Bail and bail outs


This was written yesterday, before we had all the figures. For a proper analysis of those see http://www.irishtimes.com, where they have people who know about maths!

The concept of bail is an odd one. It’s a bit like a hostage situation really, except the Government is the kidnapper and it’s the family who pays up. If, that is, you have the type of family that wants you around. If not, nobody pays, and you languish somewhere overcrowded with no proper toilet facilities for a long, long time.
The concept of bail originated in medieval England, to ransom hostages captured in battle, and to cope with a shortage of travelling magistrates which meant that pre-trial imprisonment could go on for rather a long time.
These days, however, Googling ‘bail’ provides some depressing results. The legal meaning seems to have been largely overshadowed by the more recent term ‘bail out’, usually applied to financial institutions and now, increasingly, countries on the periphery of Europe.
Google ‘bail-out’ and click ‘pages from Ireland’ and an even more depressing 84,800 results comes up. 10,600 of those had been posted in the 24 hours up to my search.
Bail came to mind yesterday as I observed the reaction of people to the guy who drove into the gates of Leinster House in a cement lorry. At the time of writing he was being questioned at Pearse Street Garda station under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984.
I don’t know, at this point, if he’s going to be charged with anything. I’m not sure if I think he should or not; he did damage a lovely pair of antique gates, at, I’m sure, a cost to the taxpayer. That’s just not good manners.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with his sentiment. The guy is obviously pretty angry. I’m pretty angry too. I think we all are. Angry, depressed, and waiting, like a beaten dog, for the next blow. This guy, like the dog that’s been beaten too many times, snapped.
But back to bail.
It was a friend of mine who posted on her Facebook status, along with a link to the picture of his ‘Toxic Bank’ emblazoned cement lorry “if this guy needs a contribution to his bail please call me”, that got me thinking about bail and bailouts.
We will know today how much it’s cost us to bail out Anglo-Irish Bank. It doesn’t really bear thinking about, largely because none of us can compute what €30bn actually is. €30,000,000,000. That’s a lot of zeroes, and more money than any of us will see in a lifetime, even if things do go a bit Weimar Republic.
In England Northern Rock was bailed out, in the US AIG was bailed out, in Europe Greece has been bailed out, and Russia helped to bail out Iceland.
If ‘the markets’, those faceless Blofeld types and computer algorithms that have decided Ireland is not a good bet, don’t calm down soon, it’s looking possible, even likely, that we will be next.
For what my money’s worth (for the short time that I still have any), I’m with my friend on this one. I’d prefer to bail out the Toxic Bank truck guy than the actual toxic bank. No harm for Sean Fitzpatrick and co to languish somewhere overcrowded, with no proper toilet facilities, for a long time.
Too bad we don’t have a choice.
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