Tag Archive for austerity

We all killed Johnny Corrie

The loudest sound in Ireland today is the echo of the empty words around the death of Johnny Corrie.

Once again, the airwaves are full of the breast-beaters, filling their lungs on the oxygen of publicity while ignoring their own complicity.

And we are all complicit in Johnny’s death.

The very politicians who slashed the services that might have helped the dead Kilkenny man now elbow their way to the plinth at Leinster House – a stone’s throw from where Johhny died – to proclaim their dedication to the cause of homelessness.

As long as it doesn’t cost anything of course, and only until the headlines run out.

Elsewhere, the leaders of the Catholic church, whose legacy of institutionalised abuse causes hundreds, if not thousands, of traumatised Irish victims to seek solace in drugs and drink every day, has promised to act.

But the reparations due to the adults that became of the children they raped and abused remain unpaid. At every turn, they refuse to cough up the cash they have hoarded, swindled from the Irish people from behind a facade of piety.

And those of us who walk the streets of our cities have nothing to be proud of, either.

How many of us have contemptuously called people like Johnny scobes and junkies and scumbags?

How many of us have described them as a blight on our cities, an eyesore, a problem to be solved?

How many of us have laughed on a night out as we kicked their paper cups, telling them to “get a fuckin’ job” instead?”

How many of us went to the polls at the last election and voted for permanent austerity, ensuring that the first services to be cut would be the ones that might save the lives of people like Johnny?

How many of us have pursed our lips and piously proclaimed “I won’t give them money, because they’ll only spend it on drink or drugs”?

It may come as a shock to your middle-class sensibilities, but to an addict, drink and drugs are a very important part of their day; in fact you could say they are the most important part of it.

Even more so, on occasion, than having a roof over their heads. Everything else comes second. And if you don’t give them money, they’ll get it somewhere else.

What we have have created a society where the market decides who gets to have a home, and what kind of home it is.

We have created a society that says everyone is equal, until they slip up.

We have created a society that looks down patronisingly on those who live on the streets, without ever asking what it was that put them there, or offering them anything like a reasonable chance to turn things around.

And even in Johnny’s terrible death, the class card is played.

Johnny, we are told by the Irish Independent, “came from a caring family, but struggled with addiction problems since his teens.”

As if the families of other addicts don’t care.

As if the deaths of working-class addicts don’t matter.

As if addiction is selective.

Then the Indo tells us that “despite the best efforts of his parents and services, he could not defeat his demons” – something you never see written about a drug addict from Fatima Mansions or Dolphin’s Barn.

Sophie Pigot is rightly praised for not stepping over Johnny’s corpse and instead getting a policeman at Leinster House to call for an ambulance – but is this what we have come to?

Have we fallen so far as a society that we must make a heroine of someone who does exactly what one is supposed to do when they see another human being in need?

Johnny Corrie died in a Dublin doorway on December 1 2014, but he didn’t die alone.

Every one of us played a part in creating the country in which he could die so publicly, so helplessly, so needlessly.

We all stood over him as he passed on.

And none of us did anything, and now it’s too late.

 

 

 

Sing when your losing

“It says here that we’re out of the bailout.” – Enda Kenny, telling you whatever he’s told to tell you.

The celebrations have already begun. The spinning is already reaching fever pitch.

Ministers are saying, among other things, that the bailout is over, there will be no crock of gold, and austerity will continue.

More of the same, in other words.

But sure aren’t we great all the same?

Ireland is indeed exiting its bailout, and it will culminate in a TV address by Enda Kenny on Sunday.

I won’t be watching.

If I was, I’d expect to hear him “thank” the Irish people for the “sacrifices” that they have made.

No mention will be made of the fact that they were never asked whether they wanted to make these sacrifices or not, nor will there be a word about the  money and the future that was stolen from them.

Instead, fueled more by ego than egalitarianism, the most powerless leader in Europe will waffle his way through some platitudes about “the best little country in the world to do business” and what great Europeans we all are.

Once again you will be told that there was no choice – there was no other way.

Then you’ll be told the banks are well-capitalised, and that Ireland is back in the markets and well-funded, and not to pay any attention to the shiver that that news sends down your spine as the ghost of Brian Lenihan flits across your screen.

Of course, no journalist will be allowed into the studio while this farce takes place, nor will the opposition have a chance to question him. Enda doesn’t do debate. He doesn’t do accountability. He doesn’t answer questions. Mostly because he can’t.

Stilted, slow-witted, he limits himself to reading what it says on the card. Understanding it is not a prerequisite. You are being talked at, not to.

