Eoghan Harris

Monday 28 July 2014

Failed ideology of the 'Left Quartet' has been exposed

Eoghan Harris

Published 08/03/2009|00:00

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In his ard fheis speech, Brian Cowen spoke simply about the crisis facing our country. But I was not surprised to see the perverse heading on the Irish Times leader last Monday morning: "A Missed Opportunity".

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In reacting to the current crisis, the Irish Times is influenced by the same ideological pre-occupations as RTE. Let me spell them out. On one side we have the Left Quartet comprising the Irish Times/RTE/the Labour Party/public sector unions. The LQ promotes the interests of some 370,000 permanent and pensionable public sector employees at the expense of 1.8 million private sector workers, on poor pensions or none, all of whose jobs are at risk.

In recent months, the LQ has leveraged a legitimate populist anger -- which should have been limited to a minority of delinquent bank chiefs -- into a large scale, anarchic anger aimed at anybody and anything. Behind this angry smokescreen, the LQ advances its ideological agenda on the new budget -- to fill the €22bn hole in the public finances by direct taxation without cutting too deeply into public sector pay and pensions and without privatising State bodies.

As RTE is really the LQ's mouthpiece, apart from the Pat Kenny programme, the needs of the 1.8 million private sector workers are not served by RTE News. Neither are they served by private sector broadcasters, since the penny has still not dropped for some stupid private sector media "socialists".

Thus in the teeth of commercial reality, the ideological needs of nearly two million private sector workers are given no special priority by private sector radio and TV3. Indeed, only Eamon Keane and George Hook of Newstalk seem to grasp the big political and commercial picture.

This is grim since we are going through a deep global structural crisis of bottomless bad debt which can only be compared to the Thirty Years War. It will last our lifetime, and the private sector coping class will suffer grievously unless it gets a grip on the political and media levers of power. Begin with this budget.

Taxing a few fat cats will not create jobs or find us €22bn. We must race ahead of the debt avalanche by privatising all State bodies, freezing the capital programme, cutting deep into the cushioned public sector, and indexing it to the sufferings of the 1.8 million private sector workers (minus my beloved brother-in-law who after 25 years was laid off last week) so as to show that private sector workers are no longer second-class citizens.

Accordingly, I favour large public sector cuts and smaller tax increases to protect the private sector and energise the economy, whereas RTE's economic establishment favours a direct taxation solution for both ideological and selfish reasons.

As private sector advocates like me are effectively banned by RTE News (not one invitation to talk about public policy since I became a senator), I suggest that apart from Pat Kenny (who seems immune to ideological pressures) you tune into Newstalk's Eamon Keane and George Hook if you work in the private sector.

Against that background, and bearing in mind that Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan no more want to load on direct taxation than Richard Bruton (Labour has no solution except to throw shapes), you will now realise the reasons behind the political distortions of the Taoiseach's speech in the Irish Times leader last Monday.

First, it says: "Taoiseach Brian Cowen came out fighting . . ." Actually, it was Noel Dempsey who made the fighting speech. Brian Cowen hardly raised his voice.

Second, it says that when Brian Cowen called for a "meitheal mentality", he was "looking inwards also". Clearly the author is not aware that a "meitheal" was a gathering of neighbours to help bring in the harvest -- and a perfect term for a national consensus.

Third: "He spoke to the Fianna Fail party, however, rather than the electorate." Both the form and content of Cowen's speech were tailored to a TV audience. The words "Fianna Fail" did not feature once in the script. The sole fleeting reference to a "republican" party was simply to reinforce a call to collective action.

Finally, having first failed to predict the next few days (by saying the Government was afraid to have an early budget!) the editorial complained that Cowen did not mention the Greens in his televised address. Truly a petty point.

In his Friday night speech, the Taoiseach had singled out by name not just John Gormley and Eamon Ryan (who got generous applause) but also Mary Harney and the Progressive Democrats (who got the same). So why would he clutter a speech to the country with yet another tautological and tribal tribute?

But fairness is the first casualty in ideological struggle. In the week following the sour Irish Times editorial, and restrained RTE reactions, Fintan O'Toole and George Lee confirmed their commitment to direct taxation and their antipathy to public spending cuts in the course of their many media outings. Too many.

Last Wednesday morning, buoyed up by two RTE appearances the previous night (a fine film tribute to Hugh Leonard, followed by a brisk performance on the Prime Time) O'Toole arrived on the Pat Kenny programme with all guns blazing to put the case for taxing private pensions -- and for the following 39 minutes Pat Kenny politely picked his argument apart, with some assistance from Moore McDowell.

Trust me when I call it a forensic treat from start to finish. Test me by listening to the show. Meantime, to whet your appetite, here is a sudden-death summary.

Working from flawed assumptions -- most likely supplied to him by some policy wonk in his favourite think-tank, the Labour- leaning Tasc, O'Toole tacked wildly as follows.

First he called for a tax on private pensions. Second, under pressure from Kenny, he admitted that this would mean taxing them twice. Third, again under pressure from Kenny, he conceded that while he wanted to doubly tax private pensions he was not willing to call for cuts in public sector pensions -- although Kenny had already established that a garda retiring at 55 with a pension worth €1m would have paid in only €100,000, a tenth of the pension value.

Finally, caught out in calculations by Moore McDowell (who called his conclusions "rubbish") O'Toole revealed that what he really wanted was to stop wealthy persons investing their pensions in property. This caused the incredulous McDowell to ask whether O'Toole would stop the investment of German pension funds in Ireland!

To keep O'Toole company, George Lee also lost the plot last Friday -- again on the vibrant Pat Kenny programme. When Harry McGee sensibly suggested that child benefits could be means tested, George blew up and denounced this departure from the party line of direct taxation in his new dogmatic tone which brooks of no contradiction whatsoever.

George, like some others, got the property bubble right; he has been on a high since. People on a high tend to talk down a lot. But while I pay George's wages I would like him to listen a little too. To Newstalk.

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