Could all that volcanic ash in the air be a portent of the Day of Reckoning that must surely come? Certainly, the pan-European shutdown of airspace caused by the eight-mile-high Icelandic plume that stopped half the world's air traffic made for a nice metaphor about the dark clouds of debt that stifle our economy.

The volcano's cloud has thrown a sulphurous smell of rotting eggs in areas bordering the Eyjafjallajokull glacier. More relevant metaphors, thank you very much, about the rotten stench that surrounds the unfit-for-purpose state of financial regulation and the lending malpractices of Irish banks during the boom years, revealed so frankly by the new head of Nama Brendan McDonagh and the new Financial Regulator, Matthew Elderfield. Yet, as catastrophic as the verdicts of these two men were on the incompetent way billions were loaned under the nose of the underfunded, understaffed irrelevance that was the principles-based regulator's office, their trenchant straight talking was very encouraging.

After all the anger, the blame and the real pain of those who have lost jobs or taken major pay cuts, are we now, finally, getting to the long overdue phase in our riches to rags saga where those who played such a huge role in our downfall suffer real consequences?

It certainly felt like it when Mr Justice Peter Kelly, whose blunt and commonsensical judgements in the commercial court are rapidly becoming the stuff of legend, last week told the former multi-millionaire businessman Brendan Murtagh that he'd have to come to terms with the fact that he owed millions and was no longer a wealthy man. He told Murtagh to assess whether he needed two houses (both in his wife's name, of course) and refused to allow him to keep his pension pot worth as much as €1.2m when he owed over €350m. It left him with an income down there with the ordinary folk – namely, a state pension of €11,000 a year.

And the same judge in a related case dramatically told gardaí to break down the door of the luxury Kinsale home of former Howard Holdings chief executive Greg Coughlan and to haul him in to obey court orders over an unpaid €28m loan. The untouchables that were our business elite are not used to this kind of direct challenge to their cosy way of doing things, be it within the banking/developer/politician clientelism that ruined this country, or within the self-regulated world of the Irish Stock Exchange, whose failings were alluded to by Matthew Elderfield. But as we have seen from the Quinn Insurance acceptance that managerial control be taken over by court-appointed administrators, the penny is starting to drop.

There are huge lessons in all this for debt-ridden developers and property syndicate shareholders who can no longer meet their repayments. The two-week spectacle of spin and criticism of the regulator did nothing for Sean Quinn's reputation and damaged the ability of the companies he built up to survive.

The same sort of game-playing did nothing for Liam Carroll's Zoe group of companies when it went before the Commercial Court and won no favours as a result of its Alice in Wonderland profit forecasts. Nor has it helped a lengthy list of former magnates who have tried to fend off the inevitable by failing to turn up in court, attempting to hide assets and then presenting regulators and judges with fanciful fiction in the guise of "a business plan going forward".

The old ways are gone and there is real backbone among the regulatory and legal enforcers, who appear in no mood to allow the arrangements that existed between bankers and clients to continue. The clear message is that individuals within companies will have to reap the consequences of their actions in order that others change their behaviour too.

Given the appalling incompetence, greed and lack of respect for basic regulation shown by the banking system, it was interesting that Matthew Elderfield has said he wants to vet all senior appointments to the banks to ensure the same culture does not thrive when the economy, hopefully, begins to recover.

Certainly, he needs to turn his attention to the actions of the senior bankers who are still in their positions.

Just last week, it was revealed that Anglo Irish Bank (whose insane suggestion that it take over Quinn Insurance in order to safeguard repayments of the €2.8bn in loans it granted to Sean Quinn to buy its own shares is yet another reason for it to be wound down) allowed one of its former senior bankers to keep $2m of a $5.4m advance to buy a house when he set up its US operations. He did not need all the money, but officials in the bank are allowing him to keep the balance.

What sort of message of a change in culture does that send out? The revelation that Bank of Ireland topped up the pension of chief executive Richie Boucher (an insider promotion) by €1.5m defies the PR spin that they have capped salaries and pensions.

An entire tier of individual decision-makers in Anglo, AIB, Bank of Ireland and Irish Nationwide needs to have the regulatory searchlight turned in its direction. Last week's events were a healthy step on the road to restoring our national sanity.

But only a step.