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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 21, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

    The Time is Out of Joint

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    One imagines the Cabinet watched the TV footage of today’s trade union protest in Dublin with a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs. Bad enough to have the economy gone pearshaped and the banking system ensnarled by unpaid debts and wide-boy behaviour but now the proletariat is in revolt. It’s like a Marxist paradigm. Capitalism is plunged into crisis by its own internal contradictions and the workers are taking to the streets.

    But we’re still a good way off having a Dublin Soviet with a dual-power situation and seizure of the means of production, distribution and exchange by a coalition of activists led by Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd Barrett.

    Maybe the unions and the Government with the other social partners will get around the table again. If these austerity measures are going to cause so much aggro, maybe something else should be tried. This makes the over-70s medical card protest look like a tiff at a vicar’s tea party.

    At the end of the day – remember Albert Reynolds’s stock phrase? – the money to pay for the functioning of the State has to be obtained from somewhere. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has gingerly suggested a property tax and there might be some potential there.

    In any case, the unions will have to be brought back inside the tent. The Government will need statesmanship, passion, reasonableness, inspiration and luck. As stated before, Lady Luck seems to have deserted Brian Cowen.

    Yours Truly did not get to see the protest, as he was covering the Sinn Fein ardfheis/annual conference in another part of town. That was an interesting event in its way: as the second-largest left party after Labour, SF is well-placed to make electoral gains in this crisis.

    Gerry Adams called for broad unity with Labour, the Greens and others. A united left front is an interesting concept. The expectation must now be that Labour and SF will do very well indeed in the local and European elections in June.

    But June is four months away. If this crisis continues to deepen at the present rate, there could be so much social disorder that the elections would be reduced to sideshow.

    I predict that someone will invoke the spectre of the International Monetary Fund in the next couple of days. If I were taoiseach I would be recalling to myself Hamlet’s words, The time is out of joint; O curs’d spite, That ever I was born to set it right!

    • DesJay says:

      “The Government will need statesmanship, passion, reasonableness,”

      And the horse might talk and pigs fly.

      Oh how safe it is to trot behind the crowd and never take a real stand. Irish journalists, print and TV, used to have guts. Now they’re content to nibble around the edges. (But kudos to Stephen Collins for his recent article.)

      Someone must say how dire the situation is and how much worse it can get. Platitudes don’t cut it.

      Someone must tell pal Brian that he needs to convene a council of nationally respected experts, and not just his cabinet of wind-up dolls.

      Someone must tell Brian to cut the crap about international factors and look at empty houses all over Ireland, and For Sale signs growing moss. Those houses weren’t built by American bankers; the kickbacks from Irish developers didn’t go to American politicians; and the multi-million euro tribunals aren’t investigating payments to foreign politicians.

      Absent real courage at the top, what Ireland will get in government will be multiple reenactments of the parable of the unjust steward.


    • Deaglán says:

      A council of nationally-respected experts? So that’s your solution: set up another quango? As if An Bord Snip Nua and all the others weren’t enough. You should have gone into politics!

    • DesJay says:

      Not a quango. Engaged and enraged citizens who are prepared to speak truth to power and to lazy journalists.

    • Deaglán says:

      A council of nationally-respected experts implies a body that would take cool, analytical approach and would be a different thing from a group of “engaged and enraged citizens”. Either way you are looking at another quango. At least the Government has a democratic mandate. What you suggest would not even have the sanction of democracy. Vulgar abuse – although it gives me the giggles – can’t disguise that fact.

    • c croft says:

      Given Ireland’s economic size and the dire financial state of its banks not to mention the banking scandal involving several of its financial institution there is an urgent need for a government of national unity which must maintain close consultations with the Trade Unions in order to get matters moving particularly so in order the face the current global economic crisis.
      Politicians of opposition parties should be ashamed to use the current financial and economic crisis for political advantage, the sooner there is a government of national unity with the support of the trade unions the sooner foreign investors and bank depositors will come back, and the economy now faltering will slowly be on the way to recovery.

