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.


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.

Sympathy for the Bedevilled

The Four Courts - surprisingly, not a development owned by NAMA. Yet.

We don’t make it easy on them, to be fair.

The Irish are not an easy bunch to rule in a conventional sense.

We don’t really pay much attention to laws and rules and regulations; most of our times is spent looking for loopholes to circumvent them, rather than trying to understand why they might be a good idea.

In the few instances where these cannot be found, we simply ignore or flout them. During the 80s an entire generation of people would rather fly through the windscreen of a car than submit to the indignity of wearing a seatbelt as laid down by law.

The same with drink-driving. No amount of legislation could convince a man that he wasn’t fit to drive a car after six or seven pints. Especially not after he’d had six or seven pints.

That our politicians should be so loathe to regulate us should come as no surprise; contrary to popular belief, they do not simply spring up in Leinster House like wallflowers. They come from among us.

But the problem arises when things get out of control, like they did with the property market or the banking system or the Catholic Church. Allowing such entities to police themselves never works – how could it? It’s not in their interest to police themselves.

Nor do we do accountability particularly well, if at all. On this Good Friday, there is no evidence of bankers, politicians or developers crawling to the cross to confess their sins and declare their regret and shame before the public.

On the contrary, many of them still believe that they have done nothing wrong and legally at least, no crimes have yet been proven.

And in many cases, they won’t be. Staggeringly, as Nick Leeson has pointed out, financial stupidity is not a crime – if it was, those responsible for the financial mess would be behind bars long ago.

But the vast majority of their actions were entirely legal – they were not against the law because no such laws exist.

In the few cases where blame can be apportioned, there is the usual marked reluctance to do so. Nyberg swapped his Finnish pragmatism for Irish fudge, the latest in a long line of reports that refused to apportion blame by name.

We must be the only nation whereby the billions spent on the tribunal or investigation is an end in itself.

However long this government lasts, it’s biggest job will not be to repair the banking system or to create jobs, as that will eventually happen anyway thanks to the (often violent) self-correction of markets.

The biggest task that this and subsequent governments face is the rebuilding of Irish society from the ground up.

We need to redefine our attitudes to money, to wealth, to Europe and to each other.

We need to understand our responsibilities to ourselves, our families and our neighbours.

And we need to accept that our actions have consequences, and that if we act in a way that is not in the best interests of our society, then we will have to suffer those consequences.

It’s time we grew up. And in doing so, we might force our politicians to do the same.