Monday, March 25, 2013

Have We Learned Anything in the Past Five Years?

Des Geraghty, late of the Workers’ Party, Democratic Left and SIPTU, said something in passing when reviewing the papers on The Week inPolitics yesterday that should have made the nation stop and take notice. Presenter Seán O’Rourke asked Des about Cyprus. Des replied that “unfortunately for Cyprus, it’s the latest part in the on-running saga about the Eurozone. The crisis seems to shift from country apart from our own.”

Apart from our own. At the start of the Eurozone Crisis, which itself is a subset of of the worldwide Great Recession, Ireland was identified as one of the countries most at risk of economic collapse, the so-called PIIGS – Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain (it’s only last week that anyone outside of either Cyprus or Greece found out that Cyprus was even part of the Eurozone, of course). If the crisis is, as Geraghty says, shifting from country to country apart from our own, does that mean that our country might have – gasp – done something right? Might have weathered the storm? Might yet take her place among the nations of the Earth?

You would think, after the long hard years of austerity and Morgan Kelly prophecies and IMFs and Troikas and the rest of it that there would be some sort of national holiday declared. That the Taoiseach would address the nation with this happy news, that the nation is at safe harbour once again.

Of course, a reason not to do that would be that Ireland may not be in safe harbour at all. So much unexpected doom has descended from clear blue skies in the past five years that the Taoiseach would be forgiven for taking nothing for granted. But that said, Cyprus has been an object lesson in what happens when you try to bluff the financial world’s royal flush with your miserable pair of fives. You get whomped, and whomped good.

And how could it be any other way? People talk about right and wrong in these things. There is no right or wrong in financial markets. There is only capital – who’s got it, and who wants it. Nothing else.

The government, both this one and the last one, recognised that from the start and got with the program. That is why you’re reading this at your leisure now, rather than queuing at an ATM for your daily ration of what was once your own money.

The tragedy for the nation is that the nation doesn’t know this. As far as the nation is concerned, Angela Merkel is the worst oul' wagon since Maggie Thatcher, we’re all slaves to Europe and musha, I don’t know what we’re going to do at all.

There is a fundamental disconnect with how politics is conducted in this country and how its perceived by the electorate – the people who mandate the politicians to conduct the politics in the first place. We elect politicians to fix drains and get harangue low grade and underpaid civil servants to get pensions for people who don’t deserve them. When it comes to global economic catastrophe, having one over on a county manager somewhere doesn’t really cut it.

This week sees the Meath East by-election, where the favourite to be elected is the twenty-six year old daughter of the man who’s tragic death caused the by-election in the first place. She is surely doing her duty by her lights, but it’s a lot to ask of anyone who’s been through that trauma to just step up like nothing happened. Meanwhile, the other candidates are usual suspects, with the exception of a Captain Birds-Eye lookalike who makes Mick Wallace look like Pericles of Athens.

After the crash we were told things would never be the same again. Things are exactly the same again. The world has changed. Ireland has gone through the valley of darkness and come out the other side, but the people haven’t really noticed. And two years on from the Moriarty Tribunal, it’s very much business as usual behind the closed doors of Irish public life.