News Gene Kerrigan

Saturday 30 August 2014

Hierarchies of privilege remain well protected

No faction of the well-off has a tighter grip on our throats than the politicians, aided by blind tribal loyalty, writes Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Published 15/09/2013 | 05:00

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CLEAR WORLD VIEW: Personal Insolvency Practitioner Jim Stafford's remarks on 'trophy homes' reflected the establishment position

THE evidence is all around. Not a week passes that we don't get fresh evidence for why the same people, the same old failures, retain their grip on our throats.

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Take last week. Jim Stafford did the nation some service. Jim, for those of you who missed it, is a Pip a Personal Insolvency Practitioner.

One of the chaps appointed to sort out our debts. And last week the Pip squeaked. Jim stated, as though it was uncontroversial, that when the professional classes become insolvent they should be allowed keep their trophy houses, as befits their status.

If the professionals sell their trophy houses and live like the rest of us, the proceeds would reduce their bank debts. Otherwise, the banks swallow the debt. Who makes up such losses? We do. Because some people matter, and some people don't.

Jim sought to retract his "clumsy" words, but there was nothing clumsy about your words, Jim. They were an admirably clear and frank example of the establishment view of the world. Nama deals with the big boys, the Pips will sort out the affairs of the buy-to-let investors who got caught in the property bubble.

From the beginning, some of us have argued that this is all about who picks up the tab for the bursting of that bubble. The elites insist that, as far as possible, the unfair and inefficient hierarchies of privilege and status most be preserved – and the bulk of the cost shifted to the middle and lower paid. (Who are, after all, more suited to living on an economic knife-edge.) To that end, the people who matter look after one another.

In the beginning was the bank bailout, a multi-billion gift to the financial business. The politicians had the job of ensuring the citizens had appropriate banking facilities when the banks collapsed, to ensure that personal and commercial business could continue with the least disruption. Instead, they pawned the sovereignty of the country in an attempt to save the people who mattered.

From that to the Pip project, that has been the underlying principle of government strategy. In between, we have such wonders as failed developers employed by Nama, at €100,000 or €200,000 a year.

Many discredited bankers continue to earn magic money. Discredited bureaucrats move sideways or upwards, into other lucrative positions. Discredited EU strategists lucratively soldier on, regarded by the media as fonts of wisdom. Discredited economists, with straight faces, tell us austerity is good for us. In one report at the height of the recklessness, the ESRI demanded caution. Ahern snarled. The next ESRI report declared that all was well. The ESRI, like other establishment pets, now tells us – as though it has some claim on our respect – that middle and low earners must take a hiding. For their own good.

Ibec, the great cheerleader of the Tiger era, is a big fan of making the middle and low earners pay. I sometimes wonder do Ibec members with time on their hands ever look up the Ibec website. (They have time on their hands because their businesses crashed when austerity reduced consumer demand – and the banks continued to extract exorbitant rents.) The website boasts of "over 150 companies actively involved in every area of financial services from retail banks to insurance companies to fund administrators and managers and leasing and treasury companies". Some people matter, some people don't.

Of course, no faction of the well-off has a tighter grip on our throats than the politicians. There hasn't for decades been a hairline separating the policies of the main parties. The core of their world view is that the people who matter must be protected and encouraged to work their magic – perhaps with another property boom.

As evidence of how the trick is pulled, look at Eamon Gilmore, last week reinventing himself as a Tribune of the People. He won't put up, he told us, with the Troika subjecting Irish citizens to the "economic experiment" of austerity. God, some of us sighed, if only that lad was in government.

Eamon, one quarter of the Economic Management Council, which takes orders from the Troika and rams the consequent legislation through Cabinet and parliament, is acting the role of outsider, rebel, lefty agitator. And the media, and his party, keep straight faces. Wow, folks, Red Eamon won't stand idly by while Tanaiste Eamon kicks the bejayzus out of the citizens.

Central to the corruption of the political system is the tribal behaviour of party supporters. When Haughey was exposed as a thief and a perjurer, his party stood by him, all the way to his grave. When Ahern's questionable bank deposits emerged, his party stood by him even as he allowed his former secretary to be subjected to a dreadful ordeal at the planning tribunal.

Eamon Gilmore ran on explicit policies, in 2011, and did a 180-degree spin before the dust settled on the general election. He brazened out the Wikileaks scandal, and his party looked away in embarrassment: This isn't happening, this isn't happening, oh, Lord, Mr Gilmore, sir, tell us this isn't happening. And he did.

To Gilmore's right, Fianna Fail puts on its caring face, seeking reinvention as the People's Party. To Gilmore's left, Sinn Fein wonders which of the above might make the best coalition partner.

Protected by the blind loyalty of party tribalism, politicians get away with just stating things as though they are fact – we've turned the corner, we're reforming politics, we protect the most vulnerable. The parties are corrupt and unthinking, the Dail has been bullied into submission, four politicians with unimpressive records control everything from the Cabinet down. The media for the most part continues to view politics as a horse race – anything alien to the narrow views of an Enda or an Eamon is declared unserious.

There's no conspiracy among these people. Just a sensible, inbred and shared understanding of what best serves their interests.

Sunday Independent

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