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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 3, 2011 @ 11:51 am

    New Deal for a Suffering Nation?

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Due to some technical glitch, this Inside Politics column from last Saturday doesn’t appear in the normal way on the website (except for the e-paper of course) which means I don’t get the usual comments from readers. Here it is and any civil response is most welcome.

    We are told that when innocent Russians were arrested and taken to
    Stalin’s concentration camps in the 1930s, their initial reaction was,
    “Za chto?” or, in English, “What for?”

    Irish citizens might be excused for reacting in the same way when they
    look at the punishment meted out to them for economic crimes that they
    did not commit.

    We all know who was to blame: the banks, the property speculators and
    a political system that was dozing at the wheel.

    We are the ones paying the price but the message from our ruling élite
    is that, if we grit our teeth and make the necessary sacrifices, then,
    in the words of the old song, “There’s a good time coming”.

    Even with a change of government in the next few months there will be
    no short-term relief, just a redistribution of the pain to other parts
    of the body politic.

    A feeling that there was greater “parity of pain” in the official
    response to the crisis might be some consolation but it would be a
    palliative, rather than a permanent cure for public discontent.

    Yet the depth of the crisis is such that it is bound to have political
    consequences. Our economy has been hit by a life-threatening disease,
    not just a head-cold or dose of the ‘flu.

    Something’s got to give. There has to be a change in the political
    culture. Our economy may be subject to epidemics or even plagues, but
    we cannot allow ourselves to be caught unawares and unprepared like
    this in the future.

    One is reminded of the celebrated Daily Mirror cartoon by Philip Zec
    at the end of the second World War, portraying a wounded soldier
    limping home with the laurels of victory and peace and the heartfelt
    plea: “Don’t lose it again!”

    When Noel Browne became Minister for Health with the inter-party
    government in 1948, the Irish people were cowering before the wrath of
    a dragon called Tuberculosis. When he left in 1951, that dragon had been slain.

    That was a proud achievement. So too was Donogh O’Malley’s
    introduction of free secondary education – a move that was engineered
    by himself and Sean Lemass when the finance minister in that
    government, Jack Lynch, was out of the country. It was in turn a
    reaction to Fine Gael’s progressive “Just Society” policies at the

    We need to get in touch with our inner Noel Browne and Donogh
    O’Malley. We need to slay the dragon of financial insecurity,
    inequality and fear of the future.

    In Britain the sacrifices of 1939-45 were followed by a post-war
    settlement based on achieving full employment, greatly-expanded social
    services, free universal healthcare and enhanced educational opportunity.

    The prospect of reaching that promised land must have sustained many a
    citizen in the dark days of conflict. The notion seems to be gaining
    currency that a similar ideal is needed here, to get us through the
    tough times.

    Browne and O’Malley were members of fairly conservative and cautious
    governments but their success showed that if you are stubborn and
    committed enough and can acquire the requisite funding, you will
    achieve your aim. Browne had access to Hospital Sweepstakes money and
    O’Malley used the Taoiseach of the day to circumvent Department of
    Finance restrictions.

    The economic turmoil here and elsewhere, especially in Greece, has
    been accompanied by a less overt, but nevertheless real, crisis of
    democratic legitimacy.

    Opposition parties may crow over the Government’s poor showing in the
    opinion polls but if they were in power, the likelihood is that they,
    too, would be “taking a hit”. People have lost a good deal of faith in
    our democratic institutions and their ability to cope with a crisis.
    The only way to remedy this is to convince the populace that things
    will never be the same again.

    One of the features of the 1945 British general election was the
    numbers of young soldiers in uniform who contravened the regulations
    by going on political platforms to say they were not prepared to
    resume civilian life under the conditions that prevailed in the
    previous decade.

    The hardships of today cannot be compared with the 1930s but the
    essential point remains that we need something better than politics as

    It is said that the words of “There is a good time coming” were sung
    by passengers on the emigrant ships as they sailed into New York
    harbour from the Old World: we need a New World here in Ireland, but
    who will give it to us?

    The next Dail is likely to have a very wide representation from across
    the political spectrum. The indications are that the electorate
    is in the mood to test new programmes and try fresh approaches. There
    is a lot of wild talk about “burning the bondholders” and cutting our
    links with the euro, but it’s all part of a rich, new tapestry.

