I’m posting this on New Year’s Eve. Here’s a prediction about the weekend:
The AA or the Gardai will have issued a “Call” for drivers to “exercise caution” over the weekend.
By Monday night, a number of young men will be dead. The following pattern will then occur:
1. A shocking accident will have occurred, killing a number of young men. We will enter a three day media cycle.
Day one: Lurid images of the crash site and twisted torn remnants of vehicles, with reports from RTE correspondents ending with the phrase: “…as another community struggles to come to terms with its loss”.
Day two: Interviews with local people, shaking their heads in disbelief and shock. The local parish priest or councillor will mention feeling numb, and that every family has been touched by this. Again a mention of the community struggling.
Day three: The young men will be buried as RTE look on solemnly.
End of process. Will the media go back to actually find out who was to blame? Will we ever learn, with the same media intensity, of the outcome of the coroner’s reports that SOME of these drivers were drunk or on drugs or driving recklessly with little regard for their safety or more importantly, the safety of others? That some of them through their actions killed other innocent people?
No. Because in Ireland, there is a monster going around rural Ireland killing young men, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Every single person who dies in a “road tragedy” is completely innocent of any wrongdoing, whether they were driving home safely, stone cold sober, or whether they were the drunken reckless bastard who plowed into the stone cold driver. EVERYONE is innocent, and if you say otherwise you are a bastard. It’s the monster’s fault, and if we had a government that cared about us, it would do something about it.
It’s sad to say, but it doesn’t look like 2012 is going to be any easier that 2011, and potentially harder. Across the west, the challenge to our debt fuelled consumer lifestyle is growing, and as a society we’re kicking back. Initially, we’re voting people out (save for Canada and New Zealand), but how long will it be before populist charlatans start getting traction by targetting sections of society, like immigrants (Europe) or the poor (USA) as the source of many of our problems? Protectionism is already beginning to creep back onto the agenda (just listen to Sarko). On top of that, globalisation itself is under attack, ironically by people afraid of losing the consumer lifestyle that it has permitted. In Europe, a gut nationalism is taking root, a feeling in individual countries that we would be better off if we had a lot less to do with our neighbours and their problems, and by extension, the European Union. It’s not true, of course, but it’s a genuine feeling.
The most uncomfortable part of all this is that the only real solution is sacrifice, and how we apportion it. The truth is, western society is now permeated by a feeling that we are all entitled to more than we create, and that has been proven to be no longer sustainable. It’s true, we must attempt to divide the burden in such a way as to ensure that ”the vulnerable” get some protection, but even that is a challenge. Who are the vulnerable? The bottom 5%? 10%? 49%? Because, if we are to shield (and, in effect, subsidise) them, then it means that a heavier burden must be carried by the remainder, and that concept has not been accepted yet.
Our political systems are still populated by politicians who claim that relatively pain free solutions are on the table. The tired old adage about “the rich” is not viable, not because they don’t want to pay a cent in taxes (which tax authorities across the west will testify is not true) but because there is a fairness threshold that is hardwired into rich and poor alike about wanting to keep most of the fruit of their work. But more importantly, the rich don’t have to stay. You would be stunned at the speed in which a wealthy person can transplant a life. It’s literally less than the time between a general election count and entry into office of the new government.
Therefore, sharing the burden of sacrifice will fall on the whole of society, and that’s where the problem starts. Many people could probably accept a fall in their standard of living if they felt that such a drop would ensure them of employment and a minimum standard of living. The problem is that politicians aren’t, rightly, trusted when they make a pledge like that. Take the new Irish Fine Gael/Labour government, pushing through salaries of €127,000 for special advisor positions, claiming that they can’t find people who can do the job for less than that. How can a government ask for sacrifice after such a brazen “F**k you!” to the voters who just elected them? They can’t. Instead, they provide easy ammunition to the populists, and that’s the problem.
Anyway, thanks for reading my rants during the year. It was my best year ever in terms of reader numbers, which far exceeded anything I ever expected when I first started blogging four years ago. Happy New Year!
There’s a big lie knocking around Irish politics that our political system would be so much better if we didn’t have a whip system, and TDs could vote their own way without fear nor favour. It’s a load of nonsense, and here’s why: Irish politicians like being able to blame their party for things. There’s nothing unusual about an Irish politician, from a government party, going back to his constituents are saying “Well, obviously I was agin’ closing the local hospital/school/puppy farm, but I was outvoted!” Ah, says you, but hold on a minute. If there was no whip, they wouldn’t be able to say that, would they? Well, let me take you back to the golden days of Dublin County Council and the old section 4 rezoning motions. What would happen would be that councillor A would want to rezone a bit of ward A for his good pal Stroky McDodgy. But the good councillor would know that it was very unpopular in ward A. So he’d get councillor Z from ward Z on the other side of the county to propose the rezoning. Councillor A would huff and puff and then be “outvoted”, the poor creature. Everyone’s happy, save for the people who live in ward A.
