Gene Kerrigan: We no longer have the luxury of time to prevent collapse
Our leaders are totally ignorant of the rules of a game they chose to play on our behalf, writes Gene Kerrigan
On Friday, in a spirit of optimism, I rose from my sickbed and paid a visit to the Luxury Hall. Some amongst us surrender to pessimism and hold their heads in their hands, moaning in despair as the draconian Budget goes through. Others play the Blame Game and point accusatory fingers at politicians worn out from making "tough decisions".
Not Soapbox. We salute the rewards still available in this great little nation. So, we sneezed repeatedly as we left the safety of home and went slip-sliding through the perilous slush in search of the Luxury Hall, and evidence that not all is lost in this benighted ex-republic.
And -- adding weighty purpose to my romantic quest -- I wanted to know why it is that no matter what measures this Government takes, it continues to make things worse.
I was already somewhat buoyed up. Having been away earlier this month, I missed the decision of Dermot Ahern to retire from politics because of his painful arthritis. Like most of us with a touch of arthritis, I can't afford to retire. What buoys me up is that we live in a country rich enough to treat Dermot with the respect due to a politician whose towering achievement was the introduction of an anti-blasphemy law.
I've worked twice as long as Dermot has been a politician, and like the rest of us I've never had a wage that came within an ass's roar of the €128,000 annual pension lined up for him (on top of a €160,000 golden handshake). The evidence that we can afford such generosity to a man of unremarkable talents fills me with hope. No country that can afford such generosity is truly broke.
Onwards to the Luxury Hall.
This is the large area of the Brown Thomas department store given over to exquisite goods imported from all over the world. It's the realm of Tiffany and Cartier and Prada. Where goods are tastefully displayed under glass, lit with care and watched over by shop assistants dressed to match. Here, instead of soulless piped music, shoppers are entertained by a piano that tinkles softly, the keys touched by invisible fingers -- programmed to delight.
Many shopping playgrounds are pitched at our aspirations. Not here -- this is for those who have arrived in the Premiership of consumerism. It's a place of peace and hope amid the uncertainty and distress of modern Ireland, and on Friday it was busy. I love to browse there, encouraged that this country is far from the beaten docket that some imagine. Many of the goods have no price tags. If you need to ask, you can't afford it. There's stuff here that even Dermot Ahern couldn't afford.
And, when you tire of the Luxury Hall, you can take the escalator to the recently opened Marvel Room. Why do we need a Marvel Room when we have a Luxury Hall? Oh, silly. Because we can afford it.
Perhaps some of the AIB crowd, hugging the bonuses they earned by running their bank into the ground, might seek self-esteem there. Or Ivan Yates, encouraged that the Budget reflects so well the things for which he campaigned as a journalist, might indulge himself.
Ivan became a TD at 21 (I was at his selection convention, a witness to history in the making). He served as a minister for two-and-a-half years and retired at 43, to look after his chain of bookie shops (about five-dozen of them, now). He has a lucrative media career, where he rails against such extravagances as free TV licences for pensioners ("let's bite the bullet and cull these cows"). He seems affronted that "average teacher pay is €52,000" and that "favourable pension terms lie at the end of the rainbow".
Mr Two-and-a-half-years-in-office has been on a political pension since the age of 43. The pension is now close to the level of a teacher's salary. Okay, so it's not the €98,000 we splurge on Bertie, but Bertie did a lot more for the. . . Well, let's not go there.
If Ivan wanted to buy me something from the Marvel Room, I'd suggest the Louis Vuitton whiskey case, at 16 grand. Only kidding, Ivan. Put your chequebook away. Perhaps a more appropriate gesture, from one hack to another, would be a nice pen. Mr Vuitton has a lovely biro, in 18-carat gold and alligator skin, at €1,110.
The Marvel Room, too, was busy on Friday. I enviously eyed a Mont Blanc pen, a John Lennon Special Edition, at a mere €650. It came with -- and I'm not making this up -- a replica single of Imagine.
I hummed, "Imagine no possessions. . ." Ah, John. My favourite 16-year-old wondered why they hadn't thrown in a copy of Working Class Hero.
The Christmas present list would be a doddle at the Marvel Room. Lots of five-grand handbags, a candle for €210 and a candle-lighter at €180. Don't curse the darkness, light a candle, right?
A purse for your iPod at €495, a Tiffany pendant at €11,250 or a pair of Annoushka earrings for 25 grand. The Marvel Room offers a shopping bag with "LOOT" printed on the side. At €165, it will "make your teen the envy of all their friends". Ah, values, values.
They do a nice line in Juicy Couture -- last time I saw that brand was in London recently, in Harrods (oh, I get around), below an enormous advertising slogan that might be a mantra for our times: "Let Them Eat Couture."
From my sick bed, I had read former President Mary Robinson's sermon to the citizens on how "greed was the main problem".
While the banks and politicians bear some blame for extinguishing the republic, "it's our own mistake as Irish people, collectively".
It's refreshing that we can afford a pension of around €140,000 for an ex-President who didn't even finish her single term before running off to a better job. And €51,000 a year for Dermot Gleeson, former chairman of AIB (he gets the pension because he was Attorney General for two-and-a-half years). And €52,000 for Goldman Sachs man Peter Sutherland (AG for three years). And -- oh, the evidence that we're a thriving, generous country goes on and on.
So, you see, there is hope.
The message from our betters is that the problems were caused by our collective greed, and now we're all in this together. We need to incentivise the unemployed and the lower paid (by lowering their income); and incentivise the wealthy (by protecting them). In a private phone call last week, according to Emmet Oliver in Thursday's Irish Independent, EU officials, "told international investors that even a new Irish government will not be allowed to remove the protection which has been given to senior bondholders in the banks".
This is not comment or speculation, and Mr Oliver doesn't make things up. The EU decides what the incoming government is "allowed" do. And German, Dutch and French bankers who lost their gamