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Gene Kerrigan: State was massaged with Lorenzo's oil

Question of the week: who the hell is Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi and why does RTE take him so seriously? And the fake drama of the week? That had to be Mickey Martin and Dame Enda Kenny sparring about the format of televised debates. Meltdown of the week: you saw Labour's Joan Burton going ballistic, right? My eyeballs are still stinging from watching that YouTube classic.

This is the 10th General Election I've covered (obviously I'm being punished for some terrible sins committed in a previous life). We in the media love the drama of it; we love the strokes and the gaffes. We love playing the numbers game and displaying our knowledge of how the tally from the boxes in Freshford will be negated by the unexpected higher turnout in Mullinavat. And the politicians keep us supplied with lots of contrived passion and soundbites carefully honed by battalions of costly consultants.

This time, I told myself, it will be different. This time, we're in deep trouble. This time the politicians surely know that we're not in the mood for the predictable electoral circus. Today's poll shows the depth of dislike of FF, but voters don't trust any of the parties. Satisfaction ratings are minuscule for all leaders. The political games conceal the seriousness of the crisis -- and risk increasing public scepticism.

Over the past couple of years we've had our pockets picked, our future earnings have been pledged against the gambling losses of idiot bankers. Knowing it would devastate the next generation of our people, the politicians have recklessly undermined the real economy, in pursuit of an unsustainable aim -- the revival of zombie banks.

For the first time since the crisis began (and the last time for up to five more years), the citizens have a momentary part in the drama, as something other than victims. And, being hopeful and positive and just a little naive, for a short time I thought the politicians might offer the citizens a grown-up choice.

Silly me. Mickey Martin was FF leader for about three minutes when he pulled a fast one on Enda (you have to distract voters from your 14 years in the worst government in the history of the State). Mickey announced that he wanted several three-way debates with the Fine Gael and Labour leaders.

Enda might have had a chance in a debate with Brian Cowen, but going up against Mickey Martin and Eamon Gilmore -- well, those guys don't have to write down their list of soundbites and rehearse them in front of a mirror.

Enda Kenny's weakness as a debater shouldn't matter, as long as he can state his case, as long as that case is distinct and meaningful. However -- yet again -- rhetoric aside, the parties compete to be the most presentable, offering largely the same political line. FG and Labour, for instance, are resolutely against the draconian Finance Bill. That legislation deepens poverty and straitjackets the incoming government for four years. And Fine Gael and Labour couldn't wait to "facilitate" its passage -- tie me up, lads, yank the bindings tight. This emphasises their "responsibility", and allows them to blame unpopular policies on FF.

This isn't about gaining power to re-fashion our future, this is about getting into office. So, as usual, the election revolves around politics as showbiz. Who's got the political X Factor? That's the game that brought us 12 years of Bertie Ahern.

Enda sought a wider debate, to dilute the pain -- a debate of five leaders. He suddenly loves giving the small parties a break. Sinn Fein leaped to support him. On economic matters, Gerry Adams is even worse than Enda in debates. But at least Sinn Fein would get to be on the stage this time. Likewise, the Greens, desperate to play at opposition politics, in the hope we might forget the damage they've done.

Meanwhile, Enda makes a dash for Europe, arranging a meeting with Jose Barroso, President of the European Commission. There was no point to the meeting -- except to get a snap of Enda standing beside Barroso. Hey, folks, don't I look almost serious enough to be a Taoiseach?

While the politicians strut and fret upon their little stage, the real battle is elsewhere.

RTE's Prime Time brought us a suave, languid Eurocrat, Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi. The programme for some reason presented him as an authority figure stating facts, rather than as someone who has played a questionable role in the creation of the Europe-wide financial crisis.

Who is Lorenzo? He's a member of the executive board of the European Central Bank -- which has a duty to oversee the stability of EU finances. He has been there since 2005. In that period, in the words of former Taoiseach John Bruton, writing to Jose Barroso last week: "Belgian, American, French banks, and banks of other EU countries, lent irresponsibly to the Irish banks in the hope that they too could profit from the Irish construction bubble."

The ECB failed to properly regulate banking across the EU, when they had the evidence to know what was happening. Despite knowing the euro had in-built problems (since it's shared by economies in widely varying states of development), they didn't do their job.

The fight now is between those who seek to accurately name the crisis for what it is -- and those who want to muddy the waters. The truth is that this is a Europe-wide banking crisis. It may collapse the euro, it may threaten the EU. The Eurocrats and their groupies in Ireland present the crisis as the moral failing of a nation. "We all partied," said Brian Lenihan.

Lorenzo had the same message -- what happened was "a choice of the Irish". We chose to allow idiot Irish bankers to borrow from idiot European bankers, to lend to idiot speculators -- who created a property bubble. And who used much of that money to play property games across the EU, from London to Eastern Europe.

When Cowen and Lenihan used the credibility of the Irish State to guarantee the debts of the gamblers, the money markets panicked and ramped up interest rates, until Irish State borrowing was impossible. But Lorenzo and his mates want us to be able to borrow, so we can put money into the Irish banks, so they can survive long enough to repay the German and French banks, to get them out of trouble. In order to manage this, Lorenzo and his mates arranged the EU "bailout".

As Michael Somers, former NTMA head, explained in this newspaper last week: "All they are doing is giving the Irish banking system money to pay back other banks in Europe." And we pay the money back to the EU, at punitive interest rates.

This is a very real fight, with very real consequences for all of us. So far, the parties avoid naming the crisis for what it is -- the mugging of citizens to sustain the gamblers. The political fight could be taken to the citizens of Europe -- questioning the ECB policies, questioning the anti-democratic performance of the Eurocrats. Instead, the parties avoid the substance of what's happening, even in a General Election.

The parties tinker. Can they get their EU buddies to drop the extortionate interest rates by a percentage point or two? Dare they meekly ask the "bondholders" (a synonym for "gamblers") to take some of the pain?

Joe Higgins asked the central question. What is the moral authority for forcing Irish citizens to pay the gambling debts of European bankers? Even if that could be done painlessly, it would be wrong. But it's far from painless.

Sunday Independent