Ireland’s Crisis – Leadership and Integrity Perspectives

Ireland’s Crisis – Leadership, Integrity, Accountability and Transparency Lessons

EBENI Chair Julian Clarke has presented and discussed Ireland’s Crisis from the Leadership and Integrity perspectives at five conferences in five countries since 2010. The presentations are below, summarised by the following abstract from the unpublished paper he researched and wrote on a wide variety of failings in Irish institutions and society which led to the crisis necessitating International Monetary Fund and European Union intervention.

Abstract from a PERSONAL Conference Paper by Julian Clarke, Chartered Accountant, Management Consultant & Chair EBEN Ireland:

‘Lack of accountability, transparency and responsibility’ has been the most oft cited domestic criticism of the last decade of leadership of the Irish State. This paper will trace how Ireland grew from a proudly newly independent but inward looking and predominantly agricultural country prior to the 1950s to become Europe’s fastest growing economy by the turn of the century. The paper will then show how the opportunity was lost, predominantly due to the lack of vision and integrity of its then leaders. It will use the analogy of a corporation as many of the factors which led to Ireland’s crisis are not dissimilar to those pertaining to firms which have themselves failed due to poor leadership, particularly when associated with unenlightened self-interest, low integrity and poor board governance.  It will also examine, inter alia:

  • the causes of the crisis affecting the Irish national finances including a property bubble which continued to be fuelled despite warnings, significant increases in government spending with a Finance Minister’s mantra ‘if I have it, I’ll spend it’ and indecisive and ill-informed management of the economy;
  • how the increasingly less than open communication engaged in as the crisis developed compares unfavourably with the latest international research;
  • how Ireland suffered a catastrophic failure of cabinet government, public sector oversight and trust;
  • how the electorate prioritise local over national issues and the role of the parliamentarian is diminished;
  • how poorly performing politicians are not held to account;
  • how leadership in Ireland is perceived by Irish business managers, including comparison with counterparts in 60 other countries as reported by the GLOBE study; how the leadership characteristics most highly regarded internationally were those most lacking in the Irish leaders responsible for the crisis;
  • how the ‘bank guarantee’ introduced by the two most senior members of the then Government on 29th September 2008 following overnight meetings with senior public servants and four bankers was without Cabinet discussion and against investment banker advice and how the subsequent secrecy surrounding this meeting and decision has lacked accountability and transparency;
  • how Anglo Irish Bank grew from a small, fringe operator to become by 2006 ‘the world’s top performing bank over the past five years’, yet by 2010 incur ‘the worst [losses] by any bank in the world’ (full case study available for teaching); how the other banks erred by following the ‘Anglo model’ and blindly following the ‘herd mentality’ resulted in significant losses across the entire sector;
  • how Nyberg reported that the ‘mania in the Irish property market’ created a consensus that few professionals were willing to challenge and contrarians within banking faced ‘sanctions, loss of independence, loss of job or loss of credibility’;
  • why Ireland needed assistance from the European Central Bank, why the IMF, EU and ECB  intervention and ‘bailout’ became necessary and how the policy of using clever language and ‘denying the undeniable’ included denying bailout negotiations days before the IMF arrived;
  • how the ECB insistence that bondholders who had invested in the then high flying but subsequently heavy loss making Irish banks, notably ‘Anglo’, be absolved from having taken any risk and be repaid in full has prevented ‘contagion’ and losses being incurred by other European and American banks, but at the substantial expense of the Irish taxpayer; Goliath may have provided a bailout but David suffers;
  • how the Irish are irate and incredulous that such ‘bondholders’ can suffer no losses on their failed investments in what the ECB have in effect insisted become ‘risk-free assets’ in institutions which have themselves suffered massive losses and impairments of around 50% of the value of their loan books and how this process has been untransparent and patently unjust;
  • how ‘light touch’ regulation failed and has been replaced with a more rigorous regime; how the traditional legal system as currently constituted does not act as a sufficiently strong deterrent and is being gradually reformed by a solicitor as Justice Minister;
  • how the previous political leaders, having sought power above all else and become so used to their primary loyalty being to their political party and the wealthiest or most influential members of society, when it came to astutely using the power granted them by their principal stakeholders, the electorate, had so little practice using it in the national interest that when this was what was most required – putting the people and their needs, present and future, first – they floundered;
  • how the then governing politicians had mistaken talk for action and generally avoided issues and decisions for a decade; ultimately how those who abused power, lost power; how no-one has been held personally accountable.

A shorter presentation from the European Business Ethics Network June 2012 Research Conference at Newcastle Business School is available. Attendees from Spain and Greece observed similarities with the situations prevailing in their own countries, suggesting some of the reasons behind the respective crises were not dissimilar.

This presentation was subsequently discussed with Masters students in University College Dublin a few weeks later. At their instigation and after the formal two hour Financial Management session concluded, they discussed this presentation and Ireland’s Crisis with Julian for a further two hours, concluding that they “wouldn’t change a word” of it!

The Newcastle presentation is downloadable from:


A few months earlier Julian was generously provided with the opportunity to discuss Ireland’s Crisis in greater depth for over an hour at the ‘International Crisis & Risk Communication Conference’ at the University of Central Florida in March 2012. UCF with 58,000 students is the second largest college in the US with a thriving Nicholson School of Communications headed by the dynamic Prof Bob Chandler.

