Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Irish President Mary McAleese’s astonishing attack over slump

President Mary McAleese

Irish President Mary McAleese has launched an unprecedented attack on the Republic’s lawyers, economists and regulators for their role in the financial crisis.

And she made it clear she feels the light-touch regulation espoused by the Irish government is to blame for the economic collapse which has resulted in tens of thousands of people in mortgage arrears.

Her comments are all the more hard-hitting because it is highly-unusual for a President to pass such concise and critical judgment on a major political issue while in office.

Lawyers should stop making contracts “deliberately” complicated in an attempt to avoid scrutiny, so-called experts had to be trained to “think ethically” and regulators had to develop the skills needed to oversee financial markets, she said yesterday.

Speaking on the penultimate day of a five-day state visit to Russia, Mrs McAleese, from north Belfast, said there was a need to train people to consider the long-term implications of their actions, and not just the short-term financial gains they could make.

Her comments came after she told the New York Stock Exchange last May that Irish people were “mad as hell” and “hurt and angry” that the country found itself in economic turmoil by “once trusted individuals and institutions”.

And yesterday she laid the blame for that hurt firmly at the feet of the government and the regulators.

“It was long argued that heavy, strong-handed regulation was not the most conducive environment for business yet as we now know to our great cost, that light regulation was a recipe for trouble,” she told an audience at St Petersburg State University of Economics and Finance.

“If in the future we are to avoid the extremes of economic boom and bust scenarios, we need not only smart and rigorous regulatory systems that allow commerce to flourish, where the regulator has all the powers and competences, but we need professionals who are hard-wired to behave ethically, to think ethically, to act ethically, to respect the requirement of compliance, to understand and see themselves as operating in the broad public interest.”

And Mrs McAleese, who is a lawyer by profession, also criticised the legal profession, saying that children should be taught the law and legal rights and responsibilities in schools and the information not kept like “vintage wine” for the consumption of the few.

Mrs McAleese has met with some of Russia's most powerful figures including President Dmitry Medvedev during her five-day state visit.

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