    We shall definitely see a large number of fresh faces and it promises
    to be an assembly like no other in our recent history. Perhaps out of
    that mix, ideas could emerge to ensure that a bright spring and summer
    will follow the winter of our discontent,

    We are entering upon a critical but potentially exciting and
    innovative period in our political development. It would be good to
    think that, in the process, the obvious faults and flaws in the system
    would be eliminated.

    It would be good to think that clientelism and cronyism could be
    brought under control and manners put on the banks and financial
    institutions. It is time to end the sense of entitlement that
    privileged sectors of our society feel as they pay themselves enormous
    salaries and bonuses.

    At present, homeless people are sleeping rough within fifty metres of
    the Leinster House front gate: it is time to end that shame. Can we do
    it? To coin a phrase: Yes, we can.

    • Mark says:

      Trying to be civil but you’ve just recycled the ‘all the parties are the same’ trope. Evidence please. That kind of lazy analysis contributes to the apathy and antipathy towards mainstream politics that you bemoan.

      And while you seem to value left leaning social policies (going by your list above) the paper you work for is still enamoured with the opposite. Last Friday’s editorial advised the government to look to business for ideas. What could possibly go wrong?

    • robespierre says:

      excellent article – I hope the people rise to the challenge you are laying down here. The homeless one is something that has bugged me ever since reading The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London.

    • dealga says:

      I would love to see an opinion poll ask a simple question: “At General Election time would you prefer to give your first preference vote to a candidate from a party whose national policies you find most attractive, or to a candidate who convinces you they can do the most for your local area?” (or something that says the same more elegantly!)

      I’ll believe there’s a real appetite for political change in this country when I believe the vast majority would choose the former.

    • Jonathan says:

      “We all know who was to blame: the banks, the property speculators and
      a political system that was dozing at the wheel.”

      I don’t buy that for a minute. People who took huge bank loans to buy fancy cars, holiday homes in Spain which they visited ten times a year, and then maxed out on 15 credit cards, are just as much to blame in their own way.

      It’s true that the banks were acting wrongly by giving people all that, but people were just as wrong for asking for it. And if the banks “pestered” people into taking it, then they could just as easily have said no.

    • Patrick Hennessy says:

      I have read the websites of the three main parties FF.FG and Labour and the only one that gives an indication of serious change is FG. Their “Reinventing Government” paper of some 84 pages does outline some good intentions. Abolition of the Seanad, reduction of TD numbers by 20 from 166 to 146: capping all public service salaries at 200,000: bringing in 33% of all MOF Finance people from PO above from outside the public sector etc.

      Its as good as I can find from any Party but not good enough for me. Moreover its very strong on “what” but very weak on “how” and as an old public servant that makes me very suspicious that I am reading a nice piece of armchair thinking.

      But my question is where can i find the radical new thinking of FF and Labour? I see nothing on their websites that constitutes serious new departures.

      Can someone please tell me I am wrong.


    • mairekelly says:

      I still cant believe Bertie Ahearn made that statement about poor Brian Cowen. Would he be silly enough to think, that the Irish people have forgotten that he was our leader, when the Banks, and builders etc: were allowed to run amuck!! perhaps Bertie expects that we the people will cover the Road to the Park with roses for him. Forget it, we the Irish people are not that thick.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:


      Aren’t the two connected? Decisions of the Dail effect people in their daily lives, lives that are lived out in local streets, villages and towns.

    • Mark says:

      Some examples of how the parties are not the same which should be of interest to journalists especially:

      Restrictions on the Freedom Of Information Act (Why no NAMA by the way?)

      Shutting down the CPI (coincidentally when Frank Connolly was investigating the DDDA)

      Wake up!

    • Thor Zeller says:

      The Media played a huge roll in the disaster.
      I can remember every 15 min ” release the hidden values of your house ” ” Do it for your Kid’s ” only to be interrupted by the “Sue your employer” adds in between the buy another property program .
      To make believe there is nothing but consumerism in live was a powerful propaganda and made millions dependent.
      There will be change, when the basis of the Biggest pyramid scheme called Money sees the fact they have to stand on somebody’s shoulders to get a step up and there is no volunteers anymore.

