Tag Archive for IMF

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.

 

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.

Rabbitte not the brightest spark

Pat Rabbitte- soon to take over from Margaret Thatcher as Leo Varadkar's hero.

It was only a matter of time before this government let the privatisation genie out of the bottle.

Word from Kildare Street is that a “minority stake” in the ESB, a company “of strategic significance in the Irish economy ” is up for sale.

There’s a lot to suggest that this the thin end of the wedge.

For a start, it’s fitting that the announcement came did not from Leo Varadkar.

Instead, in a a prime example of the sorry state of socialism in Ireland, it was left to Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte to sell us out again.

The problem with the privatisation genie – like the property genie – is that once he’s let out of the bottle, he’s impossible to put back in.

Rather than sticking up for the working Joe, post-socialist man Pat will soon be espousing the virtues of private ownership and competition, and telling us how they will combine to drive prices down, without being able to cite a single example of where this has happened.

The reality is of course that the new owners will want a return on their investment and prices will rise even quicker than they are at the moment.

For those who doubt it, Sweden deregulated the electricity market a few years ago amidst a fanfare of promises of competition and lower prices.

Of course, the opposite was the case as speculation by energy traders forced prices up as they searched for profit.

Recently, the very newspapers that trumpeted this free market triumph expressed their outrage as helpless customers were ripped off at ever opportunity.

In the most extreme of cases (Russia), we witnessed how the selling-out of the nation’s energy infrastructure and resources created a whole new class of super-rich.

Along with it came corruption on a scale that even Michael Lowry might notice.

Pat and his supposed socialists in the Labour party are not content to facilitate the free market in taking all our money via the bailout; they won’t be happy until they’ve given away all our assets too.

For despite the supposedly unprecedented scale and scope of the credit crunch and subsequent debt crisis, there is nothing new here.

The IMF, like the free marketeers of Fine Gael and the Labour party, is still ideologically driven and utterly intent on selling out Ireland, and not necessairily to the highest bidder.

They do this despite ample evidence that such a sell-out causes more damage than good.

But of course by the time this becomes apparent, it will be too late. The genie won’t be going back into the bottle.

And in the end we’ll be left with Pat, our king of the socialist sell-out.

100 days, or more of the same?

Bang bang, we're all dead.

Usually, I wouldn’t get involved, and the reason is simple.

The hundreth day of this administration is no more interesting than the 101st, or the 79th, especially given the fact that the current government took the baton from the last government and just kept running the same race.

But here goes.

There have been no surprises. As expected, all that has happened is that this government has continued on where the previous one left off, generally giving the weakest in society a good kicking whilst not holding anyone to account through either incompetence or indifference.

Either way, it’s not positive, and it won’t bring this horrible situation to an end any time soon.

More cannot be expected of Enda Kenny; he is after all a career politician who continues to live by the maxim that you’re never as good as they say you are, but you’re never as bad either. No boats will be rocked with Enda at the helm.

Nor can more be expected of Labour, who as usual have parked their principles at the door in return for a taste of power.

The Micháel Martin charm(less) offensive hasn’t disappointed either; it would be interesting to see how he would rate his own record in office, given that he gives the current regime “three out of ten”. If he is honest, he and the rest of the party should call up Vincent Browne and ask for a loan of the shotgun and whiskey that Enda so churlishly declined.

Of course, the promises made by Kenny and the rest haven’t been fulfilled, nor had they ever any chance of coming to fruition. And the bailout renegotiations were the shortest in history.

Ireland: “Can we renegotiate the bailout?”

Europe: “No.”

Ireland: “Grand.”

All this was simply a continuation of the former government’s tried, tested and failed tactic of trying to hoodwink the markets. And it failed again.

If there was another election after 100 days, I reckon the turnout would be close to zero because Irish politics has finally reached its nadir. There is no difference between any of them any more.

But then again, maybe expectations are so low that people wouldn’t even bother punishing them anymore. And Michael Lowry would still get elected.

After all, this is Ireland, where the facts count for nothing. This is Ireland, where there is as much accountability after 100 days as there is after four years- none.

This is Ireland, where upon your death you can be declared the greatest patriot who ever lived, despite handing the keys of the country over to the IMF and the ECB.

Enda tells us that we have to do more with less, and he would do well to heed his own advice. There are entrepreneurs and ideas and schemes out there that are being stillborn, either because they can’t get credit or because the instigators don’t know which agencies can help them.

These are people who, having been robbed of their jobs, their equity and their pensions, are happy to take the risk and try to get themselves back in employment, but instead they get more of the same.

