry that Greyhound’s behaviour over an earlier contract with CIE’s Iarnrod Eireann was disgraceful.

Greyhound had overcharged Iarnrod Eireann. Under questioning, Iarnrod Eireann boss Dick Fearn admitted that: “Basically the money charged [by Greyhound] did not tally with the actual work done.” Ouch.

He went on to say that there were “discrepancies between the amount invoiced and the actual work done”. Ouch, ouch.

As a result of its “dissatisfaction”, Iarnrod Eireann re-tendered the contract. Greyhound lost the gig.

Not only did Greyhound lose the gig, but it was forced to settle with Iarnrod Eireann for a massive €1.3m in compensation for the “discrepancies”. Probably small potatoes for a waste outfit.

It is a puzzle why Greyhound agreed to pony up such a vast amount. The “discrepancies” must have been serious. Luckily for them, Iarnrod Eireann protested that they saw no sign of fraud. The compensation deal was kept under wraps until it was exposed at the Transport Committee.

Nevertheless when the council came to award the waste contract, they would surely have raised their eyebrows on hearing the name “Greyhound”. The alarm bells must have rung as they realised that a fellow State- subsidised outfit had earlier run into a massive spot of bother with Greyhound. Perhaps their chosen consultants, Ernst & Young, had noticed? Well perhaps not. Ernst & Young are not very good at noticing things. They did not even notice when an Anglo bank director transferred millions from his own loan accounts to another bank — eight times in eight years.

There was not even a single eyebrow raised. When I asked the council why they had given Greyhound the contract in the light of the waste company’s explosive blow-up with Iarnrod Eireann, an astonishing reply shot back from a deputy manager.

“Until I received your email no person from the council who was involved in the sale of the council’s refuse service to Greyhound Recycling and Recovery Limited was aware of any previous difficulties between CIE and Greyhound.”

So that was it. The council knew nothing about it. No one in the council had bothered to do a bit of googling. The CIE/Greyhound story had been in the newspapers. It had been publicly debated by the Oireachtas Transport Committee. Yet no one in the council knew a damn thing about it.

Who did they expect to tell them? Greyhound to incriminate themselves? Or the slumbering victims at CIE?

What a tough process the selection of Greyhound must have been! The council says it did not even know of the very public black mark on Greyhound’s record. According to the deputy manager, the contract did not “involve a competitive tender under procurement rules, but instead involved a competitive bid process with interested parties, carried out on behalf of the council by Ernst & Young.”

After I told the council of Greyhound’s history, the deputy manager asked Greyhound for their comments.

Their managing director replied that “an accounting issue was brought to the attention of Greyhound… it was rectified immediately to the satisfaction of both parties”.

An “accounting issue”? Perhaps they should have called in Ernst & Young.

The only opposition has come from much-maligned city councillors whose constituents are now victims of an appalling service from Greyhound. The councillors, led by a long-time adversary of Bertie Ahern — the plucky Mary Fitzpatrick — have challenged Greyhound at every turn. At all stages they have been steamrolled into submission.

Greyhound, CIE and Ernst & Young — all damaged goods — are the clear winners.

It’s an Easy Life for Frank and his New Family

Enter Frank Daly, the family man. On Friday morning Nama chief Frank Daly proudly introduced us to his new family. In his interview with RTE’s Morning Ireland he referred to Nama’s membership of the “NTMA (National Treasury Management Agency’s) family”.

Frank was, maybe, a little too euphoric after his warm reception at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce dinner on Thursday night. If the NTMA is Nama’s parent, Frank should head for the nearest orphanage.

Frank has not ‘gone native’ since he joined Nama. He is a born native. But he has taken to the culture of the inside business track with an alarming zeal since he retired as our top taxman. First stop, he took the chair at Anglo. His performance there so pleased the insiders that he was offered the top job at Nama. Now Frank has been embraced into the dreaded ‘NTMA family’.

Frank’s happy family is not quite what it seems to be. It has escaped scrutiny for its role during the banking collapse and our economic armageddon. It is the insider’s new refuge.

Perhaps Frank should look at the powerful “advisory committee” — the guys who head up his NTMA “family”. Did he know that it is chaired by Bertie Ahern’s former Attorney General David Byrne at a fee of €50,000 a year? Mr Byrne was appointed when Bertie was Taoiseach. Did Frank know that Mr Byrne only attended three board meetings in 2010? That makes seventeen grand a board meeting.

