Wednesday 22 May 2019

The game is up, the game is on

I believe that we have gone well past anger, past the point of there being any purpose in indignant journalists writing 'In the name of God, go' polemics. Our mood today is closer to despair, a feeling brought about by a deep sense of frustration and futility.

As far as the Taoiseach is concerned, it is my opinion that his going is a matter of 'when' and 'how' rather than 'if'.

Brian Cowen has become the living symbol of our hopelessness and is being blamed by many for the length and depth of our recession, now nearing the end of its third year.

Whether this is right or wrong, fair or unfair, will have little bearing on events. There is no going back now. There is no hiding place.

But the idea of this Government being replaced by a coalition led by Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore fills me, for one, with foreboding.

I have deep doubts as to whether Kenny and Gilmore have any real intention of tackling our core problem, a level of public spending that is beyond our means.

Our day-to-day demands on the taxpayer for public wages, services and social welfare are far above what we can afford on a tax take that has dropped by €15bn in a few years.

Analysis pages 27-31, 38

Our shortfall is over €20bn a year, about 40 per cent of the amount we need to merely carry on as we are. This has to be borrowed: for every €5 we get in taxes, we have to borrow €4 more for current spending, on top of the huge public debt being run up to prevent bank collapses.

The fact that we cannot afford what we are borrowing and spending is not a matter of economic ideology, but of basic common sense.

Taxpayers are frightened by the astronomical amount of debt being run up on their behalf, but without their agreement.

They are demoralised by drift, ineptitude and inertia.

They are frightened by job losses, business closures, uncertainty over pensions, the collapse in house prices, and a deep fear for their future.

They are demoralised by the buffoonery of the political circus and by the endless lying from all sides.

They fear a lost decade ahead, blighted by individual, corporate and sovereign debt.

They know in their hearts that Mr Cowen's instincts will lead us deeper into a statist economy, that they are not consumer-driven. If Mr Cowen were to step down as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fail, it would at least be a symbolic wind of change.

My personal choice as his replacement would be Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, who has won the admiration of the people for his abilities, his dedication to his duty, and his courage in the face of serious illness.

There are many who will disagree with me, including a number of journalists on this newspaper but, for what it's worth, it's my 'take' on things in the middle of unprecedented crisis.

Roosevelt's closest lieutenant, Harry Hopkins, replied eloquently to a Republican attempt to placate the country by saying that in the long-run the economy would sort itself out.

Hopkins said: "People do not eat in the long run. They eat every day."

Mr Lenihan's hour, I believe, has come.

Sunday Independent

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