Archive for January 30, 2012

We’ve already had our Euro referendum

Speak no evil- Leo watches his mouth, for once...

In the kitchen, Declan Ganley and Leo Varadkar are huffing and puffing on Pat Kenny about a Euro referendum.

Having called the public mad, Enda is hiding somewhere in the attic with Gilmore, disguised in green jersies and looking like the two idiots from the 11 8 50 ads.

And wth no-one watching the stables, Sarkozy and Merkel have ensured that our horses have long since bolted.

Our referendum about our continued participation in Europe was held in February of last year, when we voted in the general election.

At a time when real leadership was needed, we voted in a weak coalition of no vision and chose the path of compliance and austerity.

For reasons best known to themselves, they cling grimly to the upturned hull of austerity and poverty for all.

Maybe they have been promised great riches in the next life, if only they inflict great misery in this one.

We didn’t consider any of the other alternatives viable. Gilmore for Taoiseach is even more laughable now than when the idea was first mooted, and we have not come so far that we could forget the sins of Sinn Féin and give them a say in the running of the country.

David McWilliams, Dunphy and the others were a false dawn, and by a process of elimination we were left with the curent collection of dunces.

I don’t believe it for a second, but maybe Varadkar is right.

Maybe refernda aren’t democratic.

Maybe the Irish people are just no use at democracy.

Maybe, as Noonan says, we should all just change our lifestyles and leave the country entirely.

Don’t let the stable door hit you on the way out.

Finding the right target in Enda’s blame game

Let me say this to you all:

You are not responsible for the crisis.

That didn’t last long, did it?

Yesterday Enda did another of his patented u-turns (don’t worry, they’re all part of his five-point plan) and blamed the Irish people for going “mad” on cheap credit.

How can he possibly blame us, the plain people of Ireland?

Surely the fault lies with the bankers, right?

Wrong.

Nothing will be learned from this financial crisis unless we learn why it happened, who was to blame, and how to stop it happening in the future.

The bankers and reckless lenders are obvious targets, but we had failed long before we ever got on the playing field.

The responsibility for the crisis lies almost exclusively with those tasked with regulating and monitoring the affairs of the state- the politicians.

Let us remember that it wasn’t just Fianna Fáil that were responsible either- the free-market zealots of the Progressive Democrats, Fine Gael and the Labour Party (don’t be fooled by the name) were equally to blame.

Even when in opposition, they nodded like donkeys as Aherne, McCreevy and Cowen stripped away the protection the plain people of Ireland were entitled to.

So Enda is hardly going to sit up there in the middle of his Davos dancing monkey act and admit that he was partially to blame now, is he?

It is absolutely true that people borrowed wildly and that banks lent recklessly, and some would say who could blame them. Both were trying to live the dream of a lifestyle and profits beyond their wildest dreams.

But how could they do this? Because, ever since the first sod was turned at the IFSC, every single piece of legislation or regulation preventing them from taking excessive risks with borrowed money was removed by the politicians.

It may have changed in the last three years or so as normal people were forced to learn about bond yields and sovreign debt, but the plain truth is that most people are not financially literate enough to understand even basic financial products like mortgages and life insurance.

I’ve spent the guts of ten years in the financial services industry, talking to ministers and central bankers and traders and fund managers. I’ve studied finacial instruments trading at university level.

All it has taught me is that the more I learn, the more there is to learn.

Those operating in the markets- even in the personal finance end of them-  are for the most part unsentimental, mathematical and very ambitious.

They will stretch the limit of any rule in search of a profit- that is their creative genius.

But in removing the rules of the game, we allowed them to indulge themselves and us, and we all got hit with the bill.

We even tore up most of our planning laws just so we could allow developers to stack their piles of yen and German pensions on one another in a race to the top, not realising it would all fall down around us.

Sure, lenders and borrowers are to blame, but only to a point; if you give the fox the keys of the henhouse, don’t be surprised if all that’s left are feathers and blood.

What galls most people is that no banker or politician has yet to face the courts in relation to the €100 billion confidence trick played on Irish people.

The sad reason for this is that very little of what was done was illegal- we simply removed those barriers and let them get on with it.

And so to the hide-and-seek champion of Mayo, who did his monkey dance for the great and the good at Davos yesterday, a day after many of them took their chunk of the €1.25 billion Enda so selflessly gave them on our behalf.

And today, ministers gather round to defend him- even Labour ministers – saying that he was either partially or wholly right.

They were joined, predictably, by the Irish Independent and Newstalk, whose overlord Denis O’Brien insisted to the Irish Times that “he (Kenny) should be applauded and not in any way criticised.”

His minions duly obliged, Fionán Sheehan of the Indo playing the role of government representative on Vincent Browne last night, and the Lunchtime program on Newstalk offering an embarrassing plethora of talking heads echoing the Taoiseach’s comments.

