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Defer gratification long enough and you'll be dead before you've ever really lived

WHAT has happened that we can't make a fiscal decision without first running it to Brussels or Frankfurt for approval?

That we have to borrow from moneylenders at ruinous rates and terms just to pay public sector wages and social welfare?

And that we are threatened with the shutdown of the ECB's life-support machine if we don't do what we're told?

We are like an alcoholic on his bended knees in front of the only source of drink, prepared to go to any degrading lengths to appease the supplier. (You can substitute 'loans' for 'drink' if you like.)

Where is the wild, free, independent spirit that we like to think we possess? Why have we become so dependent?

We have got ourselves into a position where we are being pushed around and bullied by fat-cat EU technocrats riding on the most extravagant gravy train ever invented.

The spirit that we pride ourselves on has been crushed by a monolithic bureaucracy, the true purpose of which is to expand its own power and hegemony.

We have been emasculated and demoralised to the point where we have little confidence in ourselves, and even less hope.

A Government statement last week told us that we must adjust by €15bn over the next four years. And, in the language of an authoritarian headmaster, it added: "Our obligations are clear. We must demonstrate that we are bringing sustainability to our public finances."

Obligations to what? Demonstrate to whom? Are these fearsome overlords the EU, the ECB (which is propping up Anglo Irish Bank and our sovereign debt), and the shadowy Shylocks known as the bondholders?

So what about our own people? Are we not human? If you prick us, do we not bleed?

Are those who have lost their jobs or businesses merely collateral damage when the Great Slide Rule in Frankfurt does its sums?

Is our stoicism really what it seems, or is it instead a contemporary version of the old penitential culture that taught us to 'offer up' our suffering?

We have become an economic colony of Germany, and even now Angela Merkel is wagging a stern finger at us about changing the EU rules on bailouts. You can't blame her -- it's their money!

I once asked Conor Cruise O'Brien what would have happened if we had been colonised by Germany instead of Britain. His reply was pithy: "We'd all be dead."

To be fair to Berlin, they don't want us grimly hanging on to them for survival. As they see it, they have bigger problems.

I believe that the first Irish government to tell the moneylenders to get off our backs and set about a realistic redefinition of our debt will have the gratitude and votes of the people.

The experts will tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about, that there is no alternative but to suffer silently the Teutonic straitjacket in which we are trussed up.

I have learnt that experts are to be ignored, if possible, and are hardly ever visionaries, entrepreneurs or leaders.

Their main purpose is to invest a subject with such arcane mystery that we come to regard them as indispensable and pay them huge salaries, mainly because we don't know what they're talking about.

We have lost the ability to simply do something without commissioning weighty reports which, by the time they are delivered, have somehow robbed us of all energy for action.

We have 2,800 ghost estates and 43,000 vacant houses and apartments around the country. So what do we do? We set up an expert committee to 'seek suggestions'.

Can we not actually do something about this right now?

If Donogh O'Malley had had any respect for expert committees, he would never have brought in free education over 40 years ago.

Expertise is only one thing, and it is certainly not the most important. It should be kept in its place and hired where necessary for fair but modest reward.

The qualities that are truly like gold dust are vision, knowledge, talent, wisdom, enterprise and what Keynes called 'animal spirits'.

These things have been suffocated by the dead weight of a stern, autocratic bureaucracy, paid for mainly by Germany -- an oppression which our politicians and civil servants lack the mettle to stand up to. It is slowly killing us.

We did very well out of the EU for about 35 years, and a lot of money was given to us, but the result was that we became as financially dependent as a woman without means who has married a billionaire.

The consequence is that we are no more than a doormat that is being walked all over.

There is a lot more to living a worthwhile life than money. I believe it is well past time to throw off the crippling shackles of dependency, no matter what the cost.

The fault lies, not in our stars, but in ourselves that we have become dysfunctional underlings.

Nothing illustrates our own mismanagement more eloquently than the manner in which we are casting around to save money by cutting health and education services and social welfare -- but not wages.

Why? Because of a spectacular piece of bungling called the Croke Park agreement signed only last March, in the teeth of our uniquely deep and long recession.

It even might be something more sinister than bungling. As the ship was sinking, a group of people built their own lifeboats, driven on by the angry background noise of a Greek chorus of public sector unions. Did I feel that my interests as a taxpayer and a private sector employee were represented at those talks? You know the answer to that.

The great Croke Park stadium is our field of football and hurling dreams. But in the realm of public policy it has become synonymous with Disneyland.

We cannot muddle on, deluding ourselves about the realities. We are technically bankrupt, and could well be facing one of our history's greatest disasters.

But let's look that in the eye and do something about it, starting with debt renegotiation and an unapologetic reassertion of our independence of mind and spirit.

We are told that savings are at a very high level, and that consumers are not spending. We have been spooked all over again by a four-year plan that seems, in the blink of an eye, to have doubled our Budget target from €7.5bn to €15bn.

But we have to live and spend with hope and confidence in the future. If we defer gratification forever, we'll all be dead. If you're afraid to spend you'll be afraid to live.

It is not good enough to bemoan the bad news all around us, to blame the media, to declare that we won't watch the Nine O'Clock News.

Every one of us has the capacity to do something positive about things. Anger is not a policy -- as the Minister for Finance rightly said -- but in my book, it's a lot better than depression and apathy.

So let's turn what David Davin Power called "the raw anger out there" into something useful.

There is a good future for us and, notwithstanding incompetent politicians clinging to the straw of their own survival, it is up to us to create it.

Without heart, we have no hope. Without spirit, we have no future.

Enough is enough. It is time for the spirit of the nation to be galvanised -- and, make no mistake, there's a lot there to be released.

Anyone who saw thousands of noisy Austin Stacks supporters parade through Tralee before the Kerry county final two weeks ago will know the forces that can be unleashed. The fact that they lost to the Killarney Crokes (or, to be more precise, the Gooch) is neither here nor there!

That elemental spirit is alive and well. Let's give it its freedom!

Sunday Independent