A friend was at a filling station last week when confronted with an astonishing scene. A man driving a 4×4 had driven onto the forecourt and filled his vehicle with petrol. Only when he had completed filling the tank had he realized that he should have used diesel. Oblivious to other station users, he had immediately drained the tank onto the concrete surface of the station and had picked up a yard brush to start to sweep it away. The station attendant had looked out the window in horror at the scene. The police and fire service were called; the station was cordoned off and unable to reopen until the following day, after much detergent had been applied to the forecourt.
An almost incredible piece of self-centred irresponsibility: a spark could have ignited the entire station, yet the driver seemed to think that he had acted reasonably; he did not want his engine damaged. Short of him being charged with some criminal act, it seems likely that the costs he inflicted upon the business and the community will go unrecompensed and without retribution of any sort.
The behaviour seemed symptomatic of a culture where personal responsibility is something that can only be expected from those who cannot evade it.
A local newspaper story last week told of a man who had taken his child into a shop where sunglasses were on sale. He had taken a €24.99 pair of sunglasses from a rack, removed the tag and put them on the child while they walked around the store; before leaving the store he had returned the sunglasses to the rack. Perhaps it had been his intention to steal the sunglasses; whether or not it was, the fact he already had a suspended prison sentence may mean he is sent to prison for damaging the sunglasses by removing the tag.
Contrast the treatment he received, feeling the full rigour of the law, with the treatment received by those who have bankrupted the country. Like the 4×4 driver filling his vehicle with the wrong fuel, they filled up with assets that have proved toxic. They have lent money in a manner as irresponsible as someone releasing petrol onto a garage forecourt. They have knowingly acted to defend their own interests with little concern for the costs they have inflicted on innocent bystanders. They have expected working people to bear the cost of their greed and recklessness (and, sometimes, their deceit and fraud). There is about as much chance of there being retribution as there is of the driver compensating the garage, the emergency services and everyone else around for his gross irresponsibility.
The statue above the Old Bailey in London holds the scales of justice in balance; a similar statue reflecting the reality in Ireland would need scales that were seriously askew.