Tag Archive for Labour

Why angry silence is the only way to commemorate 1916 Rising

1916 banner – presumably there was no room for Ian Paisley.

The banner at College Green has barely been unveiled, but it has already confirmed what I have long suspected.

That I do not want any part of of a commemoration of 1916 that denies, distorts and destroys what it is supposed to remember.

Only in Ireland could a banner commemorating a revolution feature a man who recruited for the enemy and called the event “wicked and insane”, as John Redmond did.

It comes as no surprise. For years the battle has been fought to see who would “own” the memory of 1916.

In then end, it seems, Bórd Fáilte won.

As a result, what we are getting is an approximation of history, a “1916 Rising for Dummies.”

The blood of the dead – men and women, soldiers and rebels, over 300 civilians and more than three dozen children –  washed from the streets.

The barbarity – war crimes on both sides – is forgotten, and the context crushed under the weight of collective denial of what the Rising was, and more importantly, what it wasn’t.

What should have been a conversation about the country we have created has been made into a marketing vehicle for tourism.

Anything else would have forced us to confront the truth of the intervening century.

For all the reverence in which the signatories of the Proclamation are held in Ireland, almost everything they stood for died along with them.

The notion of “cherishing all of the children of the nation equally” was quickly abandoned.

With the hospitals, the schools and the populace in general controlled by a vicious, venal and violent religious junta that is still remarkably healthy and wealthy, it couldn’t be any other way.

Partition – as promoted by what is now Fine Gael – put an end to the dream of a republic that would cover the entire Ireland.

And any chance of a functioning trade union movement to represent the working people died with James Connolly, strapped to a chair in the Stonebreaker’s Yard in Kilmainham Jail.

What we got was no mystical vision of independence, as laid out by Pearse.

Instead, we got exactly what most other countries that were eventually freed from imperialism experienced – a divided society ruled by an appointed elite, first as a transitional system of governance that then became the norm.

The greed and power of the church coupled with Ireland’s isolated position on the edge of Europe kept it out of the reach of international socialism and the kind of liberal social democracy that saw Scandinavia and Germany thrive, especially in the post-war period.

Instead, like many Catholic nations on the periphery of Europe, the Irish poor were condemned to lives of poverty, promised their reward in heaven while their cassocked moral guardians enjoyed the fruits of everyone else’s labours here on earth.

Having presided over misery and poverty, tugging its forelock and deferring to the church for much of the state’s existence, there is little on the credit side in the great ledger of social justice for any Irish government.

Pointing to the recent marriage equality referendum only highlights how little has been done to “cherish all the children of the nation equally.”

Women are still second-class citizens, earning less and dictated to by the state, or ignored when they become too noisy.

The Lads still rule, and their friends at the golf club still get the no-bid contracts and the cheap properties and the planning permissions they need to feather their nests.

Children with special needs and those who occupy hospital trolleys night after night don’t play golf.

The 1916 Rising delivered change, but not the change it wanted or expected.

Yeats was right – a terrible beauty was indeed born; and the poorer you were, the more terrible and the less beautiful it was.

And so to those struggling to “own” the narrative. the idiotic banner at College Green – with three of the four featured having died long before the Rising ever took place – is a symptom of how history in Ireland is distorted and watered down for political ends.

The irish Times reported that the idea for the banner came from the Department of An Taoiseach – perhaps unsurprising, given the spectacular ignorance of the clown that has inhabited that office for the last few years.

Enda Kenny has been doing his best to soft-soap voters into believing that his Fine Gael party are sympathetic to the Republic and the ideals declared by Padraig Pearse a hundred years ago.

Yet it was his party that banned the 60th anniversary celebrations – and using the Offences Against the State Act as the legislative framework to do so is surely the definition of GUBU.

Perhaps even more so than the endemically corrupt Fianna Fáil, Enda’s party is the party of The Lads. Those who have most get more, those who have least get nothing at all.

Labour will begin its struggle to make itself relevant again, oblivious to the fact that Connolly died for his principles, while they immediately abandoned theirs to give a few ageing men one last shot at a ministerial post, where they gleefully inflicted misery on the people who had voted for them, begging for protection.

Like its protagonists, the Rising was complicated, messy and not easily interpreted, but the history ever since is somewhat easier to read.

A hundred years on, Ireland has, on the whole, failed to live up to its promise.