    • Peter Barrins says:

      Perhaps I’m missing something, but I was sure the whole idea of having a Government was so it could govern! In fairness anyone who, over the past few months, has observed the current crew of hopeless, helpless, incompetent and careless half-wits could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. There are fundamental problems with the economy and fiscal management structures that presently exist. I would suggest, as have others, that the Department of Finance does not have the intellectual competence to make sound decisions in relation to fiscal matters and the Minister for Finance hasn’t a clue what he is doing. Meanwhile the reputation of Ireland Inc continues to decline and the cost of borrowing increase. There is one thing for certain – the current administration must go and soon. Ireland needs a ten year break from FF and their cronies.

    • Paul says:


      Some maintain the non-fatalistic human-centric view that one makes their own luck.

      Last night on The Week in Politics Gerry Adams stated that the Government need to make job retention and creation a top priority, which made a welcome change from politicians merely forecasting future conditions.

      A question: how could the Green Party ally themselves with Labour and Sinn Féin without losing credibility? Are they power parasites who attach themselves as the pendulum sways? Surely, if they haven’t compromised themselves already, this would be a double-compromise if there is such a phenomenon?

      The future:

      FG’s lack of conviction in forcing FF out will not stand to them. Cooperation between two main opposition parties is perceived as weakness in the public eye.

      Potential gains of SF and Labour are dependent on two factors, how far current developments are steering people Left and how disillusioned are traditional FF voters.

      For what it’s worth I get the feeling there’s a vacuum for a political organisation representing educated professionals who couldn’t vote for SF on principle and feel Labour don’t cover their best interests.

    • Deaglán says:

      Are we making a mistake by looking at the situation exclusively through a party-political prism? Fact is there is a whole generation of highly-educated young people coming out of the third-level institutions and there are no jobs and no place to which they can emigrate. This has to have social as well as political consequences and I refer you again to the remarks by Professor Fanning on that same Week in Politics programme. I am not talking about riots on the streets, although that could happen, but more a seismic shift in our social and political consensus, the details of which will only emerge in time.

    • Paul says:

      Well, as I have said previously, let’s try to get a jump on the future.

      Standing on Daniel O’ Connell’s back on Saturday were young students holding a banner supporting the strike (actually a few admitted they weren’t actually students at all). What struck me about these young people – apart from their ability to raise the marcher’s spirits – were how their faces were covered by scarves a la G8 summit protests. Maybe an innocuous detail, or perhaps an indication of hard-lined socio-political activists.

      I mentioned to an IT writer standing in the traffic island that vocal opposition to Government during the ‘good years’ wasn’t very apparent. They disagreed, because there was a reaction to societal preoccupation with wealth; consumerism as the new religion. People with such views congregated at Shannon Airport, Tara and Belmullet; social groups distrustful of mainstream politics, people who felt no one political party or coalition provided adequate representation to them, particularly when Greens and FF got together.

      My point is that there’s a precedental platform of social activity for unemployed graduates, as you’ve pointed out. But what would be a more positive contribution, educated and socially-motivated operating in or outwith the political realm?

      I’m sure there’s examples of similar post-boom political evolution from other countries…

    • Deaglán says:

      I sense a Master’s in Political Science in your comment. I hope I am not out of my depth here!

      I recall Roy Johnston, radical academic from TCD, lamenting a good many years ago that emigration had consistently acted as a safety-valve to release the pressure for social change inn this country.

      So although the presence of a large number of unemployed, inclulding many graduates, could make for social disorder, it could also make for social change. Already you are seeing a kind of draft programme emerging: curbs on obscene salaries, fairer taxation, greater monitoring of the financial sector, green issues in the widest non-party sense, efforts to create sustainable employment as distinct from fly-by-night foreign investment, equitable treatment for the sick and elderly, etc.

      It would be a nightmare if the current upheaval dissolved into confrontations with the police. A constructive non-violent protest movement could bring some necessary changes about though.

      I suspect the youngsters with scarves over their faces were anarchists, a movement that has experienced something of a revival on the fringes of the anti-globalisation community. The template for such groups internationally is very simple: 1) Get into a confrontation with the cops; 2) The cops inevitably hurt or even kill a protester; 3) The protest movement magnifies hugely.

      Then, of course, the whole thing peters out and nobody really achieves anything, except the right-wing who bring in more repressive legislation. It’s great craic for the lads in the scarves though.

