WE have a Government that is neither brave nor bold. With few exceptions, the people who should make the major decisions on our behalf are far from being real leaders or pathfinders. The Taoiseach seems to take his orders from Brussels or Frankfurt, and he is happy to follow them.
This Government decided to ignore all the danger signs as the recession began and was surprised at each stage as it got worse. It decided to turn the huge debts of a relatively unimportant bank, which had little interaction with the community, into a crippling sovereign liability. It decided to negotiate a deal with the public sector unions that hog-tied the ability to use all avenues necessary for cutting the budget deficit. It agreed with Brussels to a four-year budgetary strategy which, together with the other decisions taken, does not allow for necessary stimulus or growth. And last week it agreed to a permanent European bailout package.
The latter, in itself, is not a bad thing, but the idea comes from Angela Merkel and is supported by Nicolas Sarkozy. The problem here is that Angela Merkel and the German people have a few conditions before they are willing to become the main guarantors of such a fund. These include extremely onerous penalties for any member state that might default on the rules that insist the budget deficit must remain below three per cent of GDP. Among the penalties are heavy fines -- at this stage the least of our worries. Even a sovereign state can get to the stage when another bill is just another bill. But the German people also want to withdraw European voting rights from any defaulting states.
Brian Lenihan said recently that we must stick to the four-year deadline -- for now -- and maybe after a couple of years of showing willing, we could re-negotiate. If the German plan is accepted, that option would appear to be removed. Not only that, but it would seem to require such a fundamental change to the Lisbon Treaty that it is almost inevitable we would need a referendum in this country -- a referendum that would be bound to become about whether or not we are willing to hand over complete sovereignty to Europe.
That is where Brian Cowen and his Government have led us. And looking at the activity in the bond market in the past week, there seems a terrible inevitability about where the Government is going to lead us in the coming months. Everything now seems to depend on our next bond issue in February being taken up in good numbers at a reasonable rate. But there is no reason to believe this will happen. So the conclusion is that Mr Cowen is leading us inexorably into the arms of the IMF.
That is not something we can be relieved about. Mark Weisbrot, writing in the Guardian last week about the experience of the late Nestor Kirchner when Argentina's economy collapsed in the late Nineties, said: "The IMF had been instrumental in bringing about the collapse by supporting, among other bad policies, an overvalued exchange rate with ever-increasing indebtedness at rising interest rates. But when Argentina's economy inevitably collapsed, the IMF offered no help, just a series of conditions that would impede the economy's recovery. The IMF was trying to get a better deal for the foreign creditor. Kirchner rightly refused its conditions and the IMF refused to roll over Argentina's debt."
The difference in our case is that we may not have the option of refusing the IMF conditions that will be so stringent they will make our next four budgets rolled into one look easy.
Is it any wonder then that Enda Kenny felt last week that depression, anxiety and fear were stalking the land? These symptoms are symbolised in Mr Cowen and his Government and they have spread their contagion among us. But we, the people, are not the Government, and it is not us. We are better than that, collectively and as individuals. Courage, enterprise and idealism have not been eradicated. We still possess these qualities. Now is the time to use them and show that we will not allow our spirit as a nation to be crushed.