“We can’t lend to you”.

“That’s not our remit, it’s more for *insert state agency here*.”

“That’s great but we have no resources”.

I wrote to Enda recently with a few ideas, suggesting that he and his government focus a little more on engaging the diaspora - and not just in the US, the UK and Australia – in helping our country in her time of need. If I recall correctly, the last line I wrote was along the lines of “there are thousands of us overseas ready, willing and able to help. Put us to work for Ireland”.

Needless to say, I didn’t receive a reply. But let’s do it anyway.

Let’s take 100 days to do what this government could not or would not do.

Let’s take 100 days to preach the good word about our country, and tell the world that despite the preponderance of greedy sycophants at the top of the tree, there are still hard-working, smart people available.

Let’s tell them how beautiful our country is, and how much craic it is, and how great the food tastes. Tell them about Jedward and Dave Browne playing the guitar for 100 hours in Temple Bar, and how Dunphy and Giles are better than anything else in the world when it comes to football punditry.

Because after 100 days of more of the same, if we don’t do it, no-one else will.

Ireland’s image is damaged abroad, and we need to fix it before we can start doing business again. Our bond yields are evidence of that.

But if we do what we always did, we’ll continue to get what we always got.

And we deserve better than that.

Breaking the bullying cycle

Even though I’m surrounded by them, I’m glad I’m not a teacher. My brother, my mother and my wife are all teachers, and I can safely say that with my lack of patience, I’d spend more time in front of a judge than a blackboard.

But things can be learned from them, and given the difference in the educational upbringing of my wife and I (mine at the hands of the Christian Brothers, hers in a modern, liberal Swedish/European system), it’s a subject often discussed at home.

Take bullying, for example.

At my wife’s school, bullying is taking very seriously indeed. The alleged perpetrator is immediately removed from the environment and asked about the situation.

There is no accusation, no discussion about the past, about evidence or specific incidents. A simple question to the bully follows- what are you going to do about it?

Though bullying still occurs, it is a very effective way of acknowledging and dealing with the problem not least because no time is wasted in raking over the past. The future is what matters.

But in European politics the attitude is the opposite. Bullied into repeating referenda until the desired response was given, Ireland is now being hung by its y-fronts from the school railings and further humiliated over the bailout.

We sent for our big brother, but rather than the aggressive rugby player or hurling captain we got Enda and Michael, who, like their predecessors, also turned out to have glass jaws.

On the sidelines stand the chief cheerleaders of the bullies- men like Peter Sutherland, who as chair of Goldman Sachs cravenly hopes to share in whatever lunch money the rest manage to beat out of us.

Otherwise reasonable nations like Sweden, Denmark and Belgium stand silently by, fearful that in different circumstances it could be them on the hook.

There are two ways to fight back, and neither of them is easy. The first is to hit back and give the bully a bloody nose by not paying up. This of course would result in a massive beating from the markets, but the only way to wind this bully is to hit him in the wallet.

Besides, we won’t have access to the markets for the foreseeable future, so they’d be no great loss. And standing up to the economic bullying is the first stroke we need to pull if we are to return to the confidence trick known as the money markets.

The second, less-preferrable option is to band together with the other poor unfortunates and try to present a united front- essentially saying to our creditors “go ahead and beat us, but only for 23 hours a day, rather than the 24 you’re filling at the moment. Thanks”. There is no respect to be won here.

At the bottom of all this, most worryingly of all, an ideological battle is being waged, and staggeringly it is the free marketeers- who caused this mess in the first place- who look like winning it.

People like Leo Varadkar, who believe that there is no link between poverty and ill health, no longer have to argue their case for eradicating the welfare state; there is simply no money left to pay for decent healthcare, so it’s a moot point. Ditto social welfare. Ditto minimum wage.

Note how all these affect the poor disproportianately.

There is a third way, of course, and that is to take the bully out of the class and ask him what he is going to do about his behaviour.

To succeed, the Irish government would need to precede this by doing going on a Europe-wide PR offensive, doing set-piece interviews with the major European newspapers and explaining in great deal what not renegotiating is going to cost the French and German taxpayer over the next ten years.

There is nothing the European holds more sacred than his hard-won pension, and to implicitly or explicitly threaten its value by forcing a meltdown on the euro would make them sit up and take notice like a gunshot.

We need to play the bully’s game and we need to do it to the same audience, but with elections coming up all over Europe the timing may be all wrong.

So given the limited options available, let’s go for the first option.  It’s time to roll up your sleeves and swing as hard as you can Enda, safe in the knowledge that we’re all behind you – for now.