Fergus Finlay: Living in the cave of shadows

Fight Corruption in Politics-by-Elkwaet
Fight Corruption in Politics-by-Elkwaet

We have betrayed one of our fellow citizens. We need to feel a sense of shame about that.

This is the opinion expressed by Fergus Finlay in an article about a woman who suffered unspeakable and degrading cruelty at the hands of the state.

On the assumption that the ‘we’ Mr. Finlay speaks of includes me I want to make my position crystal clear.

I am in no way responsible for the horrors inflicted on this woman by the state.

I strongly believe, however, that Mr. Finlay is responsible, at least to some extent, for what happened to her and that he should indeed hang his head in shame for the part he has played in her suffering.

I am in no way responsible because I have been campaigning against political/administrative corruption in Ireland since 1982 when I first realised that I lived in an intrinsically corrupt state.

If influential political operators/opinion makers like Mr. Finlay arrived at the same conclusion at the same time it is highly likely that this woman would never have suffered because she would have been living in a functional democracy where justice and accountability were an ingrained aspect of governance.

But this woman did not and does not live in a functional democracy.

She lives in a state where politicians can be filmed openly asking for bribes and not only are they not arrested and charged but are allowed to continue in office. Political corruption is to blame for this.

She lives in a country where corrupt politicians are allowed to sit in our parliament as if they were individuals of principle and integrity. Political corruption is to blame for this.

She lives in a country where politicians regularly manipulate the law to help their friends or spy on journalists and ordinary citizens to protect their own corrupt interests. Political corruption is to blame for this.

She lives in a country where bankers, property developers and other powerful groups receive massive financial, political and legal support at the expense of the state and its people. Political corruption is to blame for this.

But most of all she lives in a country where the state frequently intervenes, sometimes illegally, to protect the powerful and the corrupt. Political corruption is to blame for this.

Mr. Finlay is, of course, in no way corrupt himself. Indeed, he is a man of passionate anger when it comes to the many injustices that are frequently exposed in our state. But in addition to anger Mr. Finlay frequently expresses puzzlement about the endless stream of corruption that has blighted our country since independence.

Here’s why he is puzzled.


Mr. Finlay lives in Plato’s cave of shadows. He firmly believes that the mainstream political parties are real. Trapped within his cave he does not see that they are merely shadows masquerading as democratic entities.

He does not see that Ireland, unique among Western democracies, is ruled by a single political class made up principally of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour. He does not see that these fake entities play a game of election musical chairs as each in turn, or together in coalition, plunder the nation’s resources.

He does not see that this corrupt political class has spread the disease of corruption throughout the land but particularly within the civil and public service where loyalty to the state and its people has been, largely, abandoned.

He does not seem to be aware that since the catastrophe of 2008 this corrupt political regime has been engaged in a life or death struggle with a significant and growing percentage of the population who have been politically radicalised and are determined to rid their country of the disease of political corruption.

Mr. Finlay does not see all this because he lives in the cave with the shadows. All he sees are shadows posing as democratic politicians, shadows that pose as law enforcement agencies, shadows that pose as accountable government departments but in reality are nothing more than obedient lapdogs to their corrupt political masters.

Blinding flashes of truth from outside the cave increasingly encroach on Mr. Finlay’s comfortable existence in the cave of shadows. His anger and puzzlement continues to grow as he witnesses the ever increasing incidence of abuse and corruption

The recent brutal treatment of Grace by the state is just one of countless cases of abuse and corruption that has triggered his anger over many, many years.

And yet, Mr. Finlay has never once stopped to take a hard look at the shadows and ask the most obvious question – are they real, have I been wasting my entire life shouting at shadows?

I have never lived in the cave of shadows. That’s why I could see I was living in an intrinsically corrupt state in 1982. That’s why I’m not to blame for the horror visited upon Grace by the state.

My anger is, and has always been, directed at the true source of Grace’s suffering, the corrupt political/administrative system that continues to inflict so much damage and suffering on the people of our state.

I’m sure Mr. Finlay will strongly disagree with my analysis but to do so with any credibility he must answer the following question.

Why is it that decade after decade after decade we witness the same horrors, the same corruption originating from the same political/administrative system without ever witnessing accountability or justice?

How many more Grace’s have to suffer unspeakable cruelty before Mr. Finlay walks out of the cave of shadows into the light of reality?

I hope it’s not too many.

Copy to:
Fergus Finlay


Protecting the vultures

On July 13th last I wrote about the many excuses given by the Financial Services Ombudsman, Joe Meade, to avoid identifying the greedy vultures that infest the Irish financial sector. Joe added one more excuse today on RTEs News at One (5th item).

The latest case involved an 86 year old farmer. The man had just sold his farm for €1.4 million and was advised by his bank to invest in two long term insurance bonds. The capital was guaranteed provided they were kept in for four and six years.

The man died seven months later by which time the bonds had dropped by €50,000. Joe told the bank that it was inappropriate to sell these bonds and directed that the €50,000 be refunded.

Hilariously, Joe appealed to the banks to look into their hearts and review all accounts to see if they are appropriate.

