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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 25, 2009 @ 11:07 am

    Curses and Distractions

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Bad as the floods are, if I were in government I would welcome them as a distraction from the economy and the Budget. Likewise the glorious controversy over Thierry Henry’s hand-ball.

    Maybe there is a Supreme Being who has decided s/he likes Brian Cowen and is trying to help him out. Even the unions are sending out a signal that there could be a deal if basic pay is left alone. The redefinition of overtime could save quite a bit of money it seems.

    Once upon a time, in the course of a previous downturn, I recall a cover on  a US  magazine which stated bleakly: “It’s the Last Christmas in America”. That crisis would be regarded as far less severe than the current one but clearly some super-pessimist was doing the lay-out that week.

    It’s useful to step aside from the cut and thrust of debate and take the long view. What we are seeing now is an economic version of nimbyism. Nimby is, of course, the acronym for “Not In My Back Yard”. People in different sectors are kicking up because, if they don’t, they fear they will be seen as a “soft touch”. There’s some justification for that too, it has to be said.

    But taking the long view, assuming the Budget goes through, there ought to be greater stability in general. Perhaps foreign investors will say that the Irish, at least, are getting to grips with their problems. Investment decisions are influenced by a whole range of factors and a State that’s heading for bankruptcy is not an attractive location.

    I always felt it was no coincidence that the Celtic Tiger boom coincided with the IRA ceasefire and the emergence of the peace process. There are uncomfortable ripples lately that suggest a new phase of troubles might be starting in the North. The political scene at Stormont reeks of stagnation and there are regular attacks and other violent incidents that suggest a new campaign is under way. That’s very offputting for anyone, Irish or otherwise, trying to develop a business in any part of this tiny island.

    If the Budget fails to get through, a general election will obviously have to be held. Judging from the polls, that will bring in a Fine Gael-Labour coalition but there will still be very hard decisions to be taken. The prospect of an election campaign in January/February is an awesome one, if the current weather continues and I am beginning to understand the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”. In other ways, though, it could be great fun.

    • robespierre says:

      I would be astonished in the Budget fails to pass. There are an awful lot of turkeys on the back benches and I really do not see them pressing the self-mutilation button.

      The likely negative bonus from any campaign is catastrophic. The opposition would not be any more forward focused than now and would simply look to firmly blame FF for ruining the country.

      I have never voted FF in my life but will vote against any party that pledges to leave Labour out of government. Reform can only happen if the unions are not at the cabinent table through the wholly corrupt “partnership” racket or through the political wing of ICTU, the Labour party.

    • Liam says:

      Deaglán “always felt it was no coincidence that the Celtic Tiger boom coincided with the IRA ceasefire and the emergence of the peace process.”

      That is a great observation, it’s hard to pin down but there appears to be a social mood that either is in an uptrend or a downtrend, one could say that it was no coincidence that 9/11 happened in 2001 and not 1999 when the social mood was more positive.

      Interesting times indeed, it’s like watching a movie that never ends with the plot getting ever more unbelievable as it develops.

    • Harry Leech says:

      “Likewise the glorious controversy over Thierry Henry’s hand-ball”

      The government must be delighted that Henry handled the ball and with the subsequent fallout.

      Ministers that couldn’t give a fiddler’s toss about Irish sport for 365 days of the year were jumping on the bandwagon to condemn the nefarious French, anything that took the bad-guy status off themselves …

      But, if the ham-fisted approach to the flood continues they’re going to find that it’s yet another thing for the electorate to despise them for.

    • Betterworld Now says:

      My father left school at 14, took up a trade and retired at the age of 64 on a pension of 55% of his final salary. He never worked a day in the public service. He bought and paid for a house, put three of his five children through college, kept what is now called “a trophy wife” at home and had a family holiday in Ireland every year of his working life. He never once received a payout, income supplement or educational grant from the state.

      He was on strike several times during his working life to defend and improve his pay and conditions.

      None of his children, even the expensively educated ones, can look forward to such terms and conditions of employment or such a luxurious retirement. All of them work harder at earning a living than he ever did and none of them can afford to play golf every Wednesday and Saturday as he did (and, thankfully, still does).

      Irish people work longer, smarter and at a higher intensity than ever before. Their productivity has never been higher but their wages remain too small to attain even the lifestyle their parents enjoyed. Add to that the fact that their debts are many times greater than those of the preceding generation and they will have to pay back the NAMA legacy, and you have a recipe for severe generational discontent.

      And we are told by our political masters that that is supposed to represent progress?

      The way things are going we’ll be back to the dark satanic mills and the spalpeen fánach before we realise that we are barking up the wrong tree altogether.

      Strikes? We need more of them.

      If the system can’t deliver decent living conditions then it’s time to change the system. Trifling with tweedle-dumb and tweedle-dumber elections is a waste of time.

      Strikes need to be national, of indefinite duration, have specific political goals and involve all wage earners. Then Deaglán, you will learn what “great fun” really is.

    • kynos says:

      There’ll be greater stability in general in the same way there’s greater stability the closer you get towards absolute zero. Not sure if that’s the sort of stability we want but well there’ll be those well wrapped up and those who aren’t and I guess the latter will eventually do what those not so well insulated do when the temperature drops.

    • kynos says:

      Anyway hyper-inflation incoming in 18 months or so. Not being a wet blanket am I? You’ll freeze faster with me it’s a kindness. But unless von Mises and history are completely at odds with the coming reality you’ll have hyper-inflation in the US and UK in 18 months or so. Dollar at 30 cents will seem that way even if interest rates won’t rise and considering Red China’s only propping the US up until She can dump all Her dollars in exchange for hard resources in Africa and Australia and so forth, one might expect that current orders of magnitude in currency terms are short term only.