Did he know that another member of the advisory committee is none other than Hugh Cooney, who just happened to be a donor to Brian Cowen’s campaign, coincidentally appointed by Cowen when he was Minister for Finance?

Poor Hugh only receives twenty five grand a year. Rather unfair, as he attended all four meetings, more than the chairman who earns double the money. Plenty of room for a family row.

Another member of Frank’s happy family — until last month — was the controversial, but now departed, civil servant Kevin Cardiff.

Nama’s brothers and sisters in the NTMA refuge include mini-quangos like the National Development Finance Agency, the National Pensions Reserve Fund, the State Claims Agency and New Era. Frank’s family is an empire of insiders. Each NTMA family member has its own board, most with political nominees, including of course, Frank’s very own Nama.

So it is entirely appropriate that Frank should be the star speaker at such an august gathering as the Dublin Chamber of Commerce’s dinner last Thursday. His audience was packed with overpaid solicitors, bankers, NTMA posers, estate agents and accountants.

They cheered his words. Why not? Since Frank joined the NTMA family he is looking after most of them very well indeed. Nama’s largesse is keeping bread on the table of plutocrats.

A few weeks ago I stood and stared in wonder at the reception area of a leading Dublin solicitor’s firm. It had marble floors, its welcoming gallery was a vast open space with enough room to fill half a football pitch; the armchairs were heavenly; the view of the Dublin mountains was glorious. All was peace, quiet and prosperity. Outside in the street I could see stress and poverty. When I queried the senior partner about how he managed to pay the rent with the plunge in conveyancing work and the lack of corporate activity he put his finger to his lips and whispered triumphantly the single word “Nama”.

Top accountants, lawyers, re-employed developers and above all, estate agents, are toasting Nama every day of their lives. All the usual suspects are being kept on life support machines by the project headed by Frank.

Nama is feeding the mouths that bit the nation’s prosperity. Its willingness to employ developers, big players in the destruction of Ireland, back in their old job would drive sane men and women to trade union leader Jack O’Connor for inspiration.

The astonishing news, broken last week, that all- time favourites Arthur Cox solicitors has already earned €3.07m from Nama would be staggering if we did not live in the most incestuous commercial country in Europe.

What was Frank’s reaction to the presence at his tour de force last Thursday of Bank of Ireland boss Richie Boucher and former Ulster Bank chief Cormac McCarthy? How can the Nama chairman welcome Boucher, who was a powerful force on the board of the Bank of Ireland, when it fuelled the property frenzy? What on earth had he to say to Cormac, the man who left Ulster Bank while they were reeling with unpaid property debt?

Despite their responsibility for bringing Ireland to its knees neither man is starving. Boucher has a €500,000-a-year salary. McCarthy is already back in business on the board of Paddy Power.

When he shared a drink beforehand with the two bankers Frank Daly probably muttered “thank you”. If there had not been bankers like Boucher or McCarthy there would be no need for Nama. And then Frank would be out of a job.

Frank has joined the insiders. Mutual supporters have regrouped. All one happy family. God help the rest of us.

When Enda Met Angela

Brussels, last Monday. A meeting, on the margins of the summit, between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Angela Merkel: “Good morning, Mr Kelly. Perhaps when you have stopped horsing around with Nicolas for the cameras you might spare me a moment to give you your instructions? And no photo-ops today, please. I posed for a picture with you last year — which won you the general election.”

Enda: “Yes, Chancellor. Sorry, Chancellor.”

Angela: “That is okay. I understand. Nicolas is desperate. No one — including Carla — wants to be photographed with him since he lost his AAA rating.

“I have just heard — confidentially — from the ECB that your own Central Bank is forecasting that Ireland’s growth rate this year will be only 0.5 per cent. Brilliant. We Germans love low growth. Indeed, Citigroup is dubbing the Fiscal Compact Treaty — which you have just signed — as a ‘compact for low growth’. We Germans are salivating at the thought.”

Enda: “Great, the austerity programme is working. Down with growth.”

Angela: “Only last week, Mr Kelly, you confirmed that growth in Ireland would be 1.3 per cent this year. Nobody believed you, but you gave us the normal waffle about export-led expansion. All those multinationals must be doing well because the domestic economy in Ireland is on its knees.

“But how come your Central Bank is forecasting 0.5 per cent and you yourself are predicting 1.3 per cent?”

Enda: “A good question, Chancellor.”

Angela: “Well, answer it.”

