Jim Carroll

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Aftershock: the blame report to beat all blame reports

You’re really going to feel good about life after RTE’s Aftershock week. Since Sunday night, the station has been running a series of shows looking at the state we’re in as a nation, examining how we got here and exploring …

Tue, May 11, 2010, 10:02


You’re really going to feel good about life after RTE’s Aftershock week. Since Sunday night, the station has been running a series of shows looking at the state we’re in as a nation, examining how we got here and exploring some notions about how we’re going to get out of the current mess.

We’ve already looked at the 650 ghost estates around the country, the amount of Irish-owned real estate in London and heard about possible solutions from four experts. There has also been a Frontline special, but that featured a politican who got us in the current malaise so, assuming that Pat Kenny didn’t tar and feather him, I’ll leave that one out. Frontline has sadly turned out to be Liveline on the box so I’ll assume there was just much anger and fuming and nothing more.

No matter how much some people keep insisting that it’s time to move on and crack on with the future, the flashes of anger, which a series like Aftershock will naturally provoke even more, are going to continue for some time to come. People are still trying to work out how we went from the most wanted nation in Europe to one of the least loved in the world in such a short space of time. They want answers, they want scapegoats, they want to vent their fury. No, we’re not the Greeks so we’re not going to take to the streets and throw concrete blocks through the windows of posh restaurants and banks. We prefer to do typically Irish, daft and pointless things like give Dail Eireann a dirty look or talk to Joe. We’re a harmless nation, really. We always have been. Even our revolutions down through history have been half-hearted. But we do anger very well.

I really wish, though, that RTE had started the Aftershock series by repeating a show which I’m constantly reminded about when talk turns to Ireland’s economic collapse. When people complain that the media and particuarly RTE never covered the impending bust, I think of Richard Curran’s fantastic Future Shock: Property Crash from April 2007. The show looked at what would happen if Ireland suffered a property crash and the impact of this on home-owners, the construction sector and the national economy. The show’s findings were dismissed, criticised and derided, yet Curran’s “irresponsible” and “wild” predictions all came to pass. We were warned, but many of us just didn’t heed those warnings.

The Aftershock shows to date have been good rather than remarkable. The Ronan Kelly-narrated feature on unoccupied or unfinished housing estates around the country had the look and feel of a fine radio documentary transfered to TV, though we learned nothing really new from the show. Yes, we overbuilt during the good times because we had 200,000 builders to keep in breakfast rolls and hi-vis jackets and yes, many of those builders didn’t finish those estates to resemble the lovely drawings in the sales brochures. Nothing new there.

But there was little said about the failure of county councils and their planning departments to do what they’re supposed to do in these situations. Was a little village in Co Leitrim which had 32 houses a decade ago really going to be able to support and sustain 320 dwellings a decade later? Instead of spending time on fancy camera angles and special sound effects, the programme-makers might have been better employed hitting County Hall and asking some tough questions there.

Last night’s Where To Now? show had Dan O’Brien, Matt Cooper, Richard Curran and Justine McCarthy having a look at what they see as the root causes of the current mess and offering some solutions. While I can imagine the guffaw of chuckles from the Law Library which greeted McCarthy’s plan for an abridged Constitution, Curran was one of the first commentators I’ve seen point out the very practical pitfalls of a smart economy and the need for a broader jobs policy.

There were some interesting notions in O’Brien’s call for a new political system where government ministers are appointed by ability rather than surplus quotas and geographical concerns, but I can see Cooper’s call for a form of drop-the-negative-equity-debt leading to a new civil war. On one side, you’ll have those who can’t handle the big mortgage they – grown, mature adults, lest we forget, who weren’t forced to take on that big mortgage – saddled themselves with. On the other side, you’ll have those who looked at the get-on-housing-ladder mania as a deluded charade and stayed well clear of it. I’m sure, though, that well known drop-the-debt advocate Bono may be interested in writing a song or lending a hand for Cooper’s campaign. Let’s hear it for Self Aid II: The Sequel.

(All the above shows are currently available on the RTE Player)