Brian Hayes: “Politicians say lots of things”

Brian Hayes, for those of you who have, perfectly understandably, forgotten, served as Minister of State at the Department of Finance from 2011 to 2014. He then headed off to Brussels for five years, where he served as an MEP, before choosing to retire from politics earlier this year and take a job as CEO of the Banking and Payments federation, the lobby group that tries to persuade politicians to be nicer to our poor, unfortunate Banks.

It’s a good idea, if you’re the Banks, to appoint someone like Brian Hayes as your lobbyist. Having worked in the Department of Finance, he knows many of the people making the decisions, so he can put in a good word here and there with people that he knows, and you, a bank customer, do not. He has also worked in Brussels, so he knows various EU officials that you, a bank customer, do not. He’s perfectly placed, in other words, to give the Banks a voice in the decision-making process that you, a bank customer, do not have.

This kind of revolving door between politics and lobby groups is not uncommon. It makes absolute sense for both parties. If you are a politician, or a political advisor, with connections, you will get the chance to make phenomenal sums of money for having coffee with people and showing them the odd position paper from the people you represent. If you are the lobby group, you get someone with connections, and lots of practice telling the public things that are not totally true with a perfectly straight face, and the cheerful, but determined, sincerity of a Mormon missionary. It’s not much more than a form of legal corruption.

The whole thing relies on the public’s willingness to believe that the politicians taking the lobbying jobs are doing so because it’s really just an extension of their public service. They’re not taking the job for the money, you see, but because they’re representing “an important sector of the economy” and “protecting jobs” – that sort of thing. Look, for example, at what Hayes said when he took his present job, back in April:

“I am very pleased to confirm I will be taking up the position as CEO of BPFI at the end of my current tenure in the European Parliament. Given my work over the past 10 years, I understand the important role and responsibility of the banking and payments industry to Ireland.“

There you go, essential sector, etc, all the usual bells and whistles.

The whole scam only works if the public thinks that a good honest hard-working public servant is basically continuing their public service, just in another role. That’s the whole idea. What you are supposed to think, when you see Brian Hayes on television arguing in favour of the Banks, is something like “oh, Brian Hayes? He was a good, honest, politician. If he says this policy that hurts the Banks is bad for the country, we should take him seriously”. The fact that he’s no longer a politician and now working for the Banks isn’t something you immediately think of – you just remember him the way he was when he was in office.

All of which makes this even more disastrous. Watch it:

“Politicians say a lot of things” is, of course, a glib way of saying “I was lying to win a few votes.” It’s very evocative of Pat Rabbitte’s “that’s what you do in an election” comment a few years ago, except that Rabbitte was stupid enough to say it while he was still a politician.

This kind of thing is immensely damaging to the public’s faith in politicians. Why would anyone believe that politicians are sincere, when ex-politicians can go on the national broadcaster and basically boast about telling lies when they were a politician? It’s astonishing, and depressing, stuff.

What’s more, why should we trust a word Hayes says now? If he lied when he was a politician, he was at least lying with the public interest at heart, because presumably he thought Fine Gael were good for the country. But now? Now he’s working for the Banks, who pay his salary. So, if he’d lie about the Banks five years ago, why wouldn’t he do it today?

It’s no wonder people are cynical. The Irish political class is filled with people like Hayes. And it’s your own fault, dear reader. You lot keep voting them in.




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