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Corporate Greed

It's been a tumultuous few weeks. The current era of disquiet with corporate Ireland all began when the Heffernan clan, Dunnes Stores wealthy owners, showed us their fighting spirit, a mandatory entrepreneurial asset which is conducive to success in Irish corporate life it seems, when they brazenly faced down their low paid, dubiously contracted workers. How dare regular people with bills and children to feed, seek security outside of their fragile contracts and low pay, they said! And so the protests began, somewhat in earnest now it seems. But this was only to be the start of the muscle flexing. Following on from this, and in what has become a boringly repetitive sight, we were treated to the sight of Denis O' Brien yet again attempting to muzzle his detractors, this time a hardworking TD in Catherine Murphy, our national Parliament, as well as the public broadcaster you and I are obliged to pay for through our taxes. Thankfully Denis lost the battle, but intent on not losing the war, and running out of people to sue and threaten, Denis has now decided to bring the very instruments of our state to court, you know, cause he can. It is ironic how Denis has such faith in the judiciary again, given he actively criticised them when things didn't go his way with the Moriarty Tribunal. How tough it must be to be so misjudged in your own country that you have to move to Malta, to share time with similar minds, minds who understand your republicanism with no r. 

Following these events, we could be forgiven for thinking we had enough corporate hand-wringing, and immoral manoeuvring to last us a lifetime, but another treat lay in store, Clerys! In what can only be described as the absolute epitome of everything that is wrong with company ethics and law in contemporary Ireland, we were made bear witness to the absolute unwavering savagery of the corporate elite in Ireland. After 162 years in existence, the vulture owners of Clerys, The Gordon Brothers from the US, who only recently acquired the company, decided to sell Clerys to a UK company, Natrium Ltd. The key point in this transaction was the existence of two companies within the parent company of Clerys. The reasoning behind the existence of these two companies was blatantly clear; corporate types like to spread risk, even if it comes at the expense of their workers and their moral responsibilities. And so, one company controlled the brand and store of Clerys, which by the time it was bought out, owed €5 million as well as vast sums in wages to its beleaguered staff. The other company controlled the very valuable building.

When Natrium acquired the Clerys business, nearly €30 million was handed over to the Gordon Brothers, absolving them of their responsibility to their 400 employees and the debt owed to them. Natrium, the new owners, clearly only intent on acquiring the very valuable building, then put the company which owned the brand and store, as well as all the debts, into liquidation, also absolving them of their responsibilities in paying the ordinary workers. A great deal all round sher? Champagne corks must have been popping in the Gordon Brothers offices, as they walked away from a troubled business, after ripping off ordinary workers, all for a very handsome fee. Natrium too have acquired an iconic building and landmark for a steal, without having to even entertain the plights of the workers. Who knew being so immoral and inhumane could be so fruitful eh? 

But deceit and immorality can be fruitful in little ole Ireland. Let's not forget that our good friend Denis, the richest man in Ireland, got an accumulated few hundred million wiped off the debt portfolio of a trio of his companies; INM, Topaz and Siteserv, while his news stations discussed the moral hazard of "forgiving" those on the breadline a few Euro off their mortgage, so they could afford the luxury of being able to feed their children. It is a cliche to claim there are seperate laws for ordinary people versus the wealthy in contemporary Ireland, however, never has a cliche rang so true.  
I was involved in business a few years ago, setting up two of my own in a bid to create some success for myself. I have often wondered, since I decided that the business life was just not for me, if I was being too kind to my ego, by proclaiming my moral compass was too sensitive to lead a life in Irish business. The escapades of the Heffernan family, Denis, and the vulture capitalists picking the bones of Clerys, now lead me to believe I may not have been far off with my attempt at self praise. There is no doubt that honourable businesses, and business people, exist in Ireland; our very own national airline, Aer Lingus, proved this week, that a generosity of spirit is still attainable in the corporate world, as they worked behind the scenes with the grieving families of the tragedy in Berkeley, yet it is something we do not see enough of. It is a cruel irony that in the weeks and months to come, we will witness the selling off of Aer Lingus' particularly healthy carcass to the foreign interests Fine Gael seem so interested in appeasing and gifting with iconic businesses and buildings. So what needs to change? In my opinion, it is about time that business leaders stop leaving the denunciation of reprehensible business practices such as the three just highlighted to those on the left, a political group who are often berated in the same media controlled by the deceitful corporate interests they denounce. To stay silent is to endorse. Currently Irish business leaders are endorsing theft, deceit and corruption. Ireland Inc may be alive and well, but the rotten stench it creates is telling a story of its own, a story which tarnishes the very land we call home.

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