Too often it has failed the poor and the weakest in society, often consciously and deliberately as politicians descended from those who filled the power vacuum by creating a system to benefit themselves and their cronies.

Forget our music and our food and our culture.

Forget the high esteem in which our people – not our politicians or bankers, not The Lads – are held around the world.

Forget our athletes and our artists and our innovators.

All this exists in spite of, not because of, the country we have created out of the ashes of the Rising.

We can celebrate all these things another day.

If you want to commemorate the Rising properly, do so by not accepting the Bórd Fáilte narrative.

The Rising belongs not to them, or the politicians, or The Lads and their vested interests.

It belongs to those who bear the heaviest burden form a political system that demands their servitude but denies their needs, just as it did in 1916.

So skip the official “celebrations” and stick instead to history and the original date of April 24.

Go to the GPO, or to any other post office that has yet to be closed by the march of “progress”.

Stand there in angry silence for a minute and remember what Pearse and the others promised, and how pathetically little their political descendants have delivered.

Then go off and, in the words of Gandhi, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

That means tearing down the system of clientelism and privilege, of recognising the dignity of each and every person, and of demanding the highest standards from everyone in public office.

It means accepting that we have to pay our share, and that taking “uncomfortable decisions” means that we too will be affected.

It means doing not what is best for ourselves, but what is just and noble and right, even if we personally lose out.

That would be a truly revolutionary act in modern Ireland.

 

 

Biggest failures in #GE16? Labour, FF, FG and journalism

What election were you watching?

The one I saw was the utter destruction of the status quo.

Incredibly, what a lot of my colleagues apparently saw was a resurgence of it, in the form of Fianna Fáil.

Who, incidentally, had their second-worst election on record.

I saw the outright rejection of the traditional right-wing (note – not centre-right) notion of “stability”of so-called Christian democrats as embodied by the singularly inept and staggeringly incompetent Enda Kenny.

I saw the annihilation of the Irish Labour Party, 100 years after its founder was tied to a chair and shot for his revolutionary tendencies, solely because it abandoned those people who begged it with their votes to protect them.

I saw an election where a motley crew of traitors and treacherous sleeveens record their second-worst election since 1927.

I saw the return of Lowry and two Healy-Raes in an indication that the parish pump of Irish politics is still in full flow in certain parts of the country.

I saw an election that saw Sinn Féin finally returned to the political mainstream after the horrors of the “Long War.”

I saw record numbers of small parties and independents returned as the establishment which has failed Ireland since the foundation of the state was sent packing.

And I saw a fourth estate in the form of the Irish media that couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

Throughout the count, journalists and broadcasters have struggled to understand virtually all the phenomena described above, instead choosing the easy angle of the Fianna Fáil “resurgence” – despite the fact that it has seldom in its history been as weak as it is now.

The paralysis is evidenced by the “experts” called to give their opinions – almost to a man (and occasional woman), they are part of the establishment they built, all while the media stroked their egos.

We had the laughable sight of snake-oil salesman Pat Rabbitte calling anyone who annoyed him “ultra-left” and making the staggering observation that Labour – who pissed in the faces of the poor that voted for them and assured them it was raining – is the “only Social Democratic party” in Ireland.

We’ve had Jody Corcoran, whose Sunday Independent newspaper were the big losers in the election as their private Renua party ran aground on its maiden voyage, now lionizing Micheál Martin – a man they have consistently attacked for five years, but who now holds the balance of power.

And we have the return of the odious Conor Lenihan, possibly the greatest spiv of them all – a man who, together with his inept brother and the rest of their cronies, ruined Ireland.

Not only did he contribute to destroying the country – when he was done, he took his state pensions and jumped ship to tout for foreign direct investment.

For Russia.

The problem of Irish political analysis by journalists was laid bare by the pleasantries exchanged – “congratulations on your election/commiserations on losing your seat.”

Whatever you think of them, your job as a political journalist is not to engage in niceties with people in power, or those who would aspire to have it – it is to ask intelligent pertinent questions on behalf of readers and listeners and viewers.

Time and again last night, bitter Fine Gael politicians contended that it was up to the opposition to take the reins of government.

This conveniently ignored the fact that, despite their abject failure, they would still have a considerable influence on how that government might look, especially if they swallowed their pride and joined Fianna Fáil.