If I could, I’d skip Enda’s narcissistic news bulletin and instead invite everyone available to join me outside the GPO, where we can all bring our bodhráns and get decked out in our green jerseys and flags and sing a few songs.

And just at the moment he commences his pointless spoofery on RTE, we can all burst into “The Fields of Athenry”, the song that under Giovanni Trapattoni became our anthem of failure when hopelessly outclassed in Europe.

In this context it is even more fitting, given its depiction of poor folk persecuted by the authorities and forced to leave for Australia against their will.

The irony would be lost on Enda, but not on the fathers and mothers contemplating Christmas alone as their offspring celebrate on a beach on the other side of the world.

And when we’re done singing our bitter hymns of longing and failure, we can all go home again and change nothing, because that is what we do.

We accept that the wealth of the nation is given away. We accept the narrative that it is the poor, and not the ruling class or the speculators, that are really to blame.

We’ll go back to laughing at careerist civil servants and their attempts to hold on to their pensions, all the while electing careerist politicians too simple and dull to facilitate the meaningful change that would be required, not to create a just society, but just to manage a bearable one.

We will quietly admit that the concept of the fighting Irish is very much an American construct and has little to do with the supine manner in which we have surrendered our democracy to men like Enda Kenny and Colm Keavney.

And in doing so we will admit that we deserve no better, because we are no longer prepared to fight for what is right. And we probably never were.

And in the meantime, those a long way from the fields of Athenry will look back at Ireland and wonder why anyone bothers to stay at all – apart from gormless Enda and the rest of the privileged few, that is.

 

The Dithering 2013 – opportunity knocks and no-one answers

Enda Kenny, flanked by some of the Swedish fans and investors that now won’t bother coming to Dublin.

The moment the draw for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers was made, I did a little dance.

Sweden were drawn against Ireland, and we couldn’t lose – off the pitch at least.

How wrong I was.

For me, the draw meant not just that I would be guaranteed plenty of sports journalism work over the year-and-a-half of qualifying – it meant that we would have a brilliant chance to market Ireland in a non-Euro economy.

We would face Sweden in Stockholm in March, with the return leg in Dublin in September. If ever there was an open goal in terms of marketing Ireland, this was it.

Sweden, as we know, didn’t join the single currency, and as such it still enjoys relative stability despite the basket case that the global economy has become.

Ireland’s state agencies market our products and services here admirably, but two World Cup qualifiers between what were the two best sets of fans at the Euros represented a love-bombing opportunity that couldn’t be missed.

And we missed it.

I wrote to minister Michael Ring on August 13 2012 to suggest making an extra effort – to perhaps organise some special events or otherwise plan to make the most of this unique opportunity.

I mentioned the potential for tourism and commercial travellers, and for bringing Irish and Swedish businesses together to explore opportunities.

Swedish fans enjoy the hospitality – and spend their money – in Kiev at Euro 2012

As I saw in Kiev last year, Swedish soccer fans are great tourists. They love beer and craic and they spend money.

Their business people are even better – eager to invest, they recognise a good opportunity when they see one. They also have the kind of hi-tech society and economy we would kill for.

The e-mail to minister Ring contained very specific ideas for what could be done to exploit the opportunity provided by these games – the first competitive games between Ireland and Sweden for the best part of two generations.

The more I wrote, the more excited I got.

He must have missed it, because I got no response.

I wrote again on August 30, and a member of staff acknowledged receipt of my e-mail.

Then nothing happened. Again.

On October 31 I chased it up.

On November 16 I was informed that the minister said to tell me that Tourism Ireland were the body responsible for marketing Ireland abroad, and that he had heard I was already in contact with them.

In fairness, I was already aware of all that.

There was no mention of the other ideas to put together Irish businesses with Swedish investors, no mention of the other ideas contained in the mail. No offer of support.

Perhaps fittingly for a minister whose portfolio covers sport, the e-mail was a kick to touch.

A call to the minister’s office suggested that I contact minister Richard Bruton instead, as this might be more up his street. So I did.

(I also mentioned it in person to minister Lucinda Creighton when we borth appeared on Marian Finucane’s radio show, and to minister Joan Burton when she came to Stockholm to launch the Gathering).

I wasn’t going to contact Bruton, even though my family lives in his constituency and I know him to be a decent man.

The wheels of Irish bureaucracy turn extremely slowly, and I sincerely doubted his department was going to spring into gear, no matter how decent he is.

But then again, I have to practice what I preach – I cannot ask others to do their best to promote Irish business and keep it on the agenda if I’m not prepared to send a simple e-mail myself.

So I took a deep breath and contacted both his constituency office and his ministerial office, and waited for the surprise that would never come.

