McNamara: in the nexus of bankers, developers and Fianna Fáil politicians, he was a serious player

A master of the universe walked among us last week. Or at least he talked to us. The man formerly known as one of the country's leading developers, Bernard McNamara, gave an interview to RTÉ radio on Wednesday.

The occasion was the issuing of a personal judgment against him by the High Court for €62.5m. He owes the money through his investment vehicle to individuals who provided loans to him for a major development in Dublin's docklands. Now he is broke, if not broken. He spoke to Mary Wilson for nearly half an hour. He took some responsibility for his role in the destruction of the economy, but he also pointed to others.

Some might see McNamara's willingness to subject himself to public scrutiny as a brave move. In reality, he and his fellow former masters of the universe should be obliged to address the public, either through the media or otherwise. They are private individuals, but their reckless activity has now encumbered every citizen with a level of debt that may persist for generations. We are entitled to hear what they have to say for themselves.

McNamara has given only one other public interview, to Marian Finucane on 25 May 2008. On that occasion, he was asked whether it was true that he owed in the region of €1.5bn. He rubbished the figure. On Wednesday, he confirmed that he did owe in the region of that amount. As with much to do with the property crash, the truth has come dropping slowly.

McNamara comes across as a decent human being. Not for him the bling that infected many of his fellow masters. Few speak ill of him, although questions persist about his abandonment of a public private partnership deal to develop social housing in Dublin. He wasn't into development for the fast buck, and unlike many others, he appears willing to take full responsibility for his failures.

His interview did provide another insight into what went on during the years of madness. He told Mary Wilson that banks came to him, saying, "we'll give you the money. Would you like to do this, or that, or whatever the case might be?"

Banks weren't the only ones seeking him out. The Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) came to him about the Irish Glass Bottle site on the docks, which is the subject of his current woes.

The site was purchased by a consortium, including the DDDA and McNamara, for €420m in 2006. It is now reputedly worth €60m.

What was a public body like the DDDA doing getting involved in property development? The fallout from that deal is still going through a number of legal actions, the bill for which is most likely to be footed by the taxpayer.

For the banks, and apparently the DDDA, risk was a thing of the past. Developers like McNamara had a midas touch which allowed them to turn muck into gold. They were masters of all they surveyed and treated accordingly by anybody else who was seeking out a slice of the action.

While banks were falling over themselves to lend billions, the government was ensuring that nothing would stand in the way of these nation builders.

Tax breaks were provided to "incentivise" developers. In 2001, Charlie McCreevy introduced a provision that allowed some developers to pay only the standard rate of tax on their earnings. The interest of the developers was confused, either by accident or design, with the national interest.

McNamara was ideally placed to make hay on the back of greedy bankers and a supine government. He was a former Fianna Fáil councillor, who hosted a knees-up every year at the Galway Races. In the nexus of bankers, developers and Fianna Fáil politicians, he was a serious player.

As he could do no wrong in the eyes of others, so he gambled big. The crash reintroduced him to risk and it's been a long way down.

"I didn't cause the crash... I was hit on the road by something that no one saw was coming... All I can do is do my level best to behave with decency in the situation I am in," he told RTÉ.

The masters of the universe have been gobbled up by the ether. We are left with human beings, flawed like the rest of us, and more than many of us. McNamara said nobody saw this coming, but that is inaccurate. Those who shouted stop were shouted down. At least McNamara is facing the music, which is more than can be said for some of his fellow former masters.

If the fallout was confined to their own fortunes, that would be the end of that. But in this warped version of business, it is all citizens who are picking up the tab for the recklessness and greed. Nama is destined to haunt at least one generation.

The amazing thing is that an investigation into what went on has not already commenced. What we heard last week illustrated once more the demented impulse that seized so many who had effective control of the nation's economic destiny. Noises from the cabinet last week suggest that a proper inquiry might be initiated by the government, but the fear is that it will represent some form of a whitewash.

We need to know in detail what exactly happened, irrespective of what the results might do to the career of Brian Cowen or others.