Irish people did not sign up for what was done to them in the bailout
Opinion: The Government did what it was required to do? Where’s the triumph in that?
Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank. Apart from a cut in the interest rate it was Frankfurt’s way and Brussels’s way and Berlin’s way. Photograph: Reuters
It was not just the barely restrained triumphalism of the bailout exit that was infuriating, it was also the patronising prattle, commending the Irish people for their patriotic sacrifice and the claim that what the Government had done had been mandated by the electorate.
The bailout exit was no triumph. The Government did what the Fianna Fáil-Green coalition committed it to do in November 2010 and was required to do by the troika. What triumph is there in doing what we are required to do, especially when doing so was in breach of promises made to the electorate in the last election?
The role of the Irish people was simply to suffer the iniquities visited upon them. They did not sign up for what was done. At no time did they express a willingness to go along with what was happening. The opinion polls suggested they were opposed. So what was the relevance of the commendation for their “sacrifice”, other than spin?
There was no mandate.
Page five of Fine Gael’s 2011 manifesto stated: “Fine Gael believes the IMF-EU bailout deal has not and will not restore investor confidence in our country and must therefore be renegotiated to reduce interest rates and ensure a fairer sharing of the cost of fixing Ireland’s broken banks. The current deal is bad for Ireland – and bad for Europe. ”
The interest rate on the EU loans was reduced because of an EU deal with Greece but there has been no “fairer sharing of the cost of fixing Ireland’s broken banks”, which was by far the more significant commitment. But now they are triumphant about the implementation of a deal they said was “bad for Ireland and bad for Europe”. Where was the mandate?
And then there was Eamon Gilmore’s “It’s either Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way”. In its manifesto Labour spoke of “renegotiating the EU-IMF deal to include a jobs strategy, to share the debt burden with bondholders, to reduce the interest rate and to leave room for Ireland’s economy to grow”. The interest rate was reduced but otherwise it was Frankfurt’s way and Brussels’s way and Berlin’s way.
Labour said: “The fiscal strategy set out in the EU-IMF deal . . . involves excessive austerity, which will put growth at risk”. That was the strategy they implemented and they take pride in that! Where was the mandate?
There was no mandate for taking in taxation from the poorest 10 per cent of the population the same proportion of their income as being taken from the richest 10 per cent – this was achieved via the VAT increase in the 2012 budget, even though the USC was removed from incomes between €4,004 and €10,036.
There was no mandate for the cuts in child benefit for the third and subsequent children and Labour was adamant there would be no cuts in child benefit at all. There was no mandate for cutting the disability allowance. No mandate for cuts to rent supplements. No mandate for the changes in PRSI that impact most on the working poor. No mandate for a property tax that is imposed irrespective of income. No mandate for the increase in prescription drug charges. And so much else.
The programme for government proclaimed: “On 25th February, 2011 [the date of the last election], a democratic revolution took place in Ireland. Old beliefs, traditions and expectations were blown away. The stroke of a pen, in thousands of poling stations created this political whirlwind. The public demanded change and looked to parties that would deliver the change they sought.”
On February 25th, 2011, nothing changed. The parties elected did almost exactly as the reviled outgoing government would have done.
Politics here is not about change or no change, or about retaining or blowing away old beliefs, traditions and expectations. Certainly not about significantly changing in this society the distribution of wealth, income, power, influence, education, health provision, status and, above all, respect. Politics is about which crowd gets a turn in office to do more or less the same as the other crowd would have done had they remained in office. It is about ministerial positions, getting jobs for people (ie ministers) who have no relevant capacity or experience to discharge those jobs. And then these ministers exert such control of parliament that they render themselves unaccountable to parliament and parliament irrelevant.
It is not the Seanad we should be talking about eliminating, it is ministers. That would be a genuine democratic revolution for it would empower parliament, all the more democratic if accompanied by a constitutional provision that would impose term limits on TDs and empower the people to involve them- selves directly in decision- making, as the first Constitution of this State provided.