News Gene Kerrigan

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Gene Kerrigan: Keeping straight faces during storytime

Gather round, boys and girls, and Enda will tell you a fairytale like he told Mr Monti, says Gene Kerrigan

Published 26/02/2012 | 05:00

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It has to happen, sooner or later. The RTE TV news jingle will come on, and we'll see newsreader Eileen Dunne or Una O'Hagan looking at the camera with a stunned expression.

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She will look down at the sheet of paper in front of her, shake her head, and say, "Christ, folks, you're not going to believe this one."

Unfortunately, RTE is statutorily obliged to keep a straight face as it transmits news that even my cat knows is nothing but pixie dust. More than once last week, my cat turned to me, lifted one eyebrow and gave me a look that said, This is a joke, right?

Sorry, Sunny, I said, that's how things work these days. Our leaders make up fairytales and we all pretend to believe them.

Dear Leader Enda last week continued his habit of running off for a chat with other world leaders. First he went to see Angela Merkel. There must be a clause in the Lisbon Treaty that requires people like Angela to provide photo ops for people like Enda. In you come, shake hands, smile at the cameras, off you go. I'm told he's on his second autograph book already.

Angela was under pressure last week, so she did Enda in a kind of job lot, with Valdis Dombrovksis and Petr Necas, the Latvian and Czech prime ministers.

Next day, Enda dropped in on Italian prime minister Mario Monti. This photo op featured Monti and Enda holding hands. It started off as a handshake, but as they moved sideways the chums clung on, and it turned into one of those awkward moments. Not as excruciating as when Nicky Sarkozy tickled Enda's neck, but my cat spluttered.

That's when the jaw-dropping moment occurred.

Mario Monti said a few words and RTE's Paul Cunningham provided us with a translation. "The turnaround in the Irish economy," said Mr Monti, "is proof for the Italians that reform can be difficult to take, but it can boost recovery."

The what?

The "turnaround in the Irish economy". Mario had just spent an hour alone with Enda and came out believing that the Irish economy has "turned around". We're into "recovery" mode.

Unemployment at 14 per cent, forced emigration, wage cuts, charges for breathing (that's in next year's Budget), cuts in schools and hospitals. . . and after 10 years and €36m wasted, we're unable to build a children's hospital.

Now, in a perfect world, Paul Cunningham would have appeared on camera and said, "Mario's away with the fairies, God love him -- he's a nice chap but an hour alone with Enda will do that to you." Unfortunately, RTE is obliged to report the yammering of politicians with a straight face.

Back home, the ESRI was proudly announcing that "austerity is working". RTE's Morning Ireland seemed delighted that the ESRI is predicting 0.9 per cent growth. It repeatedly, in its headlines, coupled the ESRI's growth prediction with the "austerity is working" claim. This gave the impression that the "growth" is evidence that the policy is working. Exactly the opposite is the case.

The media trumpeted that the ESRI predicted "modest" growth of 0.9 per cent. It whispered that the ESRI previously predicted 2 per cent growth. It might have simply announced: "ESRI slashes growth forecast in half". It might have pointed out that this undermines the Government prediction of 1.3 per cent growth. It might have said this was an inevitable outcome of the austerity policies. But that would be "talking down the economy".

Austerity is working, okay -- just as many of us predicted. It's choking the real economy, while the politicians persist in paying billions in gambling debts that belong to Irish and German bankers. That's depressing enough. It's worse that they're telling each other (and they're telling that Monti chap) fairytales about a turnaround in the economy.

"Austerity is working!" said the man from the ESRI, on my TV screen. My cat turned to me and adopted a quizzical expression. Is this guy for real?

That's David Duffy, I told her. Dave's a nice guy. Unfortunately, in 2008 Dave was one of the authors of a chapter in a book called Best of Times?, which analysed "Ireland's exceptional economic success".

Dave writes on housing. It was a period when people like Morgan Kelly, Richard Curran and David McWilliams warned of the dangers of the bubble, but Dave and his chapter comforted us: "Despite its runaway appearance, the housing market in Ireland may be less precarious than in some other countries." And although "there have been many warnings that a speculative bubble has formed in the Irish housing market. . . many economists consider that a smooth transition to a slower growth path in the Irish housing market is possible".

So comforting was this that one of Bertie's Seanad appointees, Fiona O'Malley, read it aloud in the chamber. One in the eye for those people who worried about a crash.

At the same time, Dave was co-author of another ESRI report, the 2008 Medium-term Review: "It seems likely that most of the economic drivers of the housing market will remain positive over the next few years." Oh, yeah. And unemployment would be as low as 5.3 per cent in 2015.

In its previous medium-term review, the ESRI had a warning: "There are considerable dangers in the current situation: in particular the very high level of dependence on the building industry."

But, then Bertie of the Sterling Deposits growled that certain losers should bugger off and commit suicide. And by 2008 the ESRI had discovered optimism: "There is widespread concern about the immediate future prospects for the world economy. However, our essential message in this Review is upbeat." Too much caution could lead to "missing the opportunity to plan and prepare for a better future in the next decade".

After all, the ESRI wrote, even as the wheels came off the wagon: "The fundamentals of the economy are sound." So, you see, I told my cat, for some of us, ESRI pronouncements have all the credibility of one of those psychic chaps you ring up on premium lines and he tells you you're going to win the lotto.

The cat looked back at smiling Dave, and shrugged sympathetically. "Yes," I said, "anyone can get things wrong, but that's not the point." Dave's a nice guy, and he and his colleagues do their best to provide the nation with useful information. But -- and by now I was wagging my finger at the cat -- they're part of the crew that got us into this mess. They have the same world view. The same priorities. They use the same criteria and analytic tools to find a way out that they used when they were telling us to keep on trucking.

The EU and Mario and Enda and their cheerleaders have their priorities. Save the banks and the bondholders; preserve the structural inequalities that existed before the crash. All that's non-negotiable. If they can do it without crushing the real economy, they will. But it's not working out like that. So, crush they will, if crush they must.

I paused. Sunny was asleep.

Sunday Independent

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