This week Bank of Ireland, Ireland’s largest and only privately owned bank, decided to do some IT.
We don’t know the nature of the IT they were up to. Maybe it was an update to a piece of software. Given the known state of Bank of Ireland’s technical infrastructure, it is possible that at the turn of the century they solved Y2K by just resetting their computer clocks back 23 years and forgot to make a note in the diary.
Whatever the root cause, the consequences were apparent to all their customers- their electronic banking system just stopped working. You couldn’t even buy anything online, because the app wouldn’t approve the transaction.
For BoI customers, Ireland was suddenly a cash-only economy.
So all around the country queues formed at ATMs because nobody can remember the last time they actually touched cash. (Did you know they’re going to redesign all the euros? Will we even notice when they do?)
And this was when things started to get strange.
It turned out, the ATMs didn’t know how much money your bank account had. So if you asked them for €1,000, you got €1,000. This turned out to be particularly popular amongst people who would like €1,000, which is one of the larger demographic slices in the country.
Faced with the world’s least consequential bank run (the worst case scenario being that the ATMs would run out of money for a night) Bank of Ireland warned everyone getting a €1,000 that it would get them in the end. If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like if you glanced back over your shoulder to see an entire banking institution standing at the side of the road, shaking its fist in the air impotently, having just missed catching you before you drove away, well that was a good day for you.
All of which might have been just good clean fun. Except, into the middle of this situation, stepped An Garda Síochána. The police force of the state decided it was going to guard the ATMs of Ireland, to protect the money against citizens accessing their own bank accounts.
The police initially claimed they weren’t guarding the interests of capital at all. They were just standing in front of the machines containing the foldable assets of a private bank that had sequestered its clients assets to prevent public order issues.
One could argue that this subtle policing task, of preventing jostling at the bank run, was somewhat lost on the ground, where video showed the forces of the state standing guard over ATMs in empty streets as though they were honouring the Tombs of the Unknown Euros.
A later statement issued by An Garda Síochana to press punctured even this tissue-thin excuse, tearing its gossamer threads to demonstrate that, no, there really was no institutional understanding of the role and limits of the police in society.
“An Garda Síochána are aware of an unusual volume of activity at some ATM machines across the country...
“An Garda Síochána remind people of their personal responsibility in carrying out their personal banking.”
To be very clear- until running an overdraft becomes a crime, An Garda Síochána has Absolutely Nothing to do with how people carry out their personal banking. No crimes were being committed. Unsanctioned overdrafts of a maximum €1,000 might have been the consequence of the night’s frolics, but this is not a policing matter. It’s not even a civil matter.
Now, we should realise the context for this police intervention in the protection of private banking’s convenience.
Dublin has been the scene of a recent attack on a tourist. Every single person in the city you may care to speak to, or read reports of being spoken to, will tell you that police visibility is close to non-existent on the city’s streets. The pandemic has done real harm to the experience of being in Dublin's city centre, as a visitor or a resident.
The Minister for Justice recently went for a photo-op walkthrough of the inner city, stepping through the streets with a Garda escort, imagery so ill-judged that it has likely ended her chances of becoming FG leader.
Meanwhile, domestic violence calls were just not responded to on a mass scale.
Government ministers had theatrical fits of the vapours at a piece of art depicting the police attending an historical eviction. They needn’t have worried. The image was clearly too subtle.
No artist would be so crude as to simply show the police force of the state standing guard at Bank Machines, protecting money against the people who own it.
And now, no one needs to.