Here’s a better idea: Let our TDs introduce costed delayed earmarks into the budget. What would that be, on a wet Tuesday, you ask? It would be where a TD, shocked at budget cuts to close the local primary school, could go through the budget, find alternative cuts from existing spending, and propose those cuts as an alternative to the full house, or maybe to a committee of the house empowered to approve the change. Now that would be real power. Sure that’ll never happen, you say. The big boys in the Department of Finance would never stand for the Deputy for Rockall South Central getting his sticky fingers all over their lovely budget (Assuming they noticed, of course. They did mislay €3.6 billion, after all) but they would not be the biggest opponents. The biggest opponents to TDs having that power would be TDs themselves. It’s all well and good giving out yards about why X is not being funded, but asking them to point out what other group of constituents should have their funds cut instead, that’s a step too far. Sure, that’s the sort of thing an elected representative legislative body should be doing, surely? What that’s got to do with us mere TDs?
Mmm. Nice cup of tea. With taxpayer funded biccies, please.
The speculation in the Irish Times about yet another hefty tax charge on home owners, this time for water, got me wondering. Is there a breaking point, a moment of realisation, where a substantial section of the income tax paying population declare enough is enough? I don’t mean the usual Fianna Fail “This is a disgrace and we will magically and painlessly make this all go away when returned to power”. I mean a section of the country who recognise that the constant demands for state spending on everything from welfare to public sector pay and pensions is now making the government hit them for an extra €1000 every year in hard cash, through water and property taxes? Will they wake up?
You would think that they would, but I doubt it, for a number of reasons. The first is that the average Irish voter has shown an extraordinary propensity to wanting to be lied to. When Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein promise to abolish those taxes AND maintain spending, most Irish voters, through a mixture of moronic stupidity and colluding self-delusion, will accept that as a reasonable proposition. Secondly, a new party, offering a clean and limited “We will abolish THIS tax by cutting THIS spending” would just not get traction. I can picture the response on the doors already: “Oh yes, the tea party, yes, I like your low tax policies. Now, why are they closing the local hospital, that should be given more money. No, I agree, taxes should be cut, but more money should be given to the local area. That school there needs a new floor in its hall, can you do something about that? No, I agree we should cut taxes, but my mother needs her hip done and there should be more money spent on…”
Reading the British eurosceptic media, it only dawned on me recently that they are against the EU primarily because they’ve never understood it. Just consider Britain’s unique position: a former global power that due to its geographic location has managed a certain form of detachment. They say they want a common market and no more, never quite understanding that a common market alone was never what was on the menu. Whose fault is that? Possibly their own leaders, certainly, but they honestly cannot blame the rest of Europe for wanting to integrate closer, because that closer integration is in Europe’s interest.
Of course, they now point to the euro crisis as evidence that the entire project is a mistake. It is true that a crucial flaw in the euro, the lack of a functioning fiscal union, is now threatening the very existence of the single currency, and it is true that eurosceptics pointed this flaw out from the very beginning. But it is also true that for ten years the euro did provide stability, prosperity, low inflation and price transparency, sometime the British eurosceptic media has airbrushed out of the story.
So, to put it in terms that the Daily Mail will understand: this is our Dunkirk. This is our darkest day, and like Britain in June 1940, things are looking grim. Our previous strategy hasn’t worked the way that we hoped, but neither did Churchill’s. There were those who told Churchill that the British army was finished, its equipment abandoned on beaches in Northern France, and that he should abandon his plan to defeat fascism and compromise with the new conventional wisdom, and make peace with Hitler’s new Europe. But he didn’t. He adapted and stuck to his principles, and won. Like Churchill, we’re not going to give up because this is too important and because we too actually believe in our cause. It’s that which British eurosceptics have never understood, because they have never believed that we could feel as patriotic and as passionate about our cause as they are about theirs. We do, and we’re not going to walk away. It’s just too important.
I see Fine Gael and Labour are either u-turning on another policy or else admitting that here is yet another issue where they made up their opposition policy at five minutes to closing time on a beermat. This time it is banning corporate donations, suggesting that the supreme court will rule such a ban unconstitutional.
Fair enough. Why not just tax corporate donations at, say, 1000%? The Supreme Court will be fairly loath to interfere in a taxation issue, and it’ll ensure that companies will still have the (very expensive) option to donate to the candidate of their choice, provided they are happy to pay the political donation tax. Everybody’s a winner!
It seems to me that there are certain attributes that make up the Irish psyche:
1. A deep suspicion of ideas. We’ve never been great on the abstract concept or ideology. An Irishman would think little of going from being a Communist to a Capitalist, as long as there was something in it for him. And the English were in the other camp. Even nationalism, the most powerful political concept in Ireland, has more to do with hating another country than thinking through what it means to be Irish. Yet in our core we are deeply conservative, electing the same centre-right minimum change possible duopoly at EVERY election since 1921.
