One thing that almost everybody agrees with now is that the bank guarantee of September 2008 was a key factor in bringing Ireland to the brink of economic ruin. Fine Gael, which backed the guarantee when it was introduced, now says it was misled into giving its support, and voted against its extension a few months back. The Labour Party, which opposed it, believes that it was an act of economic treason by the two Brians, who knew that Anglo Irish Bank was insolvent but went ahead and included it in the guarantee anyway. Sinn Féin has pointed out on several occasions that by guaranteeing all bank debts, the government turned a banking crisis into a sovereign debt crisis. Merrill Lynch, which advised the two Brians not to bring in a guarantee, said such an innovation would "almost certainly negatively impact the Sovereign's [Ireland's] credit rating and raise issues as to its credibility".
But the government went ahead with its plan, with the consequences that we have all seen, and will feel – those of us who still have jobs – in our pay packets as January goes on. The two Brians have already paid for their recklessness in irretrievable damage to their reputations for competence. Fianna Fáil as a party will pay for it in the spring election. But what about some of the others who claimed credit for the guarantee at the time and continued to sing its praises long after it became clear that it was putting the future safety of the Irish economy at risk? What has happened to their reputations?
One person who advised Brian Lenihan to bring in the guarantee was the economist David McWilliams, who has since gone on to win a reputation – hardly justified by his contribution to the crisis – as some kind of economic genius.
Last weekend, the Irish Independent allowed him to suggest 10 ways the country could be saved. Before Christmas, Vincent Browne's late-night snarlfest on TV3 gave him an award for his coverage of the economy in the Irish Independent and the Sunday Business Post. And now he is offering himself to the people of Dun Laoghaire as their prospective TD.
McWilliams is absolutely convinced of his role in introducing the guarantee, although he doesn't talk about it much anymore and when he does, gets even more convoluted in justifying himself than Fine Gael does when it tries to explain its initial support for the government decision.
He went into it in some detail in his 2009 book Follow The Money: The Tale Of The Merchant Of Ennis, a kind of economic Mills & Boon, in which an initially reluctant Lenihan was romanced into snuggling under a blanket guarantee by our ginger-headed hero. Be still my beating heart.
If it was ever turned into a movie, the book would feature Lenihan, played by Colin Firth, as a hapless poor divil, totally out of his depth, who was educated into the ways of economic intelligence by McWilliams, portrayed by a passionate and articulate Russell Crowe. The book created a bit of a fuss when it came out for its depiction of a garlic-chomping Lenihan furtively calling around to McWilliams' house late at night to have some sense talked into him.
The McWilliams family dog – Sasha – featured prominently. Much tea was imbibed, but no alcohol. (Which is strange: the bank guarantee makes some kind of sense if seen as the impulsive act of a very drunk man.) Then McWilliams headed off to China for a week, but was never too busy to take calls from the minister, who eventually came around to the idea of the guarantee.
McWilliams, as we know, has a fantastic ability to market himself, to explain complicated economic theories in an accessible manner, and to make the previously unthinkable sound plausible. A collection of newspaper editors and programme makers have fallen for this sexy combination. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that a minister for finance, who didn't really know anything about finance, got sucked in too.
Follow The Money is a great read and, though it is structured in places as a novel would be, does seem to be a credible account of the brief relationship between the two men. McWilliams had been banging on about a blanket guarantee in his Sunday Business Post columns and Lenihan has confirmed that he did meet the economist around that time. The minister had been reluctant to introduce such a radical measure; the next thing we were being propelled down the road to ruin.
Asked by the Mediabite website last year about his claim of ownership of the bank guarantee, McWilliams ran for cover, claiming that what was introduced was different to what he'd suggested, a point he'd forgotten to mention in his book. "In a way, it was a bluff, not a policy," he said.
That sentence took my breath away when I read it. The bank guarantee – the biggest, most far-reaching economic decision ever taken by an Irish government minister, one which led directly to the loss of economic sovereignty and the arrival of the IMF and its pals – was actually just a big game of chicken with the money markets and the rest of the world. That might be something for the voters of Dun Laoghaire to remember on election day.
Jedward for Eurovision? We need to get a grip on reality
I realise that one of the mortal sins of modern living is to be hostile to reality television in all its ugly forms. So let me immediately out myself as a terrible sinner. The X Factor is a crime against music as far as I'm concerned, The Apprentice is a celebration of human idiocy and I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! a kind of tribute to people who would have been sectioned in days when mental health legislation wasn't as liberal as it is now.
The news, therefore, that two talentless twins from Lucan are favourites to represent Ireland in this year's Eurovision Song Contest did not do much for my mood. Jedward are a joke, and as long as they can make some money from that good luck to them. But RTÉ entered a joke in the Eurovision a few years ago, and we all know what happened to Dustin.
Jedward have similar potential for national embarrassment. Let's hope the judges in this year's national song contest (who will include the public) know something about music.