THE BLOG

The Morality of White Collar Crime: Ireland's Corruption is England's Everyday Politics.

13/07/2015 16:18 BST | Updated 12/07/2016 10:59 BST

"The money was just resting in my account". Taken from Father Ted, this was one of the satirical responses to the latest financial scandal to hit Ireland- a scandal which was admirable in its disregard for partition- sweeping across North and South as one.

Nama, the National Asset Management Agency, was a 'bad bank', set up to deal with a series of impaired loans, linked to properties in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and mainland Britain.

The moral-political question mark which hangs over the sale of the Nama portfolio is around the £7 million 'fee', currently enjoying a leisurely stay in an offshore bank account, and which some suggest is linked to the Democratic Unionist Party- whose Ministers acted as facilitators to the sale of Nama assets.

The story was 'broken' by a local Loyalist blogger, who alleged that the First Minister's son was set to profit from the 'fire sale' of Nama's property portfolio. Unfortunately for the Party, that this is not the first time the First Minister and his family have been brought into disrepute.

In 2010, the First Minister's wife, Iris Robinson, who was a practising Christian (perhaps practising at becoming a good one), and who had recently labelled homosexuality as "an abomination on a par with paedophilia", was outed as having had an affair with the then-19 year old son of her recently widowed friend.

The affair alone may have been enough to cause the family reputational, and electoral damage, but to compound matters, Iris' indiscretions spilled over into the financial realm.

Robinson had procured £50,000 from property developers, and passed it onto the 19 year old. She received a kickback of £5000, and, when the relationship turned sour, allegedly demanded repayment of the full amount.

Some commentators believe that the affair, and the associated corruption, lost Peter Robinson his position as M.P. of East Belfast. The electorate were unwilling to grant a mandate to a family who preached an exclusivist morality on the one hand, and enjoyed the bountiful fruits of immorality on the other.

However, the Robinsons, and other political heavyweights like them, need not be derailed by such revelations. Peter Robinson remains First Minister of Northern Ireland. He is still leader of the D.U.P.

In modern democracies, a small group of elites remain shielded from the undesirable, and inconvenient consequences of breaking the law. These individuals possess sufficient influence, networks of allies, and the necessary social capital to overcome the taint of crime.

White-collar crime, which tends to include sums in the thousands, and millions, when it is checked, is reprimanded almost apologetically. The legal grey areas, it is argued, make doing business in a global economy a risk-laden affair.

We should admire the pioneering efforts of venture capitalists, property developers and their legal teams, not penalise them. And whilst we are it at, we shouldn't tax them too much, lest they take their legitimately-acquired wealth, and relocate to a more grateful jurisdiction.

Contrastingly, the indiscretions of the working, or workless classes, cannot be afforded such largesse. Whilst the wealthy, we assume, are using their power and influence for desirable ends, and so ought to be left alone, the poor, a less noble class, should be treated with caution.

Participants in the 2011 UK riots were treated with such caution, and "made an example of", when sentences of 6 months (for stealing bottled water) were issued, in order to '"restore order". We were not told which type of order, nor asked if we agreed with it. But order was to be restored nonetheless.

The citizens of the United Kingdom are all too familiar with these practices. The financial crisis, which by the way, was not inevitable, nor was it naturally occurring, like a tsunami, or hurricane, provides another neat example of the morality of white-collar crime.

White-collar crime is an uncharacteristic action committed by a decent, hard-working person. It is an anomaly. Working-class crime is an extension of working-class criminality. It is what we should expect from the poor. The two cannot be treated equally.

The divergent treatment of unruly bankers, and welfare recipients, in the aftermath of the crash, reveals the two-tier system of justice which the UK operates. This system is underpinned by an asymmetrical morality, which sees the rich as adventurist, innovative, wealth creators. And which understands the poor to be immoral, feckless welfare consumers.

When either group violates the 'rules' (and here we must ask, is it the powerful or powerless who tend to write the rules?), the underlying moral assumptions are what dictate the legal punishment, and public reaction. Was this person a wealth-creator, or a welfare-consumer? What signals are we sending in how we deal with this violation of our social norms?

In the Nama scandal, like the 2010 Robinson scandal, and the 2008 crash, the sums of money involved are far beyond what the ordinary citizens of the United Kingdom will ever deal with.

The laws, the politics and the language used to express the two are deliberately designed to be beyond the reach of ordinary people. That, perhaps, is why, we will allow a discreet and respectful investigation of the current corruption, of future corruptions, and hope that order (whatever that means) will soon be restored.