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Sins of the bankers are preying on our minds

This election takes place at one of the most crucial junctures in the history of the State, not excluding the Treaty election of 1922. But to say this is not to say that it is a crucial election. The voters know it is not and many of the candidates, one suspects, secretly know it too.

The collapse of Fianna Fail has opened the way for Enda Kenny and Fine Gael with or without coalition partners; perhaps even, wonder of wonders, for Fine Gael with an overall majority. But there is none of that feeling of wondrous opportunity such as the democratic process occasionally throws up when an old order collapses and the people with their new leadership can claim at last what had been denied them. This feeling can accompany and give buoyancy to even narrow victories such as the victory of Barack Obama in the United States three years ago.

But there is no feeling of 'yes we can' in the here and now. The mood of the electorate is one of apprehension, unease and foreboding. We know that none of these parties and none of these leaders can bring about a transformation scene. All that any of them can even claim is that they will make the best of a very, very bad job.

And this has nothing to do with Enda Kenny and his relative attractions. While for a brief while it seemed that a Labour-led government was possible -- an amazing outcome in such a deeply conservative country as ours is -- there was none of that feeling of long-delayed bouleversement which one might have expected, even among left-leaning people.

Fianna Fail will depart unwept, unhonoured and unsung, for the time being anyway. (Though those who think it was a horror story should remember that in horror stories the monster always rises again from apparent death.) Nonetheless nobody sees what is happening as a new dawn in which it is bliss to be alive or as a truly new deal and nobody will sing and dance all night as the revellers did in Tahir Square.

This is partly because of the realisation or the belief that we are now a vassal state, bound inescapably to the wheels of the German chariot -- and that nothing which takes place here, electorally or otherwise, can make any great difference; that what Angela Merkel may decide will be more important than anything Enda Kenny or anybody else can decide. And to add to our general feeling of disillusionment we have come to the conclusion that the European leadership is no wiser or more able to look into the future than our own.

We have come to the conclusion that all foot-sloggers come to in the end. The commander and his staff riding by on their glossy horses have no more real idea of what is going on or what should be done about it than we have ourselves.

During the week Olli Rehn said that the pricing of the loans was under review in the light of concern about "the real issue of debt-sustainability and its relation to growth dynamics". I don't know what language he was speaking and whether this was translated or not. My guess is that in any language it is jargon and has to be translated out of that too. But we must be very glad indeed that he at last recognises what every economist in the world has known since the Thirties. You cannot take such hefty sums as we are being asked to take out of an economy and expect it to grow and thrive at the same time. If you do you will produce an even deeper depression.

This was Herbert Hoover's fatal mistake which would become simple textbook economics, especially since Snowden repeated the error in Britain and Laval of infamous memory did the same in France, and the world as a consequence moved from recession into a prolonged depression.

The rest of Mr Rehn's jargon-ridden sentence seems, however, to suggest that at some point in the future the debt we owe may itself become unsustainable and if that is what he means he is right. Even if we can scale the deficit down to three per cent in the space of time our masters have allotted us (as we pretty well must) we will then have to face the paying back of some ninety billion and the accumulated interest. And if the banks cannot, as seems more than likely, pay their debts there will be at least seventy billion more and still climbing for us to pay back.

The parties in our election have hardly mentioned these eventualities, let alone dwelt on them. But the people know they are there and that they will extend the period of collapse and paralysis in the economy by 20 years or more at the very least. No wonder those who are young and agile enough are fleeing Ireland as if it were an accursed place.

Of course colossal debts do tend to wither away -- or get what is now called 're-structured' -- as the German reparations debt did after World War One and the British war loan from the United States did after the second. The fatally ill economist JM Keynes went to the United States to negotiate a re-structuring just after the war but the stony-faced Americans were as unmoved by his economic arguments as they had been by the "Britain stood alone" plea and he returned ashen-faced and rebuffed.

The huge debt was then added to the burdens of Clement Attlee's government, recently voted the best government in modern British history by historians. But by some alchemy the last instalment was re-paid only a few years ago.

Even if our debt burden gets re-structured at some point in the unforeseeable future, however, there has to be a period of punishment first. Our bankers, aided and abetted by European banks, transgressed and so the rest of us must suffer, for the sins of the bankers shall be visited on the people.

The great grey intellects of Europe have decided that there must be a period of expiation, presumably as a warning to all other bankers, even though our bankers do not seem to care and are cheerfully counting up their remaining assets in the United States.

It therefore seems likely that the period of joblessness, business closure and mortgage distress, as well as of rising lawlessness, decreasing garda protection, inadequate education and impoverished health services will continue through the lifetime of the next government and very probably of the government thereafter. Which almost certainly means that neither of them, alas for Enda and whoever else, will ever be voted the best government in Irish history.

But the accumulating debt is a gigantic elephant to have in the narrow room of the election campaign, which gets narrower and narrower.

And it will be a pretty big elephant in the room of the Dail chamber where no elected party member will mention it unless permitted by the leadership to do so.

Except for Sinn Fein -- which stands, more or less, for repudiation but is less than convincing about what to do for the necessary readies thereafter -- nobody has mentioned the totality of the debt burden.

We must vote therefore for other issues, but even on the readiness to engage with them I believe it will have a diminishing and dispiriting effect.

Sunday Independent