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Gene Kerrigan: Five-Point Enda so right, and so wrong


WE'VE just seen an election campaign that was virtually politics-free. It was all about polls and constituency profiles, the 'Gilmore Gale' and rehearsed soundbites, phoney 'plans' and meaningless slogans like 'Get Ireland back to work'. Yet, we are drowning as a result of politics. Bad politics. Politics that contrives to remain invisible behind the shadow boxing.

After the debacles of the past few years, how could the political establishment -- government and opposition -- have the nerve to continue in public life? The same question might be asked of their media cheerleaders and academic groupies. A train driver who did to a train what they did to the country would be forced to take up a new line of business.

The answer, of course, lies in the unswerving ability of the political right to erase uncomfortable facts from their records. They made mush of the economy; they then put the banks before the citizens; they sabotaged the real economy; they scapegoated the poorest. Each step was cheered by the groupies, and in turn each step made things worse.

After an election campaign that consisted largely of manufactured disagreements, we now dump Mr Nasal Congestion and welcome Five-Point Enda -- and the policies that are killing hope have new wind in their sails.

Erasing uncomfortable facts is done gradually. Have you noticed, for instance, how the Progressive Democrats are being airbrushed from history? Last week, Mary Hanafin boasted of Fianna Fail's ability to work within coalitions -- and she instanced their (relatively brief) partnerships with Labour and the Greens. Not a mention of the PDs, with whom she shared a cosy and disastrous coalition for a dozen years.

Last week the Irish Independent published a helpful supplement that listed the vote breakdown over 30 years -- and the PDs weren't featured. In tiny italic font at the bottom of the chart, we learned that the PDs are now anonymously lumped in under "Others".

Recently in this newspaper, ex-PD leader Michael McDowell called for the formation of a new party, once the election is out of the way. And Mickey Mac never once reminded us of -- oh, it's on the tip of my tongue, what's the name of the party he dumped unceremoniously when he lost his seat on election night in 2007? From 1997 onwards, there was an unmistakable surge to the right in Irish politics, culminating in the blast of right-wing policies that inflated the credit bubble from around 2000 and led directly to the collapse of the economy. It was a huge right-wing development grounded in a neo-liberal philosophy fashionable elsewhere. It will have consequences for generations. Instead of recognising this, the media went along with the fiction that Ireland has a left wing but no right wing.

The PDs came, wrecked the joint, then disappeared into the past, with their bloated pensions. Their right-wing extremism was eagerly soaked up within FF and FG. Rather than admit to applying, with disastrous results, a coherent set of right-wing principles -- the establishment now glosses things over. They use phrases like "mistakes were made" and, "we got some things wrong". The pretence is that they were merely a bunch of happy-go-lucky folks who just did what they thought was right at the time.

No matter how extremist their right-wing policies are, these parties are portrayed as "the centre". Anything outside is alien, disruptive, loony. Meaningful debate is sidelined, this is "the only game in town".

Here's a question that could have been asked of Mr Nasal Congestion, Brian Bailout or Five-Point Enda at any time over the past couple of years: "It was doctrinaire right-wing policies that collapsed the economy -- what makes you believe that your current right-wing solutions won't make things worse?"

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Not a chance that question would be asked. Even though, at every stage of this crisis, the off-the-peg right-wing policies prescribed by the two Brians, in consultation with their EU masters, have indeed made things measurably worse.

The media can routinely -- and accurately -- refer to the "left-wing sensibilities" of people like Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd Barrett. Nothing wrong with that. But broadcasters and writers would be admonished if they routinely referred to FF or FG's "right-wing sensibilities".

This is not an accident.

Joe Higgins is in the Socialist Party. The name is on the tin. A whole lot of people are in the United Left Alliance -- you know where they stand. Ditto the Workers' Party. The Greens or even Labour give a hint of an ideological complexion. But the right-wing policies of McCreevy, Ahern, Kenny and Varadkar come clothed in party names drawn from a semi-mystical Gaelic past.

When Michael McDowell and his fellow rightists formed a party in the Eighties, they might have called themselves the Free Market Extremists. Instead, they were the Progressive Democrats. (Everyone wants progress, everyone needs democracy.)

Notions of populist nationalism -- beloved of old FF -- were swept away by the apparent success of the Celtic Tiger period. A generation of politicians eagerly adopted half-baked and wholly-swallowed right-wing platitudes -- chop the tax base, privatise, deregulate, unleash the rich. They sucked relentlessly on these ideological soothers, regardless of circumstance or outcome.

Listen to Simon Coveney, agog at the prospect of getting into government, aching to try out his right-wing bromides on the transport system. He sounds like a child who has spent too long playing at DIY, with rubber hammers and plastic saws. Now, God help us, he's about to be let loose with an array of power tools.

His earnestness is reminiscent of that of Mary Harney, full of good intentions and right-wing claptrap, as she set forth to consolidate the two-tier health service. Fine Gael is awash with this new breed -- about to engage in another grotesque experiment, putting into practice the set of assumptions and prescriptions they picked up at business school lectures and the dinner parties of wealthy patrons.

And the unwritten ban on putting those assumptions and proscriptions into context allows them all to pretend that there's no connection between the policies that caused the debacle, and the policies that made it worse over the past two years. And certainly no connection to the policies to come from Five-Point Enda and Weak Breeze Gilmore.

The left didn't help. When the media demanded, "But, where will we get the money", the left tried to answer in those terms, as though we're faced with a knotty little accounting problem. There is no answer to that question, as long as we're unwilling to confront the realities of wealth and inequality, of dead banks and the relationship between this little bit of an economy and the brutal right-wing policies dictated by panicky EU mandarins.

We stumbled uncertainly out of the Age of Ahern, gasped in disbelief through every development of the Cowen Chapter. Now, we nervously enter the Enda Era. The faces change, but the dread-laden establishment's faith in those right-wing assumptions and proscriptions remains as strong as ever, even as the debacle deepens.

And those assumptions and proscriptions, largely unremarked and unacknowledged, concealing their extremism in centrist language, drastically limit our options. Oh, no, giving billions to banks isn't extremist! We just want to boost freedom, and enterprise and nice stuff like that!

Cue Kevin Spacey, at the end of the movie The Usual Suspects: "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."