Thursday 18 July 2019

Gene Kerrigan: Being chirpy won't get us anywhere

The idea of renewing the nation is a quaint one, but unfortunately we're long past that, writes Gene Kerrigan

Maybe we should put something in the water, to calm down the bright, chirpy people. Every now and then they pop up with yet another bright, chirpy campaign. With breathless enthusiasm, they explain it all to us. The media faithfully chronicles their every move. The Government pats them on the back.

The current manifestation call themselves We The Citizens. "Tell us," they say, in adverts and in interviews, on the radio and TV and on their tastefully designed website, "what's important to you. . . express your ideas on how we can renew our country."

When some of us remind them that we're in the middle of a severe crisis, not a dinner party game, they take offence. But very politely.

The bright, chirpy people first came to notice with The Ideas Campaign in 2009. They asked for "ideas" on solving the crisis and got no fewer than 5,300. Such as: "Let's get outside in the evenings. . . Going out for a walk, a run, for sports or to play with the kids is free, sociable, and healthy." I kid you not.

Finally, 44 of these ideas qualified for an "action plan" (presumably 5,256 of the ideas were somewhat lacking) and 17 got a Government okay. These included such dynamic notions as: "Encourage voluntary early retirement in the public sector." Problem solved.

Last year, the bright, chirpy people invented Your Country, Your Call, backed by President McAleese. With much hoopla (and a tastefully designed website) they offered a hundred grand to anyone who gave them a "transformational" economic idea. Problem solved again.

There's a grim kind of entertainment to be had in keeping a record of the symptoms of self-delusion on view since this crisis began. We're in terrible, terrible trouble. Some very determined people, outside this country and within, are working against the interests of the broad mass of citizens. We have a Government that stalwartly opposed the Cowen/ Lenihan strategy, and is now faithfully implementing it.

At every stage -- not just occasionally, at every stage -- our leaders have made things worse. From the bank guarantee, through the mindless austerity programme, the continuing subsidies of the rich, the search for the "confidence" fairy, to accepting EU/ECB orders and agreeing to bail out the German and French banks.

And, all along, the bright, chirpy people seem convinced that our fundamental problem is a shortage of entrepreneurial, or civic, ideas.

Folks, the notion of "renewing our country" is a quaint one, but we're long past that. It's like we're packed into a bus and someone's released a sackful of snakes. Our leaders have driven the bus off a cliff. And it's not just any old cliff, it's a cliff overhanging a deep lake. And it's not any old lake, it's a lake of petrol. And they've set fire to the petrol. And as we plunge towards the fiery hell, we're being strafed by German fighter jets. And some fool has the radio on and it's playing Chris de Burgh.

That kind of trouble.

What could possibly make things worse? I'll tell you. The bright, chirpy person in the seat next to you gives you a big smile and says: "I'm here to ask if perhaps you've a few positive suggestions, as to how We The Citizens can reclaim our civic society?"

The bright, chirpy people shake their heads at any sign of "negativity". We've got to be positive, they chirpily chirp.

Optimism is not a policy.

From the beginning, there was no shortage of ideas. The crisis was so serious that sacred cows had to be sacrificed, we needed radical solutions. Abandon the dead banks, was one. Do not socialise private debt, that was another. Separate State and private debt -- honour the first, repudiate the second. Set up a State bank, some said. (Call it the Continuity AIB, this column wisecracked in November 2008. As early as that, it was obvious that anything less than radical moves would make things worse.)

The bright, chirpy economists and their media cheerleaders said that setting up a State bank would be very difficult. And expensive. So, we went the easy route -- and all it's cost us so far is about two hundred billion. And our sovereignty.

All transactions with bankers needed to be conducted on affidavit, we suggested, to ensure they went to jail if they lied. Institute a maximum wage. Cut the annual 90 million subsidy to for-profit schools. Cut the Presidency to a minimum, instead of the extravagant nonsense it now is -- and save half a billion over the next 10 years. Cut the tax cuts to the rich, multiples of the allowances in other countries, and save up to 70 billion over the next 10 years.

Above all, stop pouring endless billions into dead banks.

"A State deficit," said Soapbox, "can almost always be managed -- it rests on something recoverable -- an economy, a workforce, a market. But that economy has been saddled with the insane bank bailout costs. And. . . it remains saddled with the continuing cost of the massive salaries and obscene privileges of the golden circles and their servants."

I'd like to suggest that these were exclusively my ideas, but they weren't. They're fairly common currency on the Left. I'd like to suggest that a greedy elite ensured that such ideas were still-born, but the majority of our citizens seem firmly attached to the notion that this crisis can be solved while retaining the structural inequalities on which the elites thrive. Can't see the reasoning behind that, but it's a widely held delusion among The Fighting Irish.

Perhaps because it's the easier path. And we know where that easier path has led us.

Desperate politicians now make a fetish of corporation tax rates. They seek minor adjustments in the interest we pay while we bail out the German banks (it's like they're promising us more comfortable seats on the bus that went over the cliff). It will give them something they can claim as a victory.

Meanwhile, the top 600 civil servants escaped the cuts imposed on the rank and file. Magically, levies don't apply to judges. And the wealthiest have a special dispensation from the new pension levy.

This is what happens when the system is weighted in favour of the people who matter, while the rest of us get the bill.

When we fail to recognise that others are acting to preserve their wealth at our expense, we stand idle and concede the battle to them. And the bright, chirpy people think we're merely suffering a shortage of civilised discussion and perky ideas.

Their latest campaign, We The Citizens, is bankrolled to the tune of €630,000 by a well-intentioned American billionaire, so they enjoy comforts other campaigns do not. They commission expensive surveys and hold meetings in hotels, and they entice people to the meetings by offering not just discussion but free food and entertainment.

"Supper will be served from 6.15pm and discussion will begin at 7pm. Gary Cooke of Apres Match fame and John Colleary will close the night with hilarious political comedy that's sure to have everyone smiling."

Yes, they're right. As the bus hurtles down toward the burning petrol, that's truly hilarious.

Sunday Independent

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