I got the standard acknowledgement on November 19, and then what I had come to expect. Silence.

Christmas came and went. So did New Year.

Then on January 10 I received an e-mail saying the following:

The Minister has noted the comments made, and has recommended that your email be relayed to the Irish Embassy in Stockholm for advice. Accordingly, I am cc’ing this email to the Office of Mr Eamonn Gilmore T.D., Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, for attention and direct reply to you.

Time is running out, and all I got was another kick to touch.

The Irish community here isn’t huge, so the embassy here already knows all about me and these ideas. It also deserves great credit for doing a brilliant job with virtually nothing.

But they don’t have the resources to help pull off such a comprehensive effort, which was the whole reason for contacting ministers directly.

So instead of our dynamic, youthful, jobs-obsessed government leaping into action, nothing happened.

There are now a little more than two months to go the Sweden – Ireland game in Stockholm, and whatever chance we had of organising anything meaningful to promote Irish business during these two unique games is now gone.

Readers may say I have no right to expect anything of anyone in this situation, but I disagree, and here’s why:

Last February, Simon Coveney invited me in to his office, where he thanked me and the Swedish-Irish community for our efforts and our patriotism.

He also said not to hesitate to contact the various ministers if we thought we could do anything to help promote Ireland abroad.

We did, and nothing happened.

The question remains – why was no effort made to even gauge the scale of what could be done against the backdrop of the soccer games?

I can’t find any other explanation for this wonderful episode (which I have now dubbed “The Dithering”), so my guess is money.

Namely, the Irish government doesn’t have any, and what little it has is not going to be spent doing something daft like making a cross-functional effort to promote Ireland abroad.

Sure we already have the Gathering and Arthur’s Day, what more do we need?

And maybe they’re right. Sweden as a market is probably being seen as insignificant compared to say, China or the US.

But are the tourism euros of 5000 Swedish football fans worth any less?

Are the euros of Swedish investors looking for projects worth any less?

Are the jobs that could be created by those euros worth any less?

No.

As a result of austerity, what Ireland now has is a one-size-fits-no-one economic and marketing policy.

There is no room for anything different. There is no room for deviation.

There is a simple, grim realisation that being different or deviating from what is already prescribed is neither desirable nor possible.

It goes against all I ever learned about sales and marketing – about taking the easy deals (the so-called “low-hanging fruit”), about exploiting the opportunities fate dumps in your lap.

At a time (March 17-22) when Ireland is never going to have a greater media profile in Sweden, our collective government answer is to do nothing.

I don’t think that’s good enough.

There is a happy ending to all this, of course.

Despite the disappointment, the Irish community in Sweden will no doubt continue to wear its green jersey, both figuratively and literally.

We will continue to promote Ireland as a tourist destination (including to Swedish soccer fans), as a place to do business, as a country of wonderful culture and people and sport.

We will continue our efforts to organise as many events as possible as part of the Gathering, and for any other initiative you care to mention.

But the next time a minister calls on us to show our loyalty and patriotism, he or she may well be ignored.

Because patriotism is something for us all, and loyalty is a two-way street.

 

 

 

Suicide, social media and getting stick from voters

Shane McEntee TD, who died this week.

The death by suicide of Irish parliamentarian Shane McEntee has prompted a slew of stroies in Sunday’s papers suggesting that bullying on social media was in some way a contributing factor – it seems cyberbulying is making it into the adult world.

In cases of suicide there is always an unseemly yet understandable rush to find out the why, and media in particular are always looking for a hook to hang their hat on.

Invariably, they pick it up and move on soon afterwards, leaving pelnty of their original questions unanswered.

Noticeable in Ireland’s Sunday newspapers is the conclusion that social media abuse hurled at McEntee is partially responsible, without ever really analysing why he was getting it.

The Sunday Independent reports that it was over the respite care cuts in the last budget, and if true McEntee essentially represents the first known victim of the latest installment of the austerity we flagellate ourselves with.

In that case, the ire should not be aimed at Twitter or Instagram, but at those who insist that our decent politicians – people like Shane McEntee, or many in the Labour party – are forced to vote against their principles, or walk the political desert.

That’s not to say that negativity directed at an individual on social media doesn’t have an effect.

I recall doing one TV show in Sweden which was put up on Youtube, where my contribution got dozens of positive comments. But the only one I recall is the one that said “he gets boring very quickly”.

It was like being punched in the stomach.

But as someone who works in media, I have to understand that the comment is not about my entire personality – the person making it has only seen me on Youtube, or maybe read some articles, so how could it be?

The commenter was criticising my performance, and that is fine – it goes with the territory. That I originally took it personally is my fault, not his or hers.