Elsewhere, Labour’s increasing variety of failures all used the same three words as the headed to the gallows – “the national interest”.

Seldom were either of these two self-serving, petulant narratives questioned by the journalists interviewing them.

As I’ve stated elsewhere many times, bias is not always conscious; it is sometimes a function of class and privilege and position.

It is my sincere belief that too many journalists are bound to their desks recycling press releases,tweets and Youtube sound-bytes, and not out in the field actually talking to people and building their own understanding.

In truth, far too many of those in positions of power in Irish media and who are in turn tasked with holding those in power to account are too close to be able to do so properly.

A case in point – when Brian Cowen imitated Ryder Cup golfer Philip Walton and made fun of his speech impediment late one night in a bar, there were plenty of journalists present.

Not only did they not report it – they laughed along.

If, then, reporters are too close to those they should be holding to account, it is easy to understand why they absorb the narratives fed to them like crumbs from the top table.

It is easy to see how the establishment line becomes the truth as quickly as it does.

If Labour are the greatest failures, and Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are not far behind, we must be honest and say that journalism has also failed the democratic process in Ireland.

It is not an easy place to work, but the inability to either predict or explain the outcome illustrates the need for voices who go against the grain, who do not cosy up to the powerful, and who put no price on their ability to say what they see.

In short, what we need is more independent journalists, and less Independent journalists.

And until we get that, we will only be getting the part of the story the insiders and career politicians want us to hear.

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.

 

 

 

Shock around the clock – but no change

The hoo-ha about the CRC payoff (and indeed Irish Water) is probably a welcome diversion for James Reilly and the government.

After all, it keeps the focus off the real source of the problem – that the Ireland we have created is designed for the benefit of a few while consistently failing the vast majority its citizens.

For all their talk about change, would Ireland really be that different if Fine Gael and Labour once again ceded power to the greedy spivs of Fianna Fáil?

The point is not that the CRC does great work. It is not that the CRC board are inept at best and downright devious in their dealings with the state at worst.

It’s not even about the fact that that the chairman of that board received a massive payoff when he finally stepped down.

The point is that, in a civil, developed, well-functioning democratic society, the CRC should not exist at all.

In a well-functioning, democratic society there would be a health service available to those who need it – in particular those who need it most.

In a well-functioning democratic society, those families and others who support them wouldn’t have to go out and beg for support, fundraising to ensure that the services which give their loved ones a better of quality of life are maintained, only to see their money pocketed by those who feel more entitled than the ostensibly less well-off.

In a well-functioning democracy, the staff and management would be well looked after by the state – and held accountable to it when things are not as they should be.

Instead, we have a professional class that sits on boards, claiming huge salaries for themselves while seeing children go without wheelchairs for months on end.

And then, when they’re found out, we have deals done for them to go quietly and prosperously into the night.

Not for a moment do I fault them, by the way – that they accept huge amounts of money for little or no work and at no risk to themselves is not their fault. It is the fault of those offering it. On your behalf.

The spoofing has already started, James Reilly intoning gravely that the government “will use all available options open to it, including corporate enforcement, the gardaí and civil courts” to get the CRC payoff money back.

The truth? That money is gone. That payoff was mandated in a legally-binding contract, and it had to happen. No amount of Reilly’s spoofing will change that fact. The money is gone, and it’s not coming back.

It’s just another milestone in a long litany of failures that seem to be occurring more and more regularly in recent years.

Almost since the foundation of the state, Ireland has abdicated its responsibility to its citizens.

It abandoned the health and education sectors to the clutches of the Catholic church, which indoctrinated its misery into the country’s youth for generations, physically and sexually abusing them with impunity, and then sullenly refusing to make restitution when they were eventually found out.

And now, with the church thankfully on the slippery slope to terminal irrelevance, Ireland has instead embraced capitalism as its new savior, outsourcing everything except the accountability for services, which remains curiously unassigned.

Ireland has become the perfect example of what Naomi Klein described in the Shock Doctrine – a society sacrificed on the altar of the most savage kind of capitalism.

(Anyone considering refuting that might want to have a look at where the €50 million on “consultant’s fees” for Irish water went before calming down.)

But the state is a product of its democracy, and the real blame lies with those who continue to elect fools and gombeens to government, regardless of their ineptitude.

