Analysis/Comment
Ireland, an Béal Bocht and a freshly varnished Victims' Cross
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Mar 3, 2011 - 6:05 AM

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Government Buildings, Dublin.

Ireland has in past times had good practice with an béal bocht and sometimes with good reason. In recent years, with the return of economic woes the victims' cross has been re-varnished and some of those who dined on the fatted calf during the goods years, appear to see a chance to maintain their comfortable status quo by putting all the onus on Europeans to sort out our problems.

John Banville, the Irish writer, wrote in The New York Times last November, that we Celtic Tiger cubs set up a great roaring and ranting in response to the economic crash. Who is to blame for our sudden travails? we demanded - - somebody must be to blame. The bankers? Them, certainly. The politicians? Well, the politicians are always to blame, so nothing new there. The markets, those shadowy entities that seem to operate by whim? Ourselves, perhaps?  --  now, there was a sobering possibility.

Banville said:
"There used to be a nice acronym that neatly expressed how the Irish people conceive of themselves: MOPE, that is, Most Oppressed People Ever."

Then last weekend, we saw that in a historic election, the machine politics of the once dominant Fianna Fáil, had been rejected in a crushing defeat.

SEE: The maturing of Irish democracy

On Monday, a post-election thread on the Irish Economy Blog began with a post saying the election had replaced "tweedledum with tweedledee" and continued with more whingeing.

My response was: "What a depressing shower!!

You are not the types I would have out selling on a wet Monday morning."

We had 3 general elections in the period 1997-2007 and the result was an economic crash with generational consequences.

It's only fools who say that last Friday's result is irrelevant.

On Tuesday, Fintan O'Toole in The Irish Times said from his comfortable armchair that "revolutionary transformation is the only hope for future of the nation - - and Eamon Gilmore’s Labour party."

He added that there is overwhelming agreement that the most important outcome of the election is a stable government. "When there’s overwhelming agreement about anything in Irish politics, it is usually wrong," the once aspiring election candidate said and he set a marker for the Labour Party: "a successful confrontation with the EU at the end of March which changes all the parameters" - -  this is man who wrote weeks before on his decision not to contest the election that he's better suited as a hurler on the ditch.

The deadline was a clever move from O'Toole's vantage point: set up an impossible 3-week challenge for the Labour Party and spend the most of 5 years sniping from the sidelines.

He uses slogans such as 'revolutionary transformation' and 'radical change' but the term 'reform' is missing.

It is foolish to expect the 26 other countries of the EU or 16 of the Eurozone to agree to all Irish demands by the end of March.

The new government has for a start to get an unvarnished view of the banking system and strict stress tests will have to be completed. Besides, we need to find some allies in Europe for a change.

So apart from thumping the table in Brussels, this concept of 'revolutionary transformation' is very vague.

Is O'Toole about to gift his second house to a people's collective?; challenge vested interests of the Left and Right? - - I don't think so!; establish more State monopolies or near monopolies like the ESB, CIÉ and RTÉ and make them the best paid workplaces in the State with staff given direct shareholdings?

Yes we have to fight our corner in Europe but putting a 3-week deadline on it is a joke.

'Transformational change' has been promised by the trade unions in the public sector, which is progressing at the speed of a glacier. Why the silence on such issues? Conservative revolutionary transformation is more stirring -- as long as no sacred cows are culled or vested interests threatened.

We have an unjust society where lawyers on public contracts investigating corruption can earn up to €10m in just a decade.  
 
We have hospital consultants straddling the public and private sectors who can earn double the level of counterparts in Norway - - Europe's richest country.  
 
We have politicians who as public servants feathered their own nests and yes, we have bubble costs in areas of the public sector and the protected professional sector.  
 
Only 13% of the workforce are in the internationally tradeable goods and services sector and for most of the majority of the rest of the workforce, it's an alien place.  
 
People can dream of a socialist/communist Nirvana and I would never tell people how to live their lives but unless you want a pastoral self-sufficient type lifestyle, living on a rock facing the Atlantic, we have to produce goods and services that other people would buy for what would be viewed as a reasonable price.  
 
We have a bizarre situation where more than 200,000 have lost their jobs and in other than large firms, basic redundancy is paid to people who don't even have an occupational pension.

It would be nice in a Nirvana, if everybody had guaranteed job security, high pay and public sector pensions!  
 
But can a small economy that relies on American firms for 91% of its exports, afford to have everyone on the pensions of the public service, the ESB and RTÉ?  
 
Don't be fooled by this nonsense of 'revolutionary transformation' because the conservative Left is as eager as the conservative Right to protect their privileges.  
 
Why have the vested interests across the spectrum a tacit agreement on opposing change?
 
The Left had a blindspot for the brutal tyranny of the Soviet system until 1989/1990 and it only sees the blindspots of the Right, when it suits.  
 
"We campaign in poetry, but when we’re elected we’re forced to govern in prose,” New York governor, Mario Cuomo, said in a speech at Yale University, in 1985.  
 
There should be no doubt that if the Labour Party was governing with other parties of the Left, there would be plenty prose; this is why the Marxian dream of brotherhood and apple pie invariably ends up in a dictatorship.

On Wednesday, the well-off Vincent Browne wrote that on the Labour side most believe in what they call incrementalism (the incremental advancement of equality), even though they have every reason to know that incrementalism has not worked before and won’t work now.

On equality, any number of welfare programmes or quangos with overpaid well-meaning people, cannot trump sustainable job creation that would provide hope for tens of thousands of people.

This is the greatest challenge and Vincent Browne should know himself from his senior roles in 2 media businesses that failed, developing a successful business can be a much harder job than that of a politician.

Also on Wednesday, the celebrity economist David Williams wrote in respect of dealing with the European Union: "Proper negotiation is needed, and if that fails, unilateral action will be required. To make that unilateral action more palatable and more democratic, it would be a good move for the new government to call a referendum on the banking stitch-up. This would ease their position and make it more difficult for the EU to actively crush Ireland."

So unilateral action could be more 'palatable' after a referendum and there's no need to be concerned about the potential for serious collateral damage.

During the bubble the likes of Bank of Ireland economist, Dan McLaughlin, could take to the national airwaves and present their sunny scenarios without serious challenge and it's the same today whether it's letting the banks collapse, default or exiting the euro.

We have well-off middle class individuals like McWilliams, Fintan O'Toole and Vincent Browne, proposing very serious action while being sheltered from the week-to-week struggles of indigenous firms and their worried employees across the country.

Apart from the impact on overseas depositors in Irish banks, a serious confrontation with Europe now, would trigger speculation across the world that Ireland would be forced out of the Eurozone; The Daily Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard would be on the first plane to Dublin to lead a gloatfest and fragile export business would be in peril.

When Iceland crashed, it had a choice of its Nordic neighbours and the IMF to help or Putin's Russia.

Argentina had Venezuela's Hugo Chávez.

Who would support Ireland?

Then all the eejits hankering for simple panaceas, would conclude: "Shur we all knew that f..er Kenny wasn't up to the job...Can you pass the smoked salmon?"

It's time for the whingers to come down from the clouds or for people with sense to ignore them.


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