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Saturday, 12 November 2011

Ireland calls time on the Celtic Tiger - “Greed is the Knife & the Scars Run Deep.”

By Peter Geoghegan

Published on Saturday 12 November 2011 00:00

A CONCRETE wall near Dublin’s docks bears an eye-catching piece of street art.

Painted in 4ft-high red-and-white letters, a slogan reads, “Greed is the Knife & the Scars Run Deep.”

It was an apt message yesterday as Ireland’s new president called time on the avarice of the Celtic Tiger, while one of the decade-long boom’s biggest players filed for bankruptcy.

Speaking at his inauguration at Dublin Castle, Michael D Higgins criticised the “egotism” of the boom years that, he said, has left Ireland “fragile as an econ-omy and wounded as a society”.

The 70-year-old poet, lecturer and Labour politician called for a move away from the tendency to “value the worth of a person in terms of the accumulation of wealth”, and the establishment of an inclusive “real republic”.

Ironically, as Mr Higgins formally became Ireland’s head of state, 100 miles away in Belfast businessman Sean Quinn – once believed to have been the country’s richest man – was declared bankrupt.

At Belfast high court yesterday, Mr Quinn, who was once worth €5 billion (£4.4bn) according to Forbes, was awarded a voluntary adjudication at Belfast High Court over an alleged €2.8bn (£2.4bn) debt owed to the discredited Anglo Irish Bank, much of which was used to fund share investments in the same bank in 2008.

Mr Quinn made his fortune in glass, cement, insurance and hotels but is paying the price for a disastrous gamble on the share price of Anglo Irish, the most reckless lender to speculators and developers during Ireland’s boom. When Anglo was nationalised in January 2009, the magnate’s investment in the bank was rendered worthless.

Mr Quinn’s bankruptcy is believed to be one of the biggest of its kind yet made in either the United Kingdom or Ireland.

Yesterday, the erstwhile multimillionaire claimed to have been forced to declare bankruptcy over problems which stemmed from “ill-fated investments in Anglo”.

He maintained that he had “done absolutely everything in my power to avoid taking this drastic decision”.

Mr Quinn rejected criticism of his decision to declare bankruptcy in Northern Ireland, saying that he had been a UK taxpayer for 38 years and ran his empire from his home in County Fermanagh.

By declaring himself bankrupt in Northern Ireland he only has to wait a year before going back into business, instead of 12 years in the Republic.

Meanwhile in Dublin, Ireland’s ninth president said he would champion “creative communities” and help those who were excluded from society. Attacking the individualism of the Celtic Tiger, Mr Higgins said he wanted a return to an “older wisdom” and called on Ireland to act together to build active, inclusive citizenship.

Mr Higgins, who rose above a bad-tempered campaign to win the October 27 election, described Ireland as a society “with unacceptable levels of unemployment, mortgage insecurity, collapsing property values and, most of all, many broken expectations.”

A fluent Irish-speaker and long-time champion of Irish arts, the newly inaugurated president said the country’s recovery should be driven by values of equality, charity and creativity.

Speaking before Mr Higgins, taoiseach Enda Kenny praised the president’s authenticity, citing an old Irish saying: “There is no nobility without virtue”.

Mr Kenny said Mr Higgins would be capable of facilitating healing in an Ireland still suffering the after-effects of the rapacious boom years.

“He has been the voice of the marginalised through his life,” the Irish premier said. Ireland’s new president also received congratulations from international leaders, including European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

“You are taking office at an important time, as Ireland takes resolute action to address difficult economic circumstances and in doing so, is setting an example for other countries facing similar challenges,” Mr Barroso said.

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