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Gene Kerrigan: Enda just wants us to smile politely as cash is carted off

Let's imagine there's a small town supermarket being robbed. Two thugs with shotguns have cleaned out the cash registers and now they're forcing the cashiers to empty their purses and wallets.

And one cashier says to the robbers, "Tell you what. Leave me my rent money and I'll help you carry the money bags to your getaway car, how's that?"

At which point the supermarket manager steps forward and says . . . well, what do you think the supermarket manager says? To get a clue, you have to imagine that the role of the supermarket manager is played by Enda Kenny. And it's not a supermarket that's being robbed, it's us.

Twenty-seven days from now our government will burn another €3.1bn on the bonfire of the bankers. And on March 31 every year until 2023 we have to hand over another €3.1bn, to pay Irish bankers' gambling debts to their fellow gamblers in German and French banks. From 2023, we get to pay on average a billion euro of bankers' debts on each March 31 until 2031. At which point, the austerity policies can be eased -- and the eight people left in the country can look forward to a bright future.

This is the greatest transfer of wealth -- at virtual gunpoint -- in the history of the State. To bankers and bondholders, Irish, German and French, from the rest of us.

And some people recently wondered if -- given that the EU wants us to rubber stamp their Austerity Treaty -- they might like to ease the burden a wee bit.

Like the cashier offering to help the robbers, these people were hoping to get a break in exchange for co-operating with the robbers. And that's where the supermarket manager steps forward. And says, in magisterial tones, "No! My staff won't be bribed!"

Which is more or less what Mr Kenny said last Thursday. He slapped down those sissies who hoped to do a votes-for-cash swap on a few of the billions being stripped from us. Brave Enda announced: "The Irish people won't be bribed." Instead, we should smile as we helpfully carry the cash to the getaway car and wish the robbers a safe journey.

Eamon Gilmore said more or less the same thing. Gilmore seems entirely without a sense of irony. He said last week that if the electorate votes against the treaty, there won't be a re-run of the referendum. Has he forgotten that's what he said -- in public -- when the voters rejected the first Lisbon Treaty? And, according to a leaked cable from the US embassy, he was privately telling US diplomats that his "public posture" was "politically necessary". But, that "he fully expects, and would support holding a second referendum".

Gilmore denies saying that, and he retains the full confidence of his party. And I'm sure he hasn't been anywhere near the German embassy, lately.

Now, I'm reluctant to get too worked up about this Austerity Treaty. I'm satisfied that we've got enough smart people who'll tell us the right thing to do. For instance, it was with great delight that I saw my old friend Michael McDowell inching out on to the political pitch last week, hinting at the formation of a brand new right-wing political party. It never occurred to me that there's a shortage of backward-looking parties, but -- what the hell, the more the merrier.

He'll "put a shoulder to the wheel", says Michael, former leader of the PDs, the party that was in power from 1997 to 2007, propping up Lord Bertie of Sterling Deposits.

Of course, given the fact that there's little policy difference between the Kenny/Gilmore government and the Cowen regime, all of them singing loud the new national anthem (Amhran na Banker), Michael will have to find some policies to make him stand out.

Perhaps PD Nua will trumpet its old fondness for light touch regulation. No one else wants to claim credit for that, nowadays.

Michael says that voting Yes for the Austerity Treaty is a "no-brainer". With great vigour, he had a lash at voluntary organisations, holding their hands out for cash, as they "beat their own drums from public funds".

Some bleeding heart liberals will no doubt look askance at this, and quote from the 'Irish Times' of November 19 last, which claimed that Michael (aged 60), one of the country's leading barristers, has a political pension since 2007, now a mere €104,000 a year.

Given that the pay isn't bad in the barristering business, I'm sure Michael doesn't bother holding his hand out for that public cash.

My own view of the Austerity Treaty will be informed by economist Colm McCarthy. He's voting for it. He says it "makes no worthwhile contribution" to solving either the sovereign debt or Europe's currency problems. It "addresses a non-problem", he says, and contains "a reckless piece of drafting". Experts all over Europe have studied the treaty, he says, and concluded that it's "essentially an evasion, designed to provide political cover, particularly in Germany, for measures which will have to be contemplated if the crisis persists".

Would that treaty, if put in place a dozen years ago, have prevented the crash? No, says McCarthy. Will it prevent a new crash? No, he says.

He regrets that the real problems have not been addressed, and "the pretence is maintained that Europe's problems derive entirely from budgetary excess". Yet, he urges a vote for the treaty -- and says we should not see this as an opportunity to "vote against austerity". He shares many of the views of the political establishment about deficits and austerity. A vote against the treaty, he says, will be seen as "throwing the rattle out of the pram".

You might disagree with McCarthy's conclusions. (I, for one, do.) But you can't dispute the honesty of the analysis of the treaty itself. And that analysis makes a lie of the drumbeat that has already started, that this is "about jobs". We'll be told it's about "staying at the heart of Europe", and all the rest of that nonsense. In truth, the Austerity Treaty is an effort to encase in stone a transitory set of policies. Which some of us say are a reckless, foolish, damaging, set of policies that have made a catastrophe out of a problem.

In the USA, the Tea Party nutters demand a "debt ceiling", in Europe the Merkelites want "debt brakes". It's Sarah Palin economics, an inappropriate response in a crisis, making permanent a policy that has already made things worse.

I can see why some adopt the position that we have to vote for this, because to do otherwise will upset Merkel and Sarkozy. It's a point of view. But some of us find it hard to continue tugging our forelocks, unwilling to raise our eyes until 2031.

Meanwhile, our friendly local supermarket manager, Enda, has already signed the treaty on Friday. Why? Couldn't he wait for the vote? What will he do if the treaty is defeated? Will he grab a bottle of Tipp-Ex and fly off to Brussels to white out his signature?

Mind you, if it's stationary supplies he needs, I know a lad who can get you a tonne of that stuff, and he'll throw in a few oul' print cartridges, too.

Sunday Independent