    • kynos says:

      Of course I’m not an economist know very little about economics but pleasantly might claim more predictions right than most PhD Econs. We may well be at “The End of History” but not in a way Mr Fukuyama might like.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Nothing will change in Ireland until a few people are strung from a lamppost.

      My father was able to raise a family of 5, support two adults, run a car, pay a mortgage, play golf, pay VHI, pay for a pension and pay high rate tax and all the costs of living in Ireland from the 50s to the 90s when he retired on a final salary pension and yet his children need two full time incomes to raise a smaller family in a smaller house with a worse quality of life – and having more material goods does not make quality of life better.

      The reason it takes two full time incomes to raise a small family is because of deliberate political decisions taken by scum who were taking brown envelopes and bank handers and by those who have never ever had to worry if they had enough money on Friday to buy food or pay a bill.

      The ‘ordinary’ people of Ireland are going to get screwed again so if we have to why not bring everyone else down with us and let the IMF come in and gut the pensions of the likes of Ahern and Bruton and the pensions claimed by the likes of McCreevy and Geoghann Quinn and stop others claiming an attendance allowance and accommodation allowance when they have no rent or mortgage to pay so they pocket the money.

      Because to date the establishment, be it political or media or professional, whose corruption created this mess, haven’t come remotely close to paying their dues. Not remotely and time will tell what the tipping point is when the anger we all see in our families and community spills over to disorder. I bet your editor’s lifestyle hasn’t changed one jot since this mess started and yet she feels she has a right to patronise others about their cheek to strike or not meekly accept tax rises and service cuts – it’s all right for her with her VHI and staff expense account.

      And why are Irish students are so pathetic and lazy that none of them has either punched Ahern at one of his book gigs or mashed a custard pie into Cowen’s ugly face?

    • Stephen says:

      With the Independents and the Greens holding the Ace card (albeit a wet one) it will be a strange election. FF and the Greens will go bye bye, the independents will survive but will not control the Poker table (watch Jackie Healy-Rae see his nice deal go down the Swanee/Shannon) and Labour/FG will be faced with the same problems (international investors don’t care that it was the fault of the last Junta).I don’t see the EU being much more generous. Then the public get to wait for 3 months while the new gov realise how bad it really is, why the multinationals will not stay with more business taxes just because the Irish are a decent sort and Labour/FF finds new ways to impose the same taxes under new names. I see grants for the Irish to “train/work” abroad just to get the young-poor population down till the UK/US/EU really recovers. The day they win is the day you sell your Shares/Holiday homes/Stop all home improvements as the new “wealth” taxes are announced. The unions will all go out on a big hooley and the SEI will be asked if all the An Bord Snip reports can be recycled for the public-housing insulation work…Last one turn off the Lights…BTW I think FF are even worse..

    • Mark says:

      Nice post – Fianna Fáil must be thinking the same thing, they rode the Henry-horse to death. 4/5 press releases, an attempt to start a petition online and another via text messages. They brought the issue up with Sarko and then in the European Parliment – all kinds of madness, really

      Interesting comment regards the redesignation of overtime, it certainly would save the Unions some face and the country some quid – winners all round… bar lower paid public servants, obviously. Maybe the Union leaders could pass out a few of their SSB board memberships to an odd clerical officer or two, they could claim their overtime – or what’s left of it – on the board meetings.

    • Kynos says:

      “And why are Irish students are so pathetic and lazy that none of them has either punched Ahern at one of his book gigs or mashed a custard pie into Cowen’s ugly face?” – perhaps cos violence is the first resort of the incompetent.

    • Des FitzGerald says:

      To Kynos at point 11 – at some point there is a tipping when people fight back – considering some people should be swinging from a gallows and their families stripped of all the assets of crime they now live off.

      I think a custard pie in the face of Cowen and Bertie Ahern – for starters- is a sign of high intelligence.

      The point being of course that the establishment who caused this mess has made no adjustment at all to their lifestyle and then have the nerve to expect others to pay the bill so they walk away.

      Sometimes getting angry is exactly what is required because in a country as corrupt as Ireland expressing that anger is the only way to lance the boil and those on the receiving end of it will only be getting what they had coming in the first place. I wouldn’t shed any tears if certain people came to harm at the end of a custard pie and I wouldn’t shed any tears if a few politicians and priests and business and professionals were sent to jail and lost everything they – and their family – has ever owned for what they’ve done.

      Until the ‘honest’ people of Ireland we hear so much about start to flex their collective muscle and hold others to account nothing will change.

    • Conan says:

      It was telling that a public servant (Mr Hogan) was sent out to bat on the flooding issue – the chair of a committee we had never heard of before. Having seen some of the unreported consequences at close hand I would surmise that flooding is here to stay, unless there is a very prolonged period of drought.

      Has an inventory been done of NAMA ‘assets’ in areas now known to be vulnerable to flooding? And if we accept that weather conditions and sea-levels are changing for the worse then what values are we to ascribe to vulnerable property and infrastructure, and for how much longer will they be insurable?

    • LP says:

      Yes – the shock doctrine!

    • le murfia says:

      On the issue of Monsewer Henry’s ‘ball handling’ skills (mind you I quite like that in a man!) I guess Thierry would say, with a Gallic shrug sans doute, ‘Je ne regret le main’! Non? Ce Ca!

    • le murphia says:

      Mais Oui…Absolument…Pardon moi…it was early(ish!)

    • Deaglán says:

      De rien, as they say in Ballymagash.

    • le murphia says:

      Ballymagash? Ou est la? Surely you meant Bal de la match? au revoir!

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