Leo the Lion and the Semi-State Smokescreen

Leo - driving the LUAS for less.

Pat Rabbitte gave us a taste of Ireland’s Thatcherite future on Vincent Browne last night, and on Prime Time tonight it was the turn of his new master, Leo Varadkar.

He didn’t disappoint.

Leo has a way with words – often clumsy, sometimes eloquent, but always revealing. His innate smugness means that he can’t help letting us know how clever he thinks he is, and in doing so he often unwittingly reveals his true thoughts.

Take the sell-off of semi-state bodies.

In a nutshell, he told us his government wouldn’t sell off “strategic assets” – not companies mind, but assets. In an effort to ensure that the public wouldn’t start to suspect another Eircom fiasco, he then fudged as much as possible as to which ones.

The upshot is that, for those of you who thought we’d be starting at the thin end of the state sell-off wedge, Leo is already way ahead of you. He intends to keep the bare minimum in state control.

Having sold off assets as quickly as possible for two billion or so – “a target that doesn’t come from anywhere”, according to the minister – he will set about dumping the wages of the employees.

He attacked bus drivers and postmen for having the cheek to earn fifty or sixty grand a year. Poor people in menial jobs earning reasonable money? This won’t do.

But the biggest fib of all was gotten out of the way early in the Prime Time debate with Socialist TD Clare Daly, when Leo the Lion made the audacious claim that the two billion raised would be invested in job creation.

It won’t Leo, and you know it won’t.

It will be handed over to the moneylenders in Europe, like everything else we raise over the next thirty years or so. To claim otherwise – especially in a craven attempt to back up a less-than-watertight ideological point – is dishonest.

Dishonest, but unsurprising – Varadkar is after all the doctor whose denials of a link between poverty and ill health would be laughable if they weren’t so scary.

Irish voters are slowly waking up to the fact that, by voting in Varadkar and his fellow Thatcherites in the Labour party, they may have made a serious mistake. They have now agreed to accept the banking debt as their own.

Some of them are understandably loathe to indulge in a quick sell-off of some of the state’s most valuable assets, well aware that despite Leo’s protestations and promises of benign commerce, it’s impossible to get the privatisation genie back in the bottle once he’s been released.

But as with the Rabbitte caught in Vincent’s headlights last night, it’s all a moot point. Given the size of the problems faced by the Irish economy, two billion here or there won’t make the blindest bit of difference, and by selling off these assets we’ll simply be poorer than we are now.

And when you’re this poor as a nation, the degree of your poverty ceases to matter.

Ultimately, despite efforts by many to paint them as such, neither the semi-state bodies nor the public service nor the minimum wage are the root of all evil.

The problems faced by this country are problems caused by unfettered markets and pliable, malleable, supine politicians. Those tasked with regulating the generation of wealth chose to turn a blind eye, instead allowing themselves and their cronies to coin it in.

And why a free marketeer like Leo isn’t prepared to let the market take its course and incur deserved losses on those who took risks is beyond me. Like many free marketeers, it seems Leo the Lion only likes it when the market going his way.

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