The reason Ireland is a failure as a state is not because of the bankers or the fat cats or the spiv politicians.

It’s because, when confronted with injustice on a staggering scale, voters take one look out the window and rather than revolt, they call Joe Duffy instead.

There’s a bit of Twitter outrage, the odd headline in the papers, and then … nothing.

Nothing changes. Nothing happens. The kleptomania carries on, and the Irish people just watch as their money is pissed away on them.

The barricades remain unbuilt and unmanned.

The failure continues.

Welfare tourism a one-way ticket for a go on the spin machine

Joan Burton – sign on, check in, fly out.

One of the only classes I vividly remember from secondary school was a civics class, when the teacher taught us how to read a newspaper.

Properly. Critically. Without fear or favour.

It is probably the only lesson that I learned in my five years there that I felt was any use – but it’s not a bad one, considering it has enabled me to make a living.

I thought of that this morning when I read the latest Irish Times puff piece backing up Joan Burton and her soft-focus attempt to come across as some sort of benign Irish Thatcher as she cracks down on “welfare tourism.”

In this process she is often aided by journalists and readers who fail to cast a critical eye over her claims that it is welfare recipients, and not her moneyed masters, that represent the greatest threat to Irish society – if they did, she would be instantly revealed to be spinning. Again.

The article is breathless in its promise, giving us a statistic that “one case has been detected every four days.”

It then goes on to produce Burton’s most fantastic, and transparently made-up, claim.

Welfare inspectors at ports and airports discovered 122 cases in the past 18 months, saving the State €1.35m as a result, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said.

Firstly, “discovering” one case every four days is entirely irrelevant, as you’ll soon find out.

And the €1.35 million in savings is based on “estimates (of) future payments the welfare recipients would have received if they were not detected,” according to the Department.

That is to say – in Anglo parlance – that the Department “pulled the figure out of their arse.” They stuck their finger in the air and put 122 cases together, and came up with €1.35 million out of nowhere.

By this point most readers would have headed on over to theJournal.ie to engage in a flurry of comments about ne’er-do-wells too lazy to work.

A shame, because if they read further they’d discover that the 122 cases led to a whopping FIVE prosecutions.

And the concrete, non-pulled-out-of-the-arse figure for money recovered by the state? €54,000, or an average of around €11,000, give or take a claimable ministerial expense.

That can hardly be a sum Burton considers huge, given that she pays her “special adviser” €35,796 (or the tangible equivalent of three fraudulent social welfare claims) as a top-up to the €92,000 they are supposedly restricted to.

(For the record, the bank bailout will arguably end up costing each Irish citizen around €16,500. Maybe Joanie’s cronies would have been better off dispensing with the clipboard and waiting for the Troika with a baseball bat in the arrivals hall instead.)

There is a widespread belief, fostered by successive governments, that Ireland’s real enemies are the handful of crooks (and the fact that there have been only five prosecutions shows it’s truly a handful) that check in, sign on and fly out.

But those doing the real damage are those who fly into Ireland with a laptop bag, not a holdall.

For all their talk about “the most vulnerable,” Joan and the rest of the Labour Party insist on demonising welfare recipients – many of them put in that situation thanks to Burton’s government and its myopic insistence on continuing with their austerity fetish.

Having been constantly cowed, they do what any supplicant does in a corporate culture – kiss upwards and kick downwards. Their journey to the dark side is complete.

But rather than standing at the airport trying to save the odd ten grand (and at what cost?), Joan might spend a day or two at the departure gates this Christmas, apologising to all those forced to leave because of the ineptitude of her, her party and her government.

In Ireland, nothing lies like numbers, but most of the time they can’t even get them right.

 

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.

EXIT POLL: Five reflections on Ireland’s Yes

In the absence of any definitive figures, I’m going to cave in and do what I always criticise others for doing- jump to a few conclusions, engage in a bit of hyperbole and speculation and all the rest.

1. Judging by reports from several areas, Labour has finally abandoned- and been abandoned by – Ireland’s working class.

The party of Connolly said “Yes”, those who still believe in his ideals said “No”. Soon to join the PDs, and not before time, they sold out their principles so that the old guard could have one last grab for power. History will not be kind to Europe’s most right-wing worker’s movement.