When asked why he won’t name the low life bank, Joe said he didn’t have legal coverage.

Let’s remind ourselves of the extensive legal powers that Joe does have. He has the power of entry and seizure, he can require employees to provide information under oath, he can enter premises and demand documents and the High Court is the only external party that can overturn his decisions – but yet, according to Joe, he doesn’t have the simple legal power to name the vultures. The obvious question is – Was this a deliberate omission when the legislation was being drawn up?

Bizarrely, Joe justified his stance by reference to a recent High Court decision that went against him on a matter completely unrelated to the ripping off of the elderly.

So what hope does Joe offer the many vulnerable customers out there that his office is allegedly protecting?

Well, he wants to start a public debate on the matter. Just think about that suggestion, a public debate on whether the financial vultures that prey on the elderly should be named and shamed.

Joe then suggests that perhaps the Minister for Finance and the Dail could pass legislation on the matter. Let’s see; public debate and then action by a Government minister and the Dail, give it about ten maybe fifteen years. Meanwhile, the greedy vultures continue to enjoy the great benefits of state protection.

The reality is that, from a consumer point of view, the Financial Services Ombudsman is a useless organisation. It operates on the same basis as the equally useless Financial Regulator.

When the financial vultures are caught picking over the bones of a customer’s account they are merely required to pay back their ill gotten gains. No police, no fines, no names.

Man of steel turns to straw

When Joe Meade was the Data Protection Commissioner he repeatedly threatened the Government with High Court action for using an ‘invalid’ ministerial direction to unconstitutionally store citizens’ phone, fax and mobile call data for three years.

Somehow, Joe never got around to actually taking the State to court. Eventually the Government gave him the job of Financial Services Ombudsman.

In his new job, Joe retained his macho image. He was described as a man of steel, a man to be feared, a man who wouldn’t allow anybody tell him how to run his show (Irish Times, 8th April 2005).

In one report he’s quoted as saying,

“I intend to name and shame institutions which don’t co-operate with my office on serious issues, particularly where they relate to customer complaints which should have been rectified by the institution before coming to my attention.”

Unfortunately, Joe talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk when it comes to protecting the interests of consumers. He steadfastly refuses to name the rogues, chancers and fraudsters who operate with virtual impunity in the Irish financial sector and so exposes consumers to potentially serious financial loss.

Here are some of the excuses and contradictions that Joe has made in recent years regarding the naming and shaming of these ruthless chancers.

Irish Times, 8th April 2005.

It’s not my intention to shame anybody.

Irish Times, 17th May 2005.

Considers naming organisations in his annual report as an important part of his function.

RTE 16TH January 2007 (2nd item). Asked to name a particular institution that had taken advantage of an old lady

In due course I may name that institution…the main thing is that compensation has been awarded…I work at the moment on a very non legal basis…If I name every complainant or every institution I may not get the same cooperation…I’ve referred the matter to the Financial Regulator.

Irish Times, 9th February 2006. Joe was planning to name a building society for over charging a customer but decided against it when the society said it was prepared to legally challenge the matter. He referred the matter to the Financial Regulator.

Irish Independent, 30th January 2007.

A spokesperson defended Joe’s secrecy policy.

“He has concerns about naming institutions alone as complainants may also have to be named in line with natural justice. This could deter complainants from coming forward with legitimate complaints”

Probably realising that this statement was a gross insult to the intelligence of consumers the spokesperson descended into (more comfortable) bureaucratic speak.

“His over-riding concern as ombudsman is to ensure that the integrity of the Financial Services Ombudsman scheme is manifest to everyone, be it a complainant, a financial service provider, the Financial Regulator, the international financial community, the media, the general public or our legislators.”

RTE News at One, 3rd July 2007 (2nd item).

On being asked why he doesn’t name names.

I’m constantly reviewing this area…I want to have legal protection where I name…complainants might be put off…I refer cases to the Financial Regulator.

There are two principal themes running through Joe’s excuses. Firstly, he keeps suggesting that if he only had the legal power he would protect the consumer but the facts completely contradict his pleas of powerlessness.

On the 8th April 2005 we are told that he has power of entry and seizure, that the High Court is the only external party that can overturn his decisions.

On 17th May 2005 we are told that he has extensive legal powers.

On the 4th August 2006 we learn that he can require employees to provide information under oath, enter premises and demand the production of documents.

Secondly, he keeps telling us that he refers cases to the Financial Regulator, passing the buck as it were. This is a clever strategy because the Financial Regulator is even more secretive than Joe’s outfit.

Under legislation (S.33AK of the Central Bank Act, 1942, as amended by the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland Act, 2003) the greedy vultures that infest the Irish financial sector enjoy almost total protection.

Neither is the regulator shy about using this handy piece of legislation to send consumers packing when they have the cheek to ask for the names of dodgy financial operators. Joe, of course, must be well aware of this brick wall for consumers.

No matter what excuses Joe comes up with, no matter what law the Financial Regulator hides behind, the stark reality remains that consumers are put at serious risk of being ripped off for so long as these two organisations refuse to name names.

The Financial Services Ombudsman became operational in 2005, on April 1st – An entirely appropriate date.