2. Grouphate. Whereas we don’t do ideas well, we’re Olympic class at hating a designated group. It’s almost impossible in Ireland to separate passionate nationalism from Anglophobia. Just count how many union jacks you have seen in a single week flying in Ireland, before Elizabeth II’s visit. Or have a detailed discussion about what a united Ireland would look like with its most passionate advocates. Once you get past “the effin’ Brits this” or “the bastard Brits that” they’re out of ideas. You’ll get a few slogans at best.
3. Masochism is a national sport in Ireland. Only the Irish would come up with a phrase like “If I had your money, I’d burn me own”. A boot to the throat and a face in the cold wet mud reveals a mind that’s thinking “As soon as this bastard gets off me and walks back to the big house, I’m going to give him the glaring of his life!” Whether it’s the Brits, the IMF, the EU or our own potatoes, someone is always plottin’ agin’ us, and winning too. Curiously, we kinda like the sense of helplessness, and the idea that nothing is really in our power.
4. Hypocrisy is a form of cleverness. Waving your fist at the departing British monarch, before turning to give your son a belt for not getting down on his hands and knees in the dirt as the archbishop passes in his finery, that’s us. Whether it’s abortion, the Irish language, child abuse, neutrality or nuclear power, saying one thing and doing the other is regarded as perfectly normal to the Irish. Only an Irish emigrant can return home to Ireland and start complaining about foreigners taking Irish jobs, and be regarded as being perfectly reasonable. The saddest part is that we approach these issues like a dog with his head under the bed: because he can’t see anyone, he assumes he’s being clever, and no one can see what he’s up to. The problem is that the whole world can see the Irish arse sticking out from under the bed.
5. We are genuinely shocked when other countries act the way we do. We go to Brussels to defend our national interest (read: Money). Yet when the French or Germans do the same thing to us we are stunned, and regard them as bastards for, well, being like us.
6. Loyalty is the trait we rate above everything else, the source of our strength and most of our problems. If one of our friends told us they’d murdered someone, our gut instinct is to find out why, listening carefully for a moral nugget to latch onto to preserve the friendship. It is a noble trait which has kept our communities strong. It’s also why we hardly ever jail anyone for corruption.
7. We assume that rules are a good idea. For other people. Only in Ireland can someone shake their heads in sadness at news of “the carnage on our roads”, shake their fist at the government for “doing nothing”, and then flash their lights at other drivers to warn them not that they are speeding, but that there is a Garda car or a GATSO van parked up ahead trying to catch people breaking the speed limit. Why else would most Irish be happy to choose Catholicism as a religion, other than we have the absolution of the confessional, the “a la carte menu” of religions?
8. We will accept things in other countries that we’d never accept in Ireland. People who sniff at the minimum wage in Ireland will wait tables in Boston, London, Berlin or Melbourne. Go figure.
9. We take greater pleasure in the failure of others more sucessful than us than we do in our own success. Better us all be living in the shit than some of us break out.
10. Yet we can be pragmatic and clever (defeated the British), creative (U2, our comedians), intolerant of total nutters (A democracy since 1921, deposed the Catholic Church eventually) and this is not, in the grand scheme of things, a bad country to live in. Go figure.
Note: A variation of this post was put up early in 2011.
Remember when you were younger and you had a friend whom everyone else thought was a dickhead and you’d say “No, he’s actually a good guy when you get to know him,” and then he’d set fire to somebody’s hair and make you look like a twat?
That’s Ireland’s predicament with regard to Britain in Europe. The hard truth is that it suits us better to have Britain in the EU, from a trade perspective but also from a free trade and low tax angle. Relations with the UK have, since the days of John Major and Albert Reynolds, improved on an almost yearly basis. The problem for us is knowing whether Britain actually wants an ally or not.
Take David Cameron’s demands on the City of London. They’re no more unusual than our position on corporation tax or CAP, yet Britain seems to have an inability to build coalitions of
mutual interest, even in a climate of growing irritation at the high-handed Berlin-Paris approach. If we attempt to help Britain build a counter-balance to Berlin-Paris we need to know that Britain is in for the long haul, and not really hoping that the whole premise fails, and that’s the issue.
If David Cameron cannot show too much enthusiasm for fear of triggering the growing (and possibly) dominant headbanger faction in his party, then we can’t take the risk, and that would be such a terrible shame. In short, Britain needs to make its mind up, by proposing a comprehensive final settlement as to what sort of membership it is willing to hold, or else leave all together. We can’t keep going on like this, and Ireland (and the other small member states) has to be very wary of lashing herself to the British mast if the Tories are actively going at it from the other side with an axe.