2. Enda Kenny is a pathetically inept politician – but that doesn’t matter now, as we’ve ceded everything to Europe. Political history will pass a harsh judgement on Kenny’s hide-and-seek act; holder of an office already gelded by the ineptitude of his predecessors, he gave the rest away without a fight.

3. Twitter is a terrible barometer of political sentiment. It failed to adequately reflect the fear and confusion experienced by most Irish voters as they went to the polls. The yes side mostly came across as braying idealists, the nos as merchants of doom.

But worst of all were the parties themselve, and the odious ógras that polluted the timelne of every broadcast debate with scripted, inane platitudes that contributed nothing.

The born-again fervour of those in charge of the official accounts of the political parties indicates that they  clearly have no understanding of social media, or of democracy in genreal – it’s a dialogue, not a broadcast medium. And shouting your opinion is bad manners, wherever you do it.

4. Markets continue to slide, indicating the irrelevance of a Yes vote. Whereas a no vote- similar to those in genreal and presidential elections in Greece and France respectively – would have given pause for thought, we have silently acquiesced. We were essentially voting on behalf of everyone who couldn’t, and there’s a good chance we disappointed a lot of them.

5. In voting yes, we have enshrined the ideology of small government in the constitution. This is the single most damning effect of the treaty, as it limits governments in the application of Keynesian solutions to economic problems.

Despite market reaction to austerity and debt, despite Bo Lundgren (architect of the solution during Sweden’s 90s crisis) saying stimulus is a necessary as austerity, despite Nobel laureate Paul Krugman’s late statements,  we did what the neoliberal movement all over the world has envisaged, and voted to enshrine their ideology as part of our national laws.

Just as this treaty had no chance of bringing stability (check out the indifferent market reaction), the fiscal treaty itself cannot bring certainty. Different problems and different circumstances call for different  solutions- instead of having the freedom to choose from them, we have gone ahead and written the only ones proven not to work into law.

Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out

Life is a bed of roses for Labour leader

A few months ago it actually seemed possible. In the middle of Garglegate and the attendant witch hunt, it was whispered and then said out loud- Eamon Gilmore could be Taoiseach.

Those sporting blue shirts under their canvassing macs now openly mock the notion, but for a brief, fleeting moment Ireland was on the cusp of becoming a modern democracy.

Instead of being defined by what side they took in the Civil War, parties would now nail their colours to more traditional masts of right and left.

But what began with a socialist bang has now gone out with a whimper, and Labour only have themselves to blame. Their decline in the polls is hardly down to the political skill and charisma of the likes of Enda Kenny and Mícheál Martin – they have none.

Labour’s ills are very much of their own making, and they were made at the very top. When Enda Kenny was bunkering down and staying out of the limelight, Gilmore and Joan Burton were turning on the righteous anger- and the Irish people immediately turned off.

Though wonderfully hospitable and generous neighbours, Irish people are not natural socialists. Eight hundred years of occupation means that a dislike of and contempt for government is inbuilt in our DNA, and voting for bigger government goes against their nature. For most Irish people, casting a vote for Labour is like political chemotherapy – it might get rid of the cancer, but it’s still not something to look forward to.

At this point in time, the Irish electorate don’t want righteous anger- they have enough of that themselves. What they want is leadership, not the pointless political posturing Labour pursued.

Burton’s bizarre performance on Vincent Browne when she attacked all round her gave birth to the Moan Burton tag, and simultaneously put paid to her ambition to be finance minister.

And as for Gilmore’s righteous anger, that is long gone and he is now reduced to begging the electorate for transfers to shoehorn Fine Gael into a coalition they do not want. The man who would be Taoiseach may now end up outside government altogether, splitting the leadership of the opposition with Gerry Adams as Míchael Martin looks on enviously from the back benches.

There will of course be no shame in that for Martin- he was given an impossible job, and having any TDs at all in the next Dáil wil be a triumph for him. Nor does he seem like the sort to be ashamed of anything anyway.

Not so for Gilmore and Burton, who will be looking wistfully across the chamber at the government benches and wondering what might have been if they had taken the age-old saying to heart- better to keep your mouth shut and have everyone think you’re an idiot than to open it and confirm their suspicions.

It’s Not Just The Parties That Set The Agenda

Fine Gael functionaries in Leitrim deal with Bobby's questions

In the end, there was no empty chair. Plenty of empty rhetoric and a bunch of hollow threats and empty promises, but no empty chair. So who were the real winners last night?