He opened with a discussion on why Ireland became and remains a superb business location, asserting that the Crisis was not caused by either the business people nor the experienced and successful government business support agencies. Indeed he suggested it is the almost 1,000 multinationals together with many other strong indigenous Irish firms who will power Ireland’s own economic recovery when the global recovery commences, making Ireland far better placed to recover than many other countries.  This presentation, thanks to the assistance of IDA Ireland who provided many of their own presentations, is downloadable from:


Julian then showed a 2 minute video from the ever co-operative IBEC, the Irish Business  and Employers Confederation, parent organisation to the Small Firms Association,  which surprised many of the attendees previously unfamiliar with Ireland’s business success story (further videos are at, Newsroom, Videos):

In keeping with the policy of the conference, then followed a very open and honest discussion of the reasons behind Ireland’s Crisis. Video clips from news and documentary programmes illustrated the antithesis of the openness advocated by all the assembled International Crisis Communication experts. The full version of this presentation containing extracts from three international reports is at:


Extracts from this presentation featuring a summary of one of Julian’s personal Papers from 2010 on Ireland’s Crisis: IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS are available at:


Julian also wrote papers in 2010 and early 2011 entitled:

THE GAME HAS CHANGED. WHY DID NO-ONE TELL THE MANAGER? likening Ireland’s Crisis to a previously table topping football team now facing relegation from the top division with little evident action from the management team!

DAVID & GOLIATH – FRIEND OR FOE? outlining how Ireland had been given little option by international bodies but to repay bondholders 100% of their investments in failed Irish banks whose own loan books had lost perhaps 50% of their value, most likely to prevent ‘contagion’ in other countries.  Ireland not being subsequently reimbursed for what one economist called ‘falling on the grenade’ has been described by one leading US Business Ethics Professor as ‘the greatest example of lack of distributive justice experienced in a long career’.

Michael Lewis in his Vanity Fair article ‘When Ireland’s Eyes are Crying’ also commented on the uniqueness of this situation:

Having illustrated that Ireland was badly let down by a number of its then leaders who could and perhaps should have foreseen the Crisis, Julian concluded his 2012 International Crisis & Risk Communication talk with a presentation initially discussed at the EBEN Research Conference ‘Does Integrity Matter?’ which EBEN Ireland hosted in Dublin in June 2011.

During a ‘Leadership’ session Julian used the example of former Irish President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, to illustrate not only many laudable leadership characteristics but also that Ireland, despite the failings and resulting crisis associated with its then most recent leaders, had ‘produced’ people capable of providing leadership on both the domestic and international stage.

What is particularly evident is that when integrity is combined with modesty to courageously put the interests of others first, the outcome can be far more successful than when pride and some form of self-interest is at the core of deliberations of lesser ‘leaders’.

Many Irish and other people overseas have good reason to admire her ability to put her heart and soul into fighting injustice, irrespective of the situation or cost to personal popularity, an example for all leaders. When Julian embarked on his analysis of Mary’s leadership qualities in early 2010 he was not expecting to identify 40 such closely related characteristics. These are briefly outlined in the presentation downloadable from:


Robinson’s strength of character, purpose and integrity has subsequently led to her being involved in many worthy ventures (with justice unsurprisingly at their core) as well as a member of The Council of Women World Leaders (featuring almost 50 women who have been Prime Minister or Head of State of their nation) promoting good governance,  gender equality and enhanced democracy,  as well as The Elders with the likes of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Kofi Annan.

Many leaders manage to ‘justify the unjustifiable’ in their deliberations, often when preservation of power or other forms of self-interest prevail over ‘DOING THE RIGHT THING’, something which Robinson and many other strong leaders have never had an issue with prioritising.  Such characteristics as those observed by Clarke in this presentation confirm what Blanchard & Peale wrote in 1990 in their simple yet powerful little book “The Power of Ethical Management”:


This applied equally in the 1850s as the modern day. One of the challenges set for speakers at the earlier bi-annual ‘Business, Ethics & Society” Symposium held at IESE Business School in Barcelona in May 2010 was:

“Re-thinking economic activities so that all relevant dimensions of such activity are considered, including economic results and impact on people”.

In tracing Ireland’s growth from Famine to Feast, Clarke illustrated how ‘free market economics’ were prioritised over a starving population during Ireland’s 1850s Famine when over a million died and over a million emigrated in the belief that “unfettered markets sort out all conflicts”.  The potato crop failure was compounded by “a human failure because English government policy was instructed by classical economics to let the market clear the surplus population from the land”.

This presentation then outlined how Ireland’s subsequent attraction as a business location helped it develop from a poor, rural economy into the Celtic Tiger economy from the mid 1990s.

It then outlined the Decline of the Celtic Tiger and used the example of Anglo Irish Bank to illustrate the rise and fall of the banking and property sectors, with the global financial crisis disproving the belief that “unfettered markets sort out all conflicts”.

The key attributes of Trust and Reputation were then discussed, briefly outlining how organisational change can prioritise integrity and trust in practice, with the first public discussion of Clarke’s ‘Blueprint for Trust Restoration’.

It then discusses the unfortunate case of Séan Quinn, formerly Ireland’s richest man, whose ‘folly’ in acquiring a significant stake in Anglo Irish Bank led to corporate governance issues and the loss of his business empire.

The presentation, which was ultimately published in a joint paper with a wonderful Irish colleague in ‘The Philosophy of Management’ Journal, concludes by querying: “Why do the wealthy have to become wealthier?”

This May 2010 Barcelona presentation is available at:




These presentations are made available on the EBEN Ireland website inviting comment, critique and other feedback, notably suggestions for prevention of such crises recurring  including how trust, reputation and integrity can be better prioritised at all levels of both national and international society.


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