The level of stage management of the cabinet response warrants closer questioning- in other words, there is reason to believe that Enda’s comments were no regular political gaffe.

There is reason to believe that what you saw and heard yesterday is the first step in selling the next- and probably the most onerous- austerity budget to the Irish people.

In December, Enda went of the TV to pre-empt a public outcry and in a stilted performance, his hear slicked to his head, he told us we were not responsible. Gullible fools that we were, we bought into the savage cuts – sure weren’t we all in it together?

That won’t work again, and the next targets – the old, the sick, and the young once more, but also the public servants and PAYE workers – won’t be as amenable, so a change of tactics was called for.

So Enda and his cabinet have decided that we are in fact to blame – and in doing so, they are preparing us to take our personal share of the pain that is coming. After all, it’s our fault that we’re in this mess.

What Enda should have said yesterday was “yes, the banks and the borrowers were to blame, but we- the democratically elected politicians, dropped the ball. Lads, the party is over. Europe’s biggest casino will be back, but there will be limits on how much you can gamble with our money in the future”.

Instead, he blamed you and me.

At the same time, the treacherous Fianna Fáil spiv that is Conor Lenihan appeared on the radio, blissfully unaware of the scale of his own hypocrisy.

Part of a dynasty that did its best to destroy our economy, he is now travelling the world touting for foreing direct investment.

For Russia.

Now some people might say that ‘traitor’ is too strong a word in those circumstances.

I’m glad I’m not one of them.

Is that a foot in your mouth, or are you just glad to see me?

"What Michael REALLY meant was that everything is the fault of the poor and they only have themselves to blame...""

I love Irish politicians.

Just when I start to think that they might actually be capable of doing something intelligent, they invariably make a total mess of it.

But just as predictable is the faux outrage when they say or do something as remarkably tactless as Michael Noonan did today.

After over a year of austerity and and a general election it should be no surprise to people that he believes that emigration is a lifestyle choice.

He can’t afford to believe anything else.

Why else would he preside over slash-and-burn budgets and the wanton destruction of social services?

Why else would he introduce a finance act that will cost workers an inordinate amount with little hope of creating any jobs?

Why else would he keep tugging his metaphorical forelock as the IMF and the ECB told him how great we all are, that, in Brian Lenihan’s memorable fallacy “our plan is working”?

Their plan might be working, but much of Ireland isn’t, and the wave of emigration is testament to that.

I went on Pat Kenny’s Frontline program just before Christmas determined to give a positive view of the life of the emigrant – after almost 13 years abroad I can safely say it’s not a death sentence.

But all the while I was sitting in the TV studio with my collar buttoned up, I was aware of the enormous hurt and loneliness and pain that emigration causes, and there was no way in the world I would have said anything to try to lessen them.

Emigration is immensely painful for most people. If you don’t believe me, hang around an Irish airport some morning and see for yourself.

You’ll see fathers commuting off to God knows where in search of a week’s work.

You’ll see young people with packed bags and empty eyes heading off to places they know little about.

You’ll see the tired 40-year-olds who thought their travelling days were done, once again heading off with 10 kilos of hand luggage and the e-mail address of an old friend in Berlin.

You’ll see it in my inbox every week as people write looking for advice on jobs and apartments and childcare as they abandon any hope they might have had of raising their family in their own country.

What you won’t see is the likes of Noonan, a life of political privilege having inured him from the harsh realities he and his ilk regularly foist upon the nation.

It seems like a trivial thing, but maybe not.

Maybe this piece of sublime stupidity will be the straw that breaks the back of the Irish camel.

Despite the fact that we went into this government and its contemptuous policy of cuts and austerity with our eyes wide open, we might finally choose to exercise our democratic rights.

Maybe this insult will help people to find their voice, to get up out of their armchairs and say no more.

Or maybe we’ll just keep heading to the airport and leaving the likes of Noonan to do their best to sort it out. Here’s hoping he won’t have the chance.

At the very least, Noonan has to go and be replaced by Joan Burton. The sooner we force an end to this charade the better.

Bleak future as Irish media face credibility crunch

Terry Prone- "no further questions, your honour."

It seems there is no better place to be a spin doctor than in Ireland.

This morning Terry Prone guested Newstalk’s Sunday Show. Toothless since the departure of Dunphy, I tuned in anyway, listening in vain for a question that would never be asked.

You might recall before Christmas that Terry Prone’s name came up in relation to the suicide of Kate Fitzgerald, who worked for her at the Communications Clinic and  who alleged in an Irish Times article that her employer’s attitude to her depression wasn’t all it should be.

For some reason, having published Kate’s original article in full, the Irish Times indulged in one of the most craven and embarrassing climbdowns in Irish journalistic history.

Terry Prone remained entirely silent on the issue.

I sent in a few half-hearted tweets to the show this morning, one suggesting that Green Party leader Eamon Ryan might bring up the subject of Fitzgerland’s untimely demise.