    • Patrick Hennessy says:


      for info of readers

      “2006 report exposing Anglo-Irish behaviour was quashed.

      Irish American billionaire Chuck Feeney’s effort to establish the Centre for Public Inquiry to examine corporate and political culture in Ireland was destroyed after political and media pressure was brought to bear.

      Frank Connolly, executive director of the Centre, recounts how a massive opportunity to disclose the corruption so deeply at the heart of the Celtic Tiger building boom was missed.

      On Sunday 8th August writer and historian, Tim Pat Coogan, opened the annual Parnell Summer School in Avondale, County Wicklow. During his remarks on the state of the Irish media he recalled the forced closure in late 2005 of the Centre for Public Inquiry (CPI) following a prolonged controversy.

      He told his audience that the closure prevented the publication of a report into the Dublin Docklands Development Authority and its links to Anglo-Irish Bank whose then chairman, Sean Fitzpatrick, was a board member of both organisations.”

      Note “political and media pressure”


    • Richard Dalton says:

      “We all know who was to blame: the banks, the property speculators and a political system that was dozing at the wheel.”

      For a Nation where “We all know” so much, we seem to be scratching our heads a lot.

      The government blames the banks, even though it was the governments job to ensure that the banks were regulated. The public blames the government even though it was the public that elected the government for a third term when it was already clear we were on the wrong path.

      There’s an old adage that if all those who claimed to be in the GPO in 1916 had actually been there, things might have gone differently. The same applies to all those who “knew all along that the country was in a mess”.

      We should never forget that a few did speak out against the credit fuelled speculation in property and the reckless running of the nations finances. A few did give very precise warnings about the fate that would befall the country if we didn’t change course. We should never forget that those people were ridiculed by political leaders, “journalists”, and other “experts”.

      We should never forget, but of course, for the most part, we already have.

      Bertie Ahern now wishes to shift the blame for our woes on to the shoulders of Brian Cowan et al. This is the man who at the height of the madness chastised those who hadn’t bought houses urging them to do so, and wondered why those who raising red flags didn’t go and commit suicide.

      The recent IMF involvement in Ireland was prompted by bond yields climbing to unsustainable levels. Those increases were in part prompted by political uncertainty. That uncertainty could have been laid to rest easily with a General Election.

      It wouldn’t have solved our debt crisis, but it would have removed one element of uncertainty. In other words, it would have been a step in the right direction. Regardless of how good it might have been for the country, it wouldn’t have been good for Fianna Fáil, and it wouldn’t have been good for the Greens, and so, the nation has to wait while these petty selfish pigs choose the time that suits them best to step away from the trough.

      And this is the problem with Ireland. Nothing has changed. The Boom was run by the have’s for the have’s and damn the rest. The bust is being run by the exact same have’s to bail themselves out and again, damn the rest.

      Last year it cost almost €5bn to service our national debt. That’s a figure that will double and treble over the coming years. Even the IMF deal doesn’t aim pay down this debt, it merely seeks to get the deficit down. In other words, slow the rate at which we go broke long enough for the EU to salvage the Euro.

      All the talk about confidence and sentiment should be left back in the bubble land of 2006 where it belongs. Let’s start talking about simple maths. Let’s start tacking the actual financial crisis rather than some PR managed illusion that can be sold to the public.

      The Irish people have a capacity and a willingness to take pain for the greater good. They ask only two things in return. That the truth behind the causes of the pain be made known, and that the architects of the pain be punished rather than rewarded.

      Those who destroyed the economy want the public to take the pain, but will do everything in their power to avoid meeting those two simple requests.

    • John says:

      @jonathan, Well said. Many of us did not in fact take the bait and were left for a time wondering if we were missing out on something. After all it was the”‘Celtic Tiger”. I didn’t quite understand how it all came about. The continual hints that it was a new era that would never end were beginning to sound amazingly convincing. Even to quite conservative people. Now we are all left with the legacy writ large. Who did the writing? You could give a case for a number of groups. But one thing is clear, the government did not do it’s job. Shame on them. And shame on us if we let them back.

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