Saturday 19 January 2019

Gene Kerrigan: OK, then, let's settle for Leprechaun Politics

We've ditched reality, begorrah, so it makes sense to leave Trump's new best friend in charge, writes Gene Kerrigan

Tom Halliday's illustration
Tom Halliday's illustration
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Enda goes to Washington and Trump says: "You know how Farage is my messenger boy in the UK? I want you to be my messenger boy in the EU - are ya up to that?"

That little breeze you felt around your ankles last Thursday evening came all the way from Washington - from the wagging of Enda's tail.

There are Fine Gael folk who were so looking forward to a new leader. The change alone would guarantee them a little boost in the polls. They could announce a New Era.

It would help to distance the party from the record of austerity, and fairy stories about men with two pints, and fantasy conversations with cabinet colleagues at meetings that didn't happen.

And, now, Enda says he won't quit until the Northern uncertainty ends.

And Brexit is secure, and the EU enters a period of stability.

All of which may take - well, as long as a piece of string.

Then, of course, when Mr Trump comes on his visit he'll be upset if the Tee-Shock is anyone other than Enda.

And if there's one thing that all Irish politicians who 'live in the real world' agree on it's that we must not upset Trump.

So, Enda will have to stay until - well, until Trump pays us his promised Return Visit (a period in which the entire country will be under lockdown).

Or until one of the damaged goods Trump appointed to his Cabinet shoots him in the back of the head. And announces he's taking over on behalf of the Supreme Council of the Intergalactic Nazi Party.

Meanwhile.

Why not let Enda remain Taoiseach, wagging his tail until it falls off from old age?

A change of leadership - or a change of Taoiseach from FG to FF - would cost us a fair amount in new letterheads and signs on doors. And it wouldn't produce a single policy change of any significance.

The main difference between Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney is hairstyle.

On the other hand, the main difference between FG's Enda and FF's Micheal Martin - well, it's hairstyle.

Let us consider for a moment what we know for certain about this country and the way it's likely to be run for the foreseeable future.

Because, increasing numbers of us are becoming aware that the ground on which this country rests is more than somewhat shifty.

The economy is doing great. The latest figures from the Central Statistics Office have resulted in excited headlines: 'Economy grows by 5.2pc to lead Euro zone'.

The fastest GDP growth in Europe! We're the envy of Europe!

Wow, and that's not Enda boasting, that's the CSO, reporting verifiable figures taken from hard data.

Keep the recovery going!

Trouble is, last year, when the CSO examined the hard data it told them the Irish economy grew by 26pc in the previous 12 months.

Now, that's like the Athletics Association of Ireland announcing that one of their runners clocked up a mile in 57 seconds.

Everyone knows it's not possible. It defies the laws of physics.

Yet, suppose that's what the AAI's hard data said, verifying the 57 seconds? The AAI would have no alternative but to announce the result.

Last year, when the CSO examined the economy's hard data and found the bottom line was GDP growth of 26pc they knew it was nonsense. But their job was to verify and announce the growth figure and that's what the hard data said it was.

So, they had to announce it. And the CSO's cheeks glowed red as economists around the world laughed at Ireland and its 'Leprechaun Economics'.

Significant elements of the Irish economy are compromised by special arrangements, global inter-company transfers, nods and winks and sleight of hand, to suit the 'tax efficiency' arrangements of the big companies.

So much so that it produced economic data for an entire country that was simply impossible.

It was all brushed under the carpet pretty quickly - a laugh's a laugh, but economists and civil servants have to live with one another and economists in other countries know that no one can be sure where the next laugh might come from.

It was solemnly agreed that since the CSO are conscientious professionals they had delivered the facts as they had them.

Quietly - without any explanation - the 2016 results were designated an "aberration", and everyone moved on.

There was a sigh of relief when the latest figures showed GDP growth of 'only' 5.2pc.

The figures come from the same data that produced the Leprechaun Economics growth.

There is no reason to have any more confidence in the figures than there was last year. The 5.2pc just sounds less implausible.

And that's where we are.

The very data on which we measure the economy is disconnected from reality. Any political decision based on such data is guesswork. And this is so because of our politicians' lapdog position on large companies.

Similarly, we're given grand statements about market-driven measures that will relieve homelessness and all of this is based purely on aspiration, with no effective direct government initiative.

We're given promises on hospital chaos that fly in the face of decades of experience.

We've become used to accepting alleged realities that we know bear only a vague connection to the country we live in.

"Ireland is not a tax haven," we hear politicians say, knowing it is now designed as a tax haven but only for the rich.

"There is no plan to privatise the Irish water supply," we're told, despite the evidence hurriedly taken down from the Irish Water website.

"There's no reason to worry about Nama," we're assured, despite the evidence of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Strategic deference has for decades been successive Irish governments' approach to the EU: agreeing to treaties without reading them, repeating referendums that gave the 'wrong' result. And taking "one for the team", as Michael Noonan explained, when European banking needed saving.

With EU leaders, behind closed doors, it's understood we'll dance the tango of timidity - ah, go on, sure, throw a few more goodies into the pot, didn't we take one for the team, yer honour?

And last week we saw it in front of the cameras, the Taoiseach tittering and grinning to an authoritarian leader - tickling his ego, gently joshing: Ah, bejaysus, yer honour, isn't it great craic we do be having in the oul' Oval Office?

All that the Irish illegals want to do, Enda told his host, is "make America great". And he tilted his head to the Leprechaun side and twinkled at the Great Man.

We were allowed to pretend that we had a sovereign leader visiting a foreign capital. And, hallelujah, we were promised The Return Visit - the holy grail of our political leaders: one of the Great Ones coming to our shores, giving us a day out, so to speak.

In return, an authoritarian president used a cavorting Taoiseach to normalise an oppressive regime.

Before Enda left Washington, Trump's people had a video out, featuring Enda. With a soundtrack of Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.

Leprechaun Politics to match the Leprechaun Economics.

And any likely contenders for Enda's crown - including the FF crowd - have gone along with this dangerous game.

So, why not leave the Fine Gael leprechaun in place as long as he wants the job? None of those who envy him are offering real change. And Enda is good at cavorting. He's had lots of practice.

Sunday Independent

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