But true to form, Eamon avoided asking the hard question, instead choosing to continue his admirably consistent run of abject failure in holding those in power to account.

I don’t know what was said between Prone and the Newstalk researchers; maybe they struck a deal that the subject of FItzgerald’s passing not be brought up as condition of Prone’s appearance.

What I do know is that one of the most famous players in world football still doesn’t talk to me because I wouldn’t allow him to dictate the terms of an interview.

Because as a journalist, I’m the one that decides what questions the subject gets asked – not the other way round.

And if media outlets like Newstalk decide that it’s not in their best interests to ask certain questions, than we must ask questions of them.

Steady as she blows

Noonan- no time for aggressive rhetoric

The Christmas holidays came to an abrupt end this week, as the fairy lights and aroma of pine needles was replaced once again with the daily diet of austerity and bailouts.

And having spent a few weeks reading “year-in-review” pieces, we need to change our focus as readers once again.

So when a Citibank economist says we need to prepare for a second bailout, or when Michael Noonan says such talk is a ‘ludicrous’ notion, we need to realise that they are not talking to us.

There is are whole swathes of diplomatic and economic statements that, whilst made in public for all the world to hear, are actually directed at a very narrow audience.

The Citi economist’s note is one such message.

In expressing concern for Ireland’s financial state, Citi is (by accident or design) protecting its own interests.

Having a second bailout in place just in case may not just be good for the Irish economy; it might protect Citi from another wave of write-downs. It’s an understandable maneuver from a company trying to cover its own back.

What is unusual is Noonan’s bullish response. Citi’s feint gave him the opportunity to appear sanguine, to calm the markets by saying that the Irish program was on track and that the government would continue to behave responsibly, and if in the unlikely event that a second bailout was needed, it would be handled in an orderly fashion.

Instead, Noonan went on the attack – head buried firmly in the sand, the muffled word “ludicous” could be heard emanating from him, swiftly followed by “fully funded until 2013″. The nation shivered.

Both have made mistakes - Citi were in some ways unwise to put their head above the parapet, and Noonan was unwise to take the bait.

But whereas Citi are well within their writes to release such a note, Noonan has a greater responsibility.

In times of crisis, the markets resemble nothing more than a confidence trick; in deciding to take the path of denial travelled by the previous imbecellic Fianna Fail administrations, Noonan has essentially told them nothing has changed.

And unless our rhetoric changes, our interest rates will remain over 8% as the markest are saying they don’t trust our politicians to sort this mess out.

And neither should we.

Those in glass houses…

An all-too-familiar scene.

About a year or more ago, one of my best friends and I had a falling-out on Facebook.

Tired of the constant negative publicity Ireland was getting in Swedish media, I used the “Ireland is open for business” line to update my status.

The genie was out of the bottle.

The torrent of abuse I got was unmerciful, and for the most part understandably so. In addressing one audience, I had innocently offended another.

I had poked the hornet’s nest, and all the bitterness and anger at the destruction of Ireland’s economy was spread over my Facebook wall as I was publicly tarred and feathered.

Eventually an uneasy truce was reached, and as time went on I hope those in Ireland realised I was just as angry as them.

So despite the obvious advantages of living here, I’m very careful not to paint a picture of some Scandinavian utopia. Bad things happen here too.

Take the mail I got last night- it was one of the nicest, bravest, strongest things I’ve received in a while.

Someone wrote to me to thank me for not forgetting the case of Kate Fitzgerald. You could say the person had a vested interest, as they were in a similar position.

When the writer’s illness – brought on from what I understand by bullying in the workplace -became known, sensitivity and help were promised.

None was forthcoming.

Our correspondent with depression was made redundant.

Nor was this some two-bit PR firm that specialises in in smiling through the stench of hypocrisy.

The company this person worked for was one of the most respected in Scandinavia.

Having tweeted about the mail last night, I was shocked at the amount of other people that got in touch to say that they had been treated in a similar fashion.

I was even more shocked at how close some of them came to ending their own lives as a result of what happened at work.

Depression does not discriminate, but employers do.

But like depression, their discrimination seems to know no boundaries.

It happens in Ireland.

It happens in Scandinavia.

It happens everywhere.

And like depression, things can often appear to be OK on the surface, but all the while there is something malignant gnawing away beneath.

A decade or more ago, alcoholism in the workplace was treated in the same way. Ignored for the most part, and then shunned.

Nowadays, alcoholism meets with a lot more understanding – not because employers have changed their opinion of it, but because they have been shamed into treating it differently.

It still causes them problems. It still costs them money.

But they have been shamed into treating it as an illness.

So let me be very clear.

I know the name of this company.

I know the nature of the allegations against them.

I will be following their actions very carefully.

Very carefully indeed.

 

If you are feeling depressed, don’t suffer in silence- go visit your doctor and get professional medical help. If you feel your depression has been used against you by your employer, contact your union representative.