Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sean Quinn and his place in history

We often like to laud the memory of the giants that bestrode the world stage, such as Napoleon Bonaparte and our own Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone. The passage of time tends to eliminate the memory of certain of their typical characteristics, like, for example, a tendency to regard the law as something that can be safely ignored until it is rigidly enforced, or to be above serious consideration of the rights and feelings of others. It is the inspiration of their courage and daring that is valued, and whatever contributions they made as a beneficial side effect of their drive and ambition.

The human condition has produced such examples in every generation, so why should we be surprised when they crop up in ours?

In the meantime we have had the benefit of experience and, most significantly, the development of strong systems of government that owe nothing to wealthy individuals or groups, and everything to the mass of the people. These things should, in theory at least, result in regulation, and its enforcement, that would curb the excesses of those who stand out, whether in business or politics.

So why do we not hear more of the one clearly identifiable failure of regulation that led to the Sean Quinn collapse: the totally irrational provision that allowed Contracts For Difference (CFDs) to be immune from the disclosure regulations on the acquisition of company shares? Imagine what the outcome might have been if the ordinary regulatory rules applied to these and other derivatives? Sean Quinn would have been saved from his hubris because he would not have been able to secretly acquire even a fraction of the 25% stake in Anglo Irish Bank he had reached when the bubble burst. He would now remain, albeit somewhat diminished, a national figure of whom we could all be proud as the man who broke the monopolies in cement manufacture and insurance in Ireland, and who brought very significant employment to those regions around the border where it was badly needed.

We would have had, in the modern parlance, a true win-win situation.