Thursday 29 September 2016

It's stable enough at the moment, thank you

Published 20/03/2016 | 02:30

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan

Before the election had even finished, we were being told by almost everyone in the political game that what we needed most of all was "stable government" - the unanimity itself should have made us sceptical.

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"We" for example, in these situations, may not mean "we" in the normal sense - just "we", the people who got elected, rather than the people who elected them. Or it may just mean "we" the commentators who love saying things like "we need stable government", because that is what they do.

It certainly doesn't mean "we", the one-third of the electorate who chose not to vote - an awful lot of people there, who are probably finding that despite all the shape-throwing, things are feeling stable enough at the moment, without much of a government at all.

And those people were not necessarily disengaged from the election process, indeed many of them had a clear and well-reasoned attitude to it: "We don't want any of you". They would see interviewers asking the Taoiseach to name the election day, with the zeal of one who asks, "Mr President, what did you know and when did you know it?", and they would pay attention, if only to check that they had something better to do, on that day.

Whoever is running the country these days, be it the civil servants or "the Germans" who have been the real government anyway, things seem to be going along as normal, and to be quite honest, well, stable.

At least nothing very bad has happened, since the dissolution of the 31st Dail.

I mention "the Germans" here, if only because their contribution to our "recovery" was not acknowledged during the election. You'd think they'd never been here at all, as our "government" took the credit for whatever they had done, without bothering to mention that it had all been dreamed up and forced upon us by those rather humourless fellows in Frankfurt and Brussels and the IMF, who'd be over here checking up on poor Paddy - "the Germans" as we dubbed them. We may find fault with their solutions to our problems, which essentially involved the imposition of penalties on the blameless, in order to protect the perpetrators. But our leaders were broadly sympathetic to that approach anyway, always deferential to the money men, and the Germans did bring something new to the game - their philosophy may have been disgraceful, but they actually did what they promised to do, and for Paddy, that is a very strange experience.

Left on their own to formulate something as trivial as an election manifesto, it quickly became clear that Fine Gael couldn't even do what they were promising to do in a land of make-believe. The moment they ventured out into fiscal space on their own, they got lost.

So you'd think that the longer such people are kept away from government, stable or otherwise, the better for Paddy in the short term, the medium term, and perhaps even the long term.

Maybe this is what it is like in Italy, where in their great maturity they have scorned the very concept of "stable government" for about 70 years, where members of the political class are as disposable as Graham Norton's up-ended storytellers, leaving them to concentrate their national energies on the making of fine cars, fine clothes, fine wines, lots of fine things really, that seem to be produced somehow without a stable government, at times without any government at all.

How do they do that?

"The markets" don't like uncertainty, we are told, but they haven't closed down Italy since World War II, for reasons best known to themselves, and frankly they're not going to be too alarmed by any Irish government that isn't directly controlled by the army council of the IRA - that won't be coming until the next time.

The outgoing government has successfully overseen the handing over of the country to the vulture funds for about 20 quid, waving away any suggestion that it might "interfere", oblivious to the common good.

You will hear it suggested that the vultures took a risk when nobody else was prepared to buy Ireland, and are now being rightly rewarded for their enterprise, as if loads of people out there had access to several billions in order to take part in the bidding but chickened out - as if a bunch of lads down in Tullamore could have put together a syndicate, but decided it was just too rich for their blood.

Our government was stable, but it just wanted to get out of the way, and leave these big things to the big lads.

And the markets like that, very much, so they will shrug at this little interlude until our great offices of State are filled, and say "whatever".

But the game goes on anyway, and "we" need a result. "We" need to establish how exactly the great jobs are to be distributed, whose friends will be given the crazy PR contracts and the "roles" as advisors, who will even get to be judges.

"We", the political reporters, need the game too, it is all that "we" know. And whatever arrangements are made for the next administration, it will not be entirely without principles - there is no limit any more to what an Irish government will do, to improve the lives of those who are least in need.

Sunday Independent

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