As Village went to print, the main governing party had 13% support and its grumpy leader satisfied only 14% of voters. The country looks likely to finish up losing 20% of its predicted GDP to ineptitude and corruption. The country is insolvent, unless it can maintain unsustainable 6.5% growth rates, even though our leaders pretend not to have realised it. Insolvency has been caused partly by a hasty and reckless government guarantee to insolvent banks, that cosseted speculator bondholders. The country has just surrendered, following a period of dishonest governmental denial, to an ignominiously-loaned European and IMF €85bn ‘bailout’ at draconian interest rates. A vicious and somewhat regressive budget has hammered the whole of society particularly the poorest, in pursuit of planned cuts of €15bn over four years. The unapologising Taoiseach has appeared on the nation’s flagship radio programme soggily hungover. One public-sector boss in Ireland takes home a staggering €752,568. The government hasn’t had the will to annihilate bankers’ bonuses, though it has filleted the minimum wage. The principal opposition party is led by a lightweight who lets himself down whenever there is a mic around. And finally the coalition government, on the verge of internal-dissent-driven collapse, has announced that an election will be held as soon as possible [later specified as March 11].
What would a visitor from Mars expect – anger on the streets, strikes against government policy, the occasional riot by those who cannot contain themselves? And on the positive side exciting new public debate, new political initiatives, and above all alternatives to the discredited old guard.
Not the very real, imminent prospect of more Fianna Gael and Labour.
The country needs to take immediate action to avoid the excesses of the European/IMF deal. We should take the most aggressive position legally possible against every last bondholder, curtail future payments to redundant non-systemic cash-torchers like Anglo Irish and re-negotiate the interest rate on the bailout, including on those portions of it being advanced bilaterally by so-called friendly neighbours. If this is not to the liking of our international friends, then we should threaten to default. The associated international debate on our institutionalised mugging can only work to our advantage. Eurobonds issued by the EU rather than member states would infinitely improve Ireland’s liquidity and solvency difficulties; and save the Euro. The least responsible thing is to commit, as Fianna Fáil and the Greens would have us, to increased debt to get us out of a situation where we cannot pay our debts. It is a recipe for societal immiseration and national bankruptcy.
More generally, we need institutional and political reform.
In the current edition of Village, Niall Crowley one of the protagonists in Claiming our Future, writes (p7), “A civil society force … needs to be able to shape and influence political discourse and to create a situation where political parties take up the ideas from the October event as their own”. This is all very well but it’s probably simply too late to get the political parties to take up any agenda before an election in March.
It is clear that all the movements in the world do not a political party make. The country needs two new political parties: one of the left; one of the right. Prospective members tainted by either a Fianna Fáil or a Fine Gael past should not be welcome in either. Defiannafailification (p32) is a national imperative but Fine Gael sat on their oppositional hands for a decade and more. They are the closest thing to Fianna Fáil in the global political firmament; and should hasten into oblivion. If they are this bad in opposition, how despised will they become in government. It would be refreshing to see the back of both of the retrogressive clans that have driven Irish politics since the very foundations of the state.
The country needs an agenda. It needs constitutional and institutional reform. Village would favour the prospective party of the left. Equality, Sustainability and Transparency are national imperatives. The more specific agenda of Irish Times journalist, Fintan O’Toole’s (p48), is a good starting point. Time is short. While there have been some half worthy attempts to establish new parties, they mostly seem to lack ideology and ideas. The United Left Alliance, while strong on integrity and offering a sound analysis is a little too negative for Village. We would like to see a party of the radical left formed out of a convention involving those who have shown willingness to engage. That might involve those who have offered interesting analysis and solutions: journalists like Fintan O’Toole, Vincent Browne, David McWilliams, Duncan Stewart, Joe Mulholland and Elaine Byrne; movements and thinktanks like Claiming our Future and Tasc; Community and environmental activists; individuals who have done the state some service like John Lonergan, Adi Roche and Niall Crowley; distinguished academics such as Morgan Kelly, Peadar Kirby, Diarmuid Ferriter and Kathleen Lynch; independent political stalwarts like Mary Robinson and David Norris. It should probably also be open to the more open-minded activists from more or less progressive forces like Sinn Féin, the United Left Alliance, the Labour Party and the Green Party. Somebody needs to convene the first meeting. Mary Robinson commands the most respect, has just returned to live in Ireland and would be ideal.