Risk, responsibility, and power in the regulation of Ireland’s financial services industry, 2004-2017

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Cashman, Conor Joseph
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University College Cork
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As the Irish financial crisis of 2008 unfolded, public deliberation focused on the treatment of Ireland’s ‘bailed out’ financial institutions and the social and economic impact of austerity. Meanwhile, Ireland’s regulatory actors sought to update a regulatory framework to better ‘protect’ citizens facing financial hardship and escalating mortgage arrears. Using Ireland’s financial consumer protection regulations from 2004 to 2017 as an empirical source, this thesis examines the underlying nature of Ireland’s pre-crisis regulations, their evolution on foot of the crisis, and the manner in which regulatory and industry actors responded to Irish civil society debate regarding the role and effect of regulations. A theoretical framework using concepts of power, systems theory, neo-institutional theory, and financialisation studies is developed. This highlights neoliberal justifications underlying regulatory approaches that seek to empower citizens (as consumers) and trust industry (to self-regulate), while offering insight as to how regulatory and industry actors avoid responsibility for risks posed and revealed to citizens as crises unfold. The thesis applies thematic coding and frame analysis research methods to financial consumer protection codes and related publications. The research is supported by semi-structured interviews with civil society actors involved with regulatory processes and in assisting people in financial difficulty. By so doing, the thesis highlights the normative foundations of Ireland’s regulatory approach, locating this within the context of Ireland’s financialisation story. The thesis finds that such an approach responsibilises citizens availing of financial products (and debt) to meet their social needs – protecting the act of consuming, not citizens – while simultaneously framing risk and deflecting responsibility away from regulatory and industry actors. The financial crisis compelled debate within Irish civil society regarding the nature and effect of power operating within Ireland’s regulatory approach. However, the thesis finds that, through repeated framing of risk (posed to market-focused ‘solutions’ to the crisis) Ireland’s financial services industry dictated the terms of regulatory responses to the crisis, avoiding meaningful acceptance of responsibility and accountability as articulated within Irish civil society.
Financialisation , Financial regulation , Consumer protection , Frame analysis , Institutional decision-making and power , Financial crisis , Institutional learning , Financialisation and debt, Ireland
Cashman, C. J. 2021. Risk, responsibility, and power in the regulation of Ireland’s financial services industry, 2004-2017. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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