Monday, November 14, 2011

Preventing the Future - Irish Politics Crippled by Lack of Vision

The spectacular trauma of the economic crash resulted in the current Government receiving the greatest popular mandate since the first Dáil itself. This should have Enda Kenny and his government a tremendous sense of power and purpose.

But the Government doesn’t seem empowered by the mandate, or even intimidated by it. It seems indifferent to it, the strangest reaction of all.

It’s like the coalition is unaware of the state of crisis in the country. Instead of realizing that they have been mandated to set the foundations of Ireland 3.0, the Government seem to think it’s business as usual.

It was Fianna Fáil’s turn, and now it’s our turn. So we’ll go through the same motions, but instead of their lads getting the gravy, it’ll be ours. Any notion of this being the sort of messing that sank the country in the first place seems beyond them.

The cynicism of the education cuts crystalizes the issue. For all their eagerness to use the IMF and the troika as an excuse, the Government is every bit as empowered to govern as any other government since the Treaty. Economic sovereignty has not been removed, contrary to popular belief.

The Government has to pay back the IMF just previous governments had to pay back loans gained in the money markets. The belt might be tighter, but the suit remains the same. It’s not like Michael Noonan is the first Irish Minister for Finance to look at an empty larder.

It’s a matter of supreme indifference to the IMF what the Government cut or don’t cut. All they care about is getting their money back. Because if they did care, the IMF would tell the Government that the proposed education cuts are not the way to go about planning for the future.

The particular cuts in question are the reduction in teacher numbers by two thousand and the ending of free post-graduate courses. Why cut two thousand teachers and post-grad grants? To save money. Are there other ways to save money? Yes, of course there are. So why choose this way? The reason for the cut is a legacy of the last government, but where and how deep is entirely up to the present one.

It could be An Spailpín’s cynical way of looking at the world, but the most obvious reason for making these cuts is because there’s no-one to complain. Two thousand teachers aren’t being laid off. Those teachers don’t exist yet, so nobody is fully sure if this is coming to their particular door.

The Teacher Unions represent current teachers, not projected ones. And while they should be looking to the future of their profession – well, it’s a fault in the Irish psyche that we value self-interest above all else.

It’s the same with post-grad grants. It’s a cut to the future, rather than the present. USI may huff and puff but once they’re marching down O’Connell Street, who’ll be able to tell them apart from Occupy Dame Street, The Irish Anti-War Movement or whatever other spurious organisations that have chosen that particular Saturday to waste the public’s time? Checkmate, sonny.

The Government was mandated to turn the system upside down, but it has no sense of that mandate. It has no sense of how the nation is at a crossroads in our history. It has no sense of that at all.

Tom Garvin published a book called Preventing the Future in 2006, about the myriad failures in Irish economic policy since the foundation of the state. But the subtext of the book is interesting – a tacit understanding that all those disasters are in the past, and that we have now started Ireland 2.0.

The same subtext is in David McWilliams’ Pope’s Children, for all he might try to reimagine it now – the idea that the Irish would never be so poor or so stupid again. The book is subtitled "Ireland's New Elite," after all.

There is no sense of how wrong that assumption proved to be being projected by the current Government. There is no sense of either a realization that the Irish are doomed to be poor or that the Irish are a nation who were on the cusp of something great, hit a bump in the road but is fully capable of rising again.

The current state of the nation is one or other of those alternatives. It cannot be both. And we need to know which it is if we are to progress.

Instead of answering that crucial question, the first six months of the administration have been spent on self-congratulation, optics, pope-bashing, losing a referendum and trying to pin the blame solely on Alan Shatter, now that Fianna Fáil aren’t around any more. It has not been spent in rolling up sleeves, taking stock or doing the vision thing.

The next six weeks will be about furiously shoving the round peg of no new taxes into the square hole of no new cuts. This is because finding jockeys for hobby-horses takes precedence over realizing that this Government has a mandate for change like no administration before.

It’s such a pity that they seem too dumb to realise what an incredible chance this is to change the country for ever. God help us all.