"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
Hooray, 'tis the season to be jolly and this week I've been madly entertained, once again, by those tales of people who've unashamedly enjoyed a super jolly or 20 in the not-so-distant past.
"Putting the 'social' in social partnership," is how TD Simon Harris described the €108,000 restaurant bill run up by those fun-loving union party-people and all their comrades from the health service who had a grand 'aul time dining out on the tax-funded Siptu "slush-fund".
Those were the days, eh?
Oh, what larks they had -- with cosy love-ins, trips abroad and fun and games aplenty. What, you didn't know?
Admittedly, they were rather quiet about it, weren't they? And as neither you nor I were invited, a quick recap: As reported in this newspaper last week, at least 30 health officials, senior civil servants, union representatives and other health managers had a grand old time on about 40-odd junkets abroad courtesy of the aforementioned "fund".
But once the taxpayer heard of all the jollies they had inadvertently paid for, many of the 36 officials who mistakenly brought their wives or partners along -- and then forgot to pay for them -- coughed up the dough. (Ah sure, don't worry about it comrade; it could happen to a politician -- and in times gone by it frequently did, it even happened to a Ceann Comhairle).
The €5m Siptu fund was supposed to be spent on upskilling low-paid workers but the Dail Public Accounts Committee is having a difficult time trying to find out what workers were upskilled, if any.
Siptu, God love their ditzy little heads, are saying they knew nothing about anything. Ever.
Life is good if you're a member of the Social Partnership Club. And if you're a union leader it's even better. Because while the politicians have to (rightly) take the flak for continuing the austerity policies of their predecessors while kowtowing to the reviled bankers et al, the unions are still insisting that this nasty economic mess was nothing to do with them.
Not only were they completely uninvolved, they're now claiming that it's only themselves who are protecting their workers from the harsh economic reality of what Michael Lewis calls: "A New Third World Country" (he means Ireland).
Where the unions were during all the years of social partnership I can't tell you. Perhaps they were out of the country on one of those "fact-finding" trips?
But when the prospect of a downturn was imminent they were all hands on deck again as they deftly masterminded the ring-fencing of their already artificially inflated salaries and pensions (benchmarking II) for the foreseeable future. And so the extraordinary Croke Park Agreement was born -- which may consign more than half the country to poverty, unemployment and desperation -- but happily for its architects -- not the half that matters to them.
The union reps get to bluster and bleat, scratch their beards and pretend that they're out there defending the put-upon worker, and the politicians are more than happy to point to the nasty unions as a reason for their refusal to deal with this problem.
That's loyalty for you -- sure there's nothing these lads wouldn't do for each other.
Oh, how they must all laugh when they're out together reminiscing about the good old years when a billion or so pleasantly wasted on a state/union quango like Fas was barely noticed by the peasants. (There was only ever one slip-up -- when Unite's Brendan Ogle described ESB workers -- whose average salary is €75,000 rising to €94,300 when pension contributions are included -- as "spoilt", "privileged" and used to "gravy".) But be warned; if you're not in, you can't win.
As I've said before, in this country there are some workers who are more equal than others, a truth which has become abundantly clear to the 50 per cent of SMEs in Ireland who are contracting, winding up, or simply trying to survive (Intertrade Ireland's Business Monitor Q3). Meanwhile about six companies a day went bust in 2011.
But never mind, Lovely Leo, our own cheeky-chappie, public (private) school boy, who could teach Clegg and Cameron a thing or two about privilege, has assured us that we'll be grand come the New Year. And there we were all worried, what with the VAT and the property tax and the problems with negative equity, and people less and less able to finance mortgages, with spiralling unemployment and public sector strikes threatened.
Well, silly us.
Because it's all grand in Leo Land. Sure no one's income will be touched, he said. And if we cut back on the champagne and smoked salmon, we should all be able to go on holiday come summertime. Bless his innocent little heart. He really hasn't got a clue has he?
And why should he? It's not like he's going to be particularly affected by this recession, is it?
I know the lad has admitted that, like so many hundreds of thousands of the great unwashed outside of Leinster House, he is also in negative equity because of an apartment he bought during the "boom".
See, he's suffering too, you know. So how can we resent his lovely ministerial salary, his future pension and that mysterious lump sum called "severance money" that he'll get when we eventually vote him out.
Ditto all his other political chums who, unlike Leo, may not have had such privileged private school backgrounds -- for some strange reason Gay Mitchell comes to mind, I might have heard something about his childhood during his presidential bid -- but have very deftly managed to kick the ladder away behind them.
They seem to have forgotten that most unemployed people in this country are not part of an "entitlement culture" (psychologists would call this transference) and nor are most of those on disability benefits.
They seem to have forgotten that SMEs are the backbone of any economy and deserve any help that they can get (not some mumbling incoherence about legal problems re rent reviews and non-existent bank lending).
They seem to have forgotten that when the electorate voted them in they expected something new, something fresh, something equitable and fair from them: not the same old tired mutterings abut hands being tied, hard decisions, blah, blah, blah ...
And who is supposed to remind them of their broken promises, of their duty to their citizens?
In other countries the unions tend to do that job, years ago in Ireland that was the case too.
But our lot are far too used to sharing the trough with their masters, too used to making life easy for themselves and their partners in crime. They'll destroy the country rather than relinquish it, as they are quite aware that it's their last throw of the dice.
Meanwhile those of us outside the circle, look from union rep to government minister to bank CEO and back again and truly, it is impossible to tell which is which or what any of them stand for anymore.
Merry Christmas one and all.