‘…the government is determined to give this €7 billion to these bankers at all costs. That no matter how difficult the negotiations, no matter how tough a bargain the banks drive, the government has no other strategy but to recapitalise. That the government has a default position that AIB and Bank of Ireland will be part of the solution no matter what the price. Why would this be so? Is it a kind of loyalty to fellow members of the golden circle? Is it to prevent the banks from calling in their tabs with Fianna Fáil’s best mates in the building industry? Why does this Fianna Fáil led government seem so determined to roll over and have their bellies tickled by AIB and Bank of Ireland? Are they completely incompetent or completely corrupt?’
The quote above is from piece I posted on February 11th 2009. It is hard to fathom how in just 21 months we have gone from a €7 billion bank recapitalisation to where we are today. This evening our government signed up to saddle the country with a €67 billion debt. That is over €16,000 for every man woman and child in the state. On top of this they have all but cleaned out the National Pension Reserve Fund and paid out another €5 billion from our cash reserves. This all comes on top of the €20 billion plus we have ploughed into Anglo Irish bank, €7 billion to AIB and Bank of Ireland and €55 billion of bank debts which was quietly repaid to the ECB in August 2010.
What has all this been for?
The government and the EU would have us believe that Ireland’s financial woes exist in a vacuum. That all of this is being done to save the Irish economy from total meltdown. The EU and the IMF are shining knights, riding in to save us from ourselves.
Forget the white knuckle terror in Frankfurt and Paris and London that major financial institutions in those cities would be washed away in a tide of bad debt if Irish banks were left to sort out their own mess. Forget the real fear in Brussels that somewhere down the line the EU could find itself having to bail out a major European economy in Spain or Italy if this thing is not nipped in the bud. The ‘rescue’ of Ireland’s economy is the first salvo in a fierce battle to save German, French and British banks from a major default by AIB, Bank of Ireland, Anglo Irish and, on a much smaller scale, Irish Nationwide, on massive loans which under usual, sane banking rules they would never have received. It is, we are told, going to prevent contagion from spreading, first to Portugal, which is even now teetering on the brink of collapse, and from there to the remaining members of the PIIGS club, Spain and Italy. It is, apparently, going to save the Euro currency itself from collapse and may, incredibly, secure the future of the fifty year old European Union project. It’s fantastic really. Plucky little Ireland, without a thought for its own safety (or its elderly, its sick, its poor and its future generations), is going to hurl itself into the raging river of recession to haul the whole of Europe to terra firma. Do we want any thanks for this unique act of bravery and self-sacrifice? Will we sit by the phone awaiting news of the Queen’s New Year’s honours list? Will Lady Hibernia order a new frock in anticipation of an evening at a Legion d’honneur ceremony in Paris? Will she, fuck. Not only do we refuse any thanks or gratitude for sacrificing our future generations, we are actually willing to pay handsomely for the privilege of being the hero of Europe. We have pledged to pay up to €3.8 billion in annual interest payments for this wonderful honour.
If I remove my tongue from my cheek for a moment I must confess to being extremely puzzled. If this bailout is of such huge benefit to over 500 million people across Europe, why are just 4 million people in Ireland being asked to foot the bill for the entire deal? Why are our ‘friends’ in the EU asking us to enrich them to the tune of over €2.5 billion each year in punitive interest payments?
Suppose for a moment that you are in a spot of bother with the building society. You’re three months behind on the mortgage, having lost your jobs nine months ago. You have, however, just secured new employment and your new wage allows you to easily meet your monthly outgoings. The building society is not playing fair though. They want all of the arrears repaid immediately or they are going to take your house. What can you do. Well you could approach your best friend in the whole world, whom you know to be quite solvent, incredibly flush with ready funds, in fact, and ask him if he could see his way to digging you out (interesting phrase) to the tune of five grand, which you will easily repay within the year. Isn’t that what best friends in the whole world do for each other? Imagine your chagrin if your supposed best friend were to insist that the five grand be repaid with an extra 5.8% on top.
‘Yeah, I love you mate. I know I’m godfather to your eldest kid but, you know, business is business. Five grand cash now, 5,290 next year. Sweet as a nut.’