    • Des FitzGerald says:

      Hasn’t the root cause of all this problems time and time again been the same since the 1930s – that we as a people are given a choice at each election to pick honest decent politicians – even dull and boring ones – but time and time again we pick the gombeen sleveen crony.

      There has always been – and will always be – people in all aspects of life who try to pull a stroke. In most countries the laws and regulations set by politicians prevent the worst excesses.

      Ireland didn’t suddenly start having corruption, abuse and financial scandals in 2008. Every single decade since independence there have been monumental abuses of power in Ireland which tribunals and committees report on or hush up and life goes on as before with the same mistakes made in the next decade.

      For all the arguments about whether Enda Kenny is up to the job or not, I don’t think any of us seriously think for one second he would have to spend his time thinking up ways to explain various cash payments in and out of various bank accounts. Ditto for Eamon Gilmore.

      We had a choice in 2007 to pick Enda Kenny but again we chose Bertie the wideboy.

      We as a nation need to face up to this monumental flaw in our character, where we seem too immature to make proper grown up political choises.

      We keep making the same bad choices and expecting a different outcome.

      The first step to rectify this is for people to stop voting for Fianna Fáil. What more evidence do people need to make the link between various ‘golden circles’ funding the lifestyle of members of Fianna Fáil since the 1960s and the economic mess Ireland was placed into in the 70s, 80s, 90s and again today. Their vote for FF facilitates these abuses of state power and taxpayer funds.

      The golden circle got away with what they did because the laws and regulations which would have held them to account were gutted and made meaningless.

      That happened because Fianna Fáil was in power. It would not have happened under a Fine Gael/Labour government.

      So instead of blaming the symptoms – the bankers and builders – we need to tackle the root cause – which is people voting Fianna Fáil.

      Mexico and Sweden both had parties like Fianna Fáil which eventually caved in under their own incompetence and corruption from being in power far too long. It’s about time Ireland followed suit.

    • Paul says:

      Shoe on the other foot Deaglán. Depth is what I worry about when communicating with journos!

      Right – so the piece of paper says – discipline, different subject. Probably less evident is a Dip. Journalism…

    • Ray D says:

      This Government does not have a democratic mandate. It never implemented policies put before the people. FF voters have suffered a PD Government supported by FF for a decade now and now the Greens that are wagging the dog.

      There was an election in 2007 but the Government has forfeited the right to govern since. We urgently need a national Government = up to 2012.

    • Deaglán says:

      FF have always been veeerrry flexible on policy. That’s one of the reasons they have stayed in power so long. Fine Gael are pretty flexible too, but they don’t have the numbers as often as FF do. It’s easier for small parties like the PDs to have coherent, consistent policies. FF and FG are catch-all parties, particularly the former.
      I concede there is a case for a national government but would worry that they would screw us (the majority of the citizens) utterly and totally.

    • Peter B says:

      While there is social division based on the inequalities in wealth there are going to be disaffected people. Wealth provides options, opportunities, a sense of security and wellbeing. When these factors are missing or unavailable, people cannot contribute to the society they live in and become disenfranchised. Throughout the boom period the inequalities were quite well masked, but the recent revelations of corruption and fraud – which made a few wealthy at the expense of many – along with the lenghtening dole queues and financial pressures, has awoken many to their respective realities. These realities, for many, are not particularly pleasant ones and in some cases quite grim. Ireland has had an FF-dominated Government for the most part of the past 30 years. FF is a party that has no ideology and stands for nothing in particular. The absence of a political ideology is now reflected across a society that no longer knows what is stands for or who it is. While this continues, cohorts wihtin Irish society are going to form their own views on what Ireland should be and are going to act accordingly and often dysfunctionally. This, along with stressful economic circumstances, lack of decent employment and restricted educational opportunities, is going to ultimately lead to social unrest, misgivings and a complete lack of trust. I know it sounds somewhat clichéd at this stage, but Ireland really needs a new direction, strong leadership, vision and focus – an Obamaesque figure.

    • Deaglán says:

      That’s a very thoughtful comment. I would query your suggestion (if I understand you correctly) that the Celtic Tiger “made a few wealthy at the expense of many”. Nearly everyone coined it, some more than others. Also I would question the current emphasis on the need for a charismatic figure. That can be a double-edged sword. A certain A. Hitler was considered very charismatic in his day …

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