Tuesday 21 November 2017

Does Enda know cost of boiling a kettle?

If the Greeks can stand up to the might of Germany and France, so should we, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

If you want advice on how to get through a recession, ask a pensioner. These people have known hard times, and they don't crumble at the prospect of getting through them again.

That was evident when Marian Finucane asked listeners to her Saturday show to ring in with suggestions of how to save money at home, and one of the first replies was from an OAP who said she boiled a kettle first thing in the morning, put the hot water in a flask to stay warm, then used that to make cups of tea through the day.

If the current economic crisis can be compared to war, it's as well there are still people around who remember the days when Sean Lemass as Minister for Supplies issued ration books, and housewives across the country had to feed families on whatever their meagre stamps could get them. All this continued until 1951, well within living memory for many Irish people. They must think we're awfully feeble for being so useless when it comes to coping in straitened circumstances.

We, in turn, should be ashamed that we live in a country where old people can't afford to turn on a kettle whenever they damn well like.

Suggestions came into Marian thick and fast, from putting on extra jumpers rather than turning up the heating to not throwing away so much food.

It was sobering to see how much thought ordinary people had given to the minutiae of austerity.

According to Marian, even the Queen's got in on the act, ordering staff to turn off lights in Buckingham Palace to save money. If that isn't ironic, what is?

One of the world's wealthiest women appears to understand the sacrifices necessary in times of austerity more than our own politicians, who bleat loudly about their solidarity with ordinary people but act and talk as if the budgetary measures being planned in the next few weeks are mere-ly of academic interest to financial analysts, rather than decisions which will impact directly on everyone's quality of life, forcing more pensioners to turn off kettles.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou can be criticised for many things, but at least he does seem to understand the pain being inflicted on his fellow countrymen as a result of the EU/IMF deal.

Briefly this week, he was even a hero for promising a referendum to the beleaguered Greeks.

The cries of outrage which this proposed exercise in democracy ignited across the European political class was a stark warning about exactly what the federalists think of the little people who must live with the consequences of their empire-building. More than that, it was a long overdue reminder of how unusual it is to see the leader of a small country standing up for his own people against powerful interests.

Papandreou sadly ditched the referendum, but a marker has been set down in the sand. European autocrats would be foolish to ignore it in future.

Or maybe it's not so much that Papandreou understands his people's pain, more that they forced him to understand by refusing to take their punishment quietly. Their voluble discontent gave him the authority to stand up to German and French bullies. The revolt petered out, and Papandreou himself may soon be out of power, but Merkel and Sarkozy know now that enforcing Berlin's will is not going to be a walk in the park.

The Greeks face more pain, but they can hold their heads high. It's about time Enda Kenny discovered some of the same steel.

It's partly our fault that he hasn't. As the latest poll shows, there's still a sizeable constituency out there which remains afraid of taking on Europe; 44 per cent actually believe the Greeks were wrong this week to stand up for themselves. The other answers strongly reveal a country which doesn't believe the austerity being imposed on them will solve the problem.

The logic of that belief demands that our leaders exert more muscle, as the Greeks did, rather than be supine. The basis of a resistance is clearly there in the 56 per cent who support what Athens did.

It's not so much that our leaders should beware of Greeks bearing gifts. They should beware of Greeks full stop. They've shown it can be done, and we're not going to forget it any time soon.

If Papandreou can fight back, so can Enda Kenny.

Sunday Independent

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