For our supreme act of heroism, stupidity or just plain folly (take your pick) in saving the entire European Union from implosion we are willing to pay an almost unimaginable price.
Alan Ginsberg said, ‘America, this is serious’ Well Europe, this is serious. People are going to die because of what Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan did today. People will die who would not have died if this money was available to provide proper public healthcare. Children with special needs will sit unrecognised and unfulfilled at the back of Irish classrooms because the special needs assistant is not there. Women will stay in violent abusive homes because the shelter to which they could have escaped will not be there. The list of those who will suffer because of this is long, very long, and it will touch every person, every home in the nation.
Brian Cowen’s press conference performance tonight was abysmal. I listened live as I drove along the M4 towards home and was seriously dismayed by his offhand, dismissive tone. His refusal to outline to a reporter from Sky News any details of the bilateral loan from the British exchequer was incredibly arrogant. It’s not as if borrowing €67 billion is something we do every other week. The least he could do is spend thirty seconds explaining to the British taxpayer just what they are getting for their billions.
Cowen came across as a man who now feels that his job is done. His demeanour speaks of a man who now just wants to wash his hands of the entire affair and hand the whole sorry mess over to the next poor schmuck. Be that Enda or Gilmore I don’t have any warm fuzzy feelings when I consider the future governance of this ‘great little country’, as one former Fianna Fáil leader called it. The next administration, whether it is Fine Gael-Labour or Labour-Fine Gael will simply throw its hands in the air, declare that Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have landed us in a right pile of shit and implore us to wrap ourselves in the green flag, put our collective shoulders to the wheel and make the best of it.
We have a serious problem with the standard and calibre of public representatives whom we elect and install in high office in this country. We do, however, elect them. My brother recently put quite succinctly. The problem, he said, is that we keep electing the village idiot. The guy with half a brain and lots to say who in a sane society would be barred from every pub in the village because nobody wants to sit beside him. This, certainly, is part of the problem. A larger part of the problem, however, is an electoral system which allows the village idiot to collect the paltry five or six thousand votes required to get their arse on the plush leather seats in Dáil Eireann. One notable village idiot, Ivor the Driver, got himself into our national parliament in 2002 with just 900 first preference votes!
The required changes to this system will not come through any electoral reform emanating from the current incumbents of Leinster House. It is absolutely opposed to the self interests of our sitting TDs to do anything about the crazy over-representation in our national parliament. One TD for every 25,000 citizens equates to 2,400 MPs at Westminster. The bloated salaries and unvouched, gravy train expenses only ensure that politics becomes a lucrative career rather than a public service. ‘If you pay peanuts you get monkeys’, they will tell us. If you pay superstar wages you get greedy, self-serving snouts in a trough. No, these changes will not come through normal, peaceful parliamentary channels. Those turkeys will not vote for Christmas and the supine electorate will continue to elect the same village idiots, will continue to know that they are idiots and yet, will cling to them, slap them on the back and hope that they can do something for them, bend a rule somewhere to get them a benefit to which they are not strictly entitled, make that awkward speeding fine go away or maybe, if they can grease their way into ministerial Merc, pour a waterfall of inappropriate funding into the constituency.
You may think that I am advocating violent revolution. I can see how you might assume that. Well, the sight of Aengus O’Snodaigh storming the gates of Government Buildings last week is enough to entrench one permanently in the field of parliamentary democracy. These changes can only come about through the emergence of a new political class. A class of citizens who feel a vocation to serve their society honestly and honourably and who seek no reward but a decent living salary and maybe the support of their communities. Unfortunately, while these fantasy unicorn politicians are promising a new honesty in public life the village idiot will be promising a modern sports centre in every village, lower taxes and all your dreams come true. You guessed it. The village idiot romps home and celebrates by singing drunkenly from the back of a truck in his home village, his power base, to where, in his county council days, he moved the public library, the local courthouse and a decent sized county council office. Game, set and match to the village idiot.
Worryingly, I am in full agreement with the view of Bertie’s former squeeze, Celia Larkin in the Sindo when it comes to Aengus O’Sneerigh’s prime time, sound bite assault on our democratic institutions. Now there’s a thought to make me go to bed and cover my head…