At a stretch, bearded Bobby in Leitrim made the best case- if he had been slightly more eloquent and cut short his rant a little, the man who called Kenny out before being thrown out himself would have been the major winner in last night’s debates. As it was, they threw up nothing, apart from another chance for the parties to repeat their messages again.

There is a truism in communication that the listener cannot be told what to think, but they can be told what to think about. People are most influenced by others around them – family members, friends, co-workers, team-mates etc., and it is by discussing the issues of the day with them that we come to our own conclusions.

By focussing on what you are good at – or indeed what the other crowd are bad at – you control what people talk about in the pubs and factories around the country, and that is what ultimately gives you a chance to change their minds.

No election poster or canvasser in the world ever convinced someone to change their vote; we don’t trust them the way we trust our friends and family, and rightly so. They are in it for them, not us.

Seen in the context of this election, Mícheál Martin is hoping to look forward and to conveniently ignore the fact that the banks stole the country on his watch. There will be no more “sorry”, no more excuses, for a good reason – there is simply no chance that they can convince us that what anything they did in government was of any benefit whatsoever. Their legacy is tarnished beyond repair.

Instead, he and the rest of Fianna Fail would have us suspend our better judgement, ignore the past and give them another crack of the whip, as if everything that happened was beyond their control. Frighteningly, about 16% of voters have already bought this line of reasoning.

For Labour, the balancing act is more difficult. Irish people have a pathological aversion to paying tax, and any mention of raising them will cause voters to run a mile. But without taxes there can be no stimulus, and besides, the burden of the ECB/IMF debt cannot be serviced without money coming in to the state’s coffers. It is easier for Labour to concentrate on attacking the opposition than pushing their own agenda.

Meanwhile, Enda Kenny and Fine Gael are in pole position and the election is theirs to throw away- and with the defensive tactics they are employing, they could yet do so.

Kenny’s charisma deficit is a major flaw, but not fatal; what could prove fatal is his mealy-mouthed excuses for not engaging with the other leaders, and his clumsy efforts to avoid the arena in which he is least comfortable.

If he were straight with the electorate, they’d probably forgive him. No-one likes a chicken, but for once the public is well-prepared to accept a leader who doesn’t pretend to have all the answers- having been fooled into believing that Bertie Ahern, Charlie McCreevy and Brian Cowen had somehow become economic geniuses because they could engineer a property boom, it’ll be a long time before they trust anyone again.

Kenny would do well to study the steady hand at the tiller that is displayed by Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeld – since taking over the Moderate party, Reinfeldt has reinvented himself as a statesman, carefully delegating responsibility but always seeming in control.

He, like Kenny, is charismatic in person but it doesn’t transfer well to the medium of TV, and the first step to solving this problem is to acknowledge it and not try to force it – we’re trying to elect a leader here, not a host for the Late Late Show. Instead, Kenny has in turn tried to run away from it, and then tightly control it by broadcasting his own public meeting on the internet. In doing so, he has made himself a laughing stock.

SInn Féin have been a bit schizophrenic, mixing some excellent contributions with some seriously shoddy ones, especially on economic issues. The opposition has managed to create the impression that they can’t do detail, and that is likely to stick unless they either buck up on the homework or shift the focus entirely.

The outcome of this election depends on who manages to dictate not what we think, but what we think about. The revelations this morning that Anglo may need another €15 billion would, in any other country, have buried Fianna Fail forever.

The no-show by Enda Kenny and his subsequent kicking by bearded Bobby would have put paid to Enda’s chance of being Taoiseach, had there been a credible alternative. Eamon Gilmore had the chance to show that he was that alternative on the TV3 debate, but didn’t – or couldn’t – take it.

And that is essentially what we should be thinking about – the lack of a credible alternative to the politicians that have repeatedly failed us. There are still no big ideas, there is still a yawning chasm in the credibility of all the leading politicians, who in effect allowed this to happen.

But it works both ways – we can’t tell our leaders what to think, but on the doorsteps and in the media we should be telling them what to think about, such as burying the bad banks and providing a future for the country that is not overshadowed by debt and death on hospital trolleys.

By communicating our own agenda loud and clear, we can at least get them to talk about it among themselves, and maybe even change their minds as we go along.