Personal abuse is different, and here is where the boundaries get blurred, especially in terms of politicians.

For instance, I think it’s entirely fair to refer to the Irish Labour Party’s elected representatives as spineless – how could one otherwise explain the abandonment of their principles as soon as they got into office?

That’s not to say that Pat Rabbitte isn’t a good father to his children, or that Joanna Tuffy is a bad person. It’s just that they are politically spineless, accepting policies that they promised their voters they wouldn’t.

Like the Arab Spring, social media has made our country more democratic. It provides instant feedback to our politicians about where they are going wrong, and indeed the few times they get it right.

But democracy demands that we be careful in our exercising of this power of communication – whatever the government does, we must play the ball, not the man.

Only then will can we demonstrate that it is the policies of this government that are ruining people’s lives, and not the reaction to them – on social media or otherwise.

Mis-selling and misunderstanding

By raising PRSI, this government has proved itself no better than mis-selling banks it slavishly serves.

Budget 2013: Michael “Tweedle Dumb” Noonan. (Not pictured: Brendan “Tweedle Dumber” Howlin.)

Why is the government attacking the banks for mis-selling Payment Protection Insurance, and then doing exactly the same itself?

With this hopelessly ineffective coalition hog-tied by an ideological insistence on not raising income tax or reducing base rates of social welfare, there was little enough room for cuts or revenue-raising.

So what do you do?

Cut everything that isn’t base-rate welfare, and raise everything that isn’t income tax.

But as ever, the government (and much of the electorate) has misunderstood the concept of social insurance, and the fact that for it to be justified, people have to get something in return.

Why, for instance, should self-employed people be forced to pay PRSI when the chances of them ever getting anything for it are about as much as the Green Party ever being seen again?

The banks are rightly being hammered (and wrongly, in some cases, being able to avoid responsibility) for selling insurance policies that would more or less never pay out.

Rather than adopting the principle of paying for something and actually getting something in return, the government seems to have copied this scam of selling a dodgy insurance policy for their own use.

It should come as no surprise, of course. They’ve already decided to ape the banks when it comes to their funding issues and the foisting of private debt upon the general public, so a little mis-selling of insurance shouldn’t bother us.

Commentators (particularly the myopic ‘spokespeople’ for small and medium enterprises and economic think-tanks) tell us that ‘we must incentivize people to work’ – but where is the incentive for the self-employed in paying huge sums and getting nothing in return?

Their other favourite word – ‘competitiveness’ – was nowhere in evidence as the government once again studiously avoided doing anything about the laughably expensive childcare costs in Ireland.

Competitiveness is not simply getting people to work as cheaply as possible – it’s creating a situation where they can work, because the social infrastructure around them allows them to do so.

Forget taxes, and the idea that a small rise would cause a modern-day equivalent of the Flight of the Earls – it is the astronomical childcare costs that mean Dublin families must cough up thousands of euro of taxed income just to be able to go to work – with the rest of the country not far behind.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was another dig at women with the introduction of taxation on maternity benefit, as a less-than-generous system is further watered down to appease those bankrolling the economy.

And just how bound are we by these ideological insistences?

Well, our friends at the Iona Institute – not exactly paragons of reason – saw plenty to kick up about in the reduction of child benefit, but had nothing to say about the reduction in maternity benefit.

Next time they tell you they supposedly have the interests of mothers at heart too, you’ll know it’s lip service.

In fact in Ireland, lip service is about all that most people now paying PRSI will find they are entitled to.

Reality bites for Kenny

The budget will not be drafted in public.
-Enda Kenny

In fairness, he’s not lying.

But it won’t be drafted in Kildare Street either. Nor will it ever again be drafted in Ireland.

This budget will be drafted in Brussels and rubber-stamped in Frankfurt.

Welcome to the post-Yes world. This is what we voted for.

Of course, given the abject failure of this government to address the country’s economic woes – principally caused by the bank debt, whatever the spin doctors might say – this one was a fait accompli long before we voted yes a few weeks ago.

There will be more savage cuts to services. There will be more tax rises.

Fine Gael has even instructed its TDs not to speculate on its contents and that they would be given an “opportunity to offer their thoughts” later – the notion that FG backbenchers will be asked what they think of any measures contained in it is utterly laughable.

For “speculate”, read “debate” or “question.” Neither will be tolerated, and we can expect several months of Brian Hayes spewing party-fed guff about economics, and why we should all beat the cost of his cowardice.

The job of Fine Gael’s backbenchers, as it was in the recent referendum, is to nod sagely at matters they don’t understand and cannot influence. It it the illusion of democracy as practiced in Ireland.