Enda: “The Central Bank is on the button. I am gilding the lily a bit. My handlers tell me that we need to puff up the growth rate to make it look as if we will be able to pay off our debt. If we lower it to realistic levels, our debt repayment prospects will be seen as a fantasy. You and Nicolas will then say that our debt is unsustainable. The markets might take a poor view.

Angela: “Mmm. You nearly pulled a nice stunt on the markets last week with the bond swap. They almost believed that real investors were picking up Irish debt. You and I know that it was mostly State-owned Irish banks switching under pressure from your puppets in the NTMA. Nice one, Mr Kelly!”

Enda: “Did we fool them? Or do they still think the debt is unsustainable?”

Angela: “Of course it is unsustainable. Nothing could be more obvious. We fully support the rubbish you are pedalling about the debt. But privately we know that after Greece gets a second bailout we will have to rescue Portugal. Then it will be your turn. The end game is to keep Spain and Italy out of the emergency ward. You guys are small beer. We will bail you out because you are ultra-agreeable.

“But we will extract a price from you, of course. You will have to surrender a bit more autonomy, if you have any left by then. Maybe a little flexibility on corporate tax, Mr Kelly? So, tell me, why have you never demanded a debt write-off?”

Enda: “I never asked for a debt write-off because it never occurred to me that we could get one. Do you mean to say that we would have a chance if we asked?”

Angela: “You would be quids in, Mr Kelly. Nicolas, Mario Monti and I were only discussing it yesterday. We were gobsmacked that you had not yet sought a debt write-off. You keep restricting yourselves to seeking a change in the interest rate on the Anglo bonds. We know we will have to give you that. But when, when, when are you going to demand a write-off of the debt?

“I hate to say it, Mr Kelly, but you are a pushover.”

Enda: “Not today, anyway. I have told them back home that we will never be given a write-off.”

Angela: “Well, if you never ask, you will never get it. You also told them in the Dail that the growth rate would be 1.3 per cent, so they will soon rumble you as a spoofer.”

Enda: “How can I do a U-turn at home? I have almost brainwashed the Irish people into believing that a write-off is a lost cause. As a diversion, I have told them that a stimulus package for jobs is on the way from Europe.”

Angela: “Forget it, they are not totally stupid. They must know that it is a conjuring trick to run a stimulus package alongside this week’s austerity compact. We would rather hand the East back to the Russians or see the return of the Kaiser than permit you and the other spendthrift countries a stimulus. Instead, we will allow you to throw shapes at future summits about ‘the need for job creation’ and ‘help for small business’.”

Enda: “Thank you, Chancellor, thank you. I badly need to be seen to be promoting employment at a European level. Unemployment in Ireland is running at 14 per cent. We haven’t a clue what to do about it.”

Angela: “Bravo. Keep it right up there in the teens. And I see your Central Bank is now predicting that it will still be 14 per cent next year. That is wonderful. We Germans love to see high unemployment in other countries. It means austerity is working.

“Unemployment in Europe is running at its highest level since the euro began, while in Germany unemployment is falling. And our fellow fiscal disciplinarians in Netherlands and Austria are running unemployment at less than 5 per cent. What are your projections for Ireland’s numbers on the dole?”

Enda: “Pass, but they will be woeful.”

Angela: “Then why in the name of blessed Helmut Kohl did you sign the Fiscal Compact? Why in the name of God did you not threaten us in Europe and promise the Irish people back home a referendum on the treaty?”

Enda: “Wrong way round. My Government threatens Ireland and promises the earth to Europe. And as for a referendum, Chancellor? You must be joking. A treaty would be defeated. We are doing everything in our power to duck a referendum.

“We feared that you, Nicolas and Mario would go bananas if we put it to a vote. So we moved heaven and earth, simply to please you. We would far rather listen to the economic diktats — sorry, friendly advice — from Berlin, than bend to the will of the Irish people.”

Angela: “That is becoming increasingly obvious. Good. Good. Good. But we cannot understand why you do not lob the referendum grenade more often? Just to mark your card, we are scared stiff that Ireland will hold a referendum on anything at all. Why did you not hold one to amend the EU/IMF deal when you came into office last year?”

Enda: “Because we would have won it. You and Nicolas would have blown a gasket.”

Angela: “Mr Kelly, I have changed my mind. Let us pose for the picture after all. I do one with all my satellites.”

Enda: “Thank you, Chancellor. And you might just tell the photographer — for the caption — that the name is Kenny, not Kelly.”