Yes vote an expression of grim fatalism
If people did believe what Michael Noonan had told us, the main argument for a Yes vote would have collapsed
Which of these statements is more delusional? (a) “I know we didn’t win but we are still really influential around the world” – John Grimes of Jedward after finishing 19th in the Eurovision Song Contest. (b) “The referendum result was a loud expression of confidence in the Irish economy, and another reminder that Ireland is dealing effectively with its problems” – Eamon Gilmore after victory in the referendum on the Euro Zone Masochism Contest.
Sapient conclaves of sages and vast batteries of eggheads may ponder this question for many a year without coming to a confident conclusion. But, in the end, Jedward must be judged a mere light year or two closer to reality than the Tánaiste. For if Eamon Gilmore really believes the referendum result is “a loud expression of confidence in the Irish economy”, things are very far gone indeed.
The truth is precisely the reverse: most of those who voted Yes did so because they believe the plan for “recovery” is failing. The mark of that failure is the strong likelihood that, after repeated assurances to the contrary, Ireland will not be able to return to the international financial markets next year and will instead need another set of loans from the troika. The central self-declared aim of the Government – to restore sovereignty to the State by ending the “bailout” regime – is looking increasingly unachievable.
Less than six months ago, the whole idea of a second bailout was literally unthinkable and unspeakable. Michael Noonan told us in January that there was “no question” of the Government even “considering” a second bailout. “It’s ludicrous to be talking about a second bailout when we’re in and meeting all the targets of the first programme.” Yet by the time the referendum campaign came around, this absurd, outrageous proposition wasn’t just worthy of contemplation, it was by far the most potent weapon in the Government’s political arsenal. The single, overwhelming reason to vote Yes was that we will probably need another bailout and that a No vote would put it at risk.
Here we see the deep strangeness of contemporary Irish politics. In a normal world, if people don’t believe the Government, they vote against it. But in the topsy-turvy world we currently inhabit, people voted for the Government line precisely because they don’t believe the Government. If people did believe what Michael Noonan had told us – that a second bailout is a ludicrous and inconceivable notion – the main argument for a Yes vote would have collapsed.
The Yes campaign had effectively stopped trying to argue that the treaty, as a response to the euro zone crisis, had any intrinsic merits. The only real issue was, as one voter quoted in a vox pop put it so succinctly, “I am going to vote Yes because we need the money and I don’t see us getting it anywhere else”. This is the surreal state we’re in: people voted Yes not in spite of their belief that Government is bullshitting when it says a second bailout is ludicrous but because they believe it is bullshitting.
This is not “a loud expression of confidence in the Irish economy”, it is a loud expression of the belief that the Irish economy is likely to be on life-support for at least the rest of the decade. It is not “another reminder that Ireland is dealing effectively with its problems”, but an expression of grim fatalism. People, by and large, do not believe the policy of austerity for the poor and lavishness for dead banks (what should we call it – banksterity? austravagence?) is leading either to economic growth or to a restoration of sovereignty.
And there is a clear reason for this: people are not eejits. They know that the EU expects Gross National Income to decline by a further 1.3 per cent this year, with private and public consumption continuing to fall. They can read the figures that show that long-term unemployment (the really toxic kind) increased by 7 per cent in the last year.
They know that only large-scale emigration is keeping youth unemployment from reaching catastrophic levels. They know that the domestic economy, on which the vast majority of Irish employees depend for their jobs, is still shrinking. They know the Government is still committed to burning almost as much money every year on promissory notes for Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide as it is taking out of the economy in cuts and extra taxes. They know that the political and governance systems that created this mess remain largely unreformed. If this is evidence “Ireland is dealing effectively with its problems”, it is difficult to imagine what ineffective policies might look like.
This delusional talking-up of the state of the country wouldn’t matter so much if we could put a cordon of silence around the island. But what are our European partners to make of our pleas for help when we keep saying “ah but sure we’re doing grand really”? Or is it that the Government feels there’s no danger because it knows that no one believes what it says anyway?