Anyone who questions the logic of the budget proposals will be once again asked where the money will come from, or who will pay the nurses and the gardaí and the teachers.

In a remarkably display of political stupidity, one TD has taken it upon himself to pay a teacher’s salary out of money paid to him by the state.

Some see this as a great act of altruism, when in fact it is one of the most craven acts of political cowardice in a country not lacking candidates.

The TD in question, Brendan Griffin, pledged to give half his salary back to the state as an election gimmick, saying ”we are not all in it for personal gain.”

Shortly afterwards he hired his wife to a job paid by the state without even bothering to create the illusion of fairness by interviewing anyone else.

As if that wasn’t enough, he is now clawing back the €46,000 he pledged to give back to the state – an election gimmick – to pay a teacher whose job would otherwise disappear thanks to cuts imposed by his government – another election gimmick.

This is no great altruistic act on his behalf – it is a simple, grubby, vote-buying exercise.

To make matters worse, he is essentially buying another election with the same €46,000, at the same time as he is admitting that the policies of his government are grievously wrong.

Instead of installing a teacher in his constituency, Griffin could have showed some courage and voted against the cutbacks and against the poor having to bear the brunt of losses not incurred by them.

He didn’t do so. Instead, he chose to insure his political future using your money.

I arrived back from Ukraine yesterday (I learned quickly not to call it “the Ukraine”, as apparently they take offence), where I walked past the tented village protesting at the continued imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko every day.

It is a beautiful place, full of tough, creative, resilient people, but if ever there was a country both defined and hampered by corruption, Ukraine seems to be it. ANd the higher up you go, the more corrupt it gets.

My good friend Pelle Blohm was there for a few days too, and he told me of an interesting conversation he had with a tour guide about the political situation.

“She siad there are five or six factions, and it’s all about picking the right one – wind up on the wrong side, and you’re screwed.”

With the likes of Griffin pulling strokeslike this, Ireland is going thew same way.

And with Spain going under and Cyprus asking for a bailout, Kenny will soon have to deliver another austerity budget. With his own backbenchers unwittingly showing their hand, his time will soon be up.

Luckily for him, events will overtake his gullible stupidity, and history will simply remember him as the mewling, cowardly fool who hitched Ireland to the listing ship of the Euro, just before it sank without a trace.

 

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.

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.

Before the Deluge

"Nothing to see here"- Enda Kenny addresses the nation.

Today is the day when payment for the worst of the excesses of the Celtic tiger falls due.

Today, Brendan Howlin will stand up in the Dáil and tell the poor, the sick and the old in Ireland not why they have to pay the debts of the bankers, but how. And how much.

This should come as no surprise- after all, we voted for it. As I wrote the day before the general election in February, a vote for Fine Gael or Labour was a vote to accept these debts as our own.

In particular, I made the sour prediction that this day would soon be upon us:

We are also accepting that Ireland is to remain a society of haves and have-nots. Those who have resources- cash, credit, access to political power – will continue to ensure that only the weakest in society – the old, the sick, the children – will be called on to pay the debts foisted upon them. They were the ones who benefitted the least from the property boom, but they will now be asked to foot the bill.

The cuts today in euros and cents will hit hardest on those who can afford it least, the rises in taxes tomorrow will do the same, and the words about how those who were responsible for the crisis would pay for it will ring as hollow as they ever did.

Enda Kenny’s address to the nation last night can be summed up in one word.

Pitiful.

When it was most needed, he offered neither hope nor leadership. Often, he offered his unique brand of patronising stupidity.

“If you’re unemployed, you’re one of the many who still can’t find work.”

“Difficult decisions are never easy”.

And lest we forget: “You are not responsible for the crisis.”

But we’re paying for it Enda. Not the bankers, or the banks. The citizens. Often poor, unemployed, old, sick or children.

To paraphrase Charles Haughey’s similar address thirty years ago, Enda’s speech could be summed up as follows: “we are living beyond your means”.

He and his government have offered nothing in the way of new thinking – no spark that would or could inspire the public, the entrepreneurs, the hard-working lucky enough to have work.

Never has so little been achieved by so many.

At a time when our corporation tax rate is under threat, no-one has thought to threaten to cut it to stimulate jobs and create growth.

No-oner has thought to make an industry out of caring for our old and our sick and our young by offering them the care and dignity they deserve.

No-one has thought to leverage Ireland as Europe’s English-language service provider in accounting or human resources.

Instead, they’re going to take Bertie’s mobile phone off him- something which might have worked to save Ireland ten years ago, but won’t help much now.

Keep this in mind when Brendan Howlin stands up in the Dáil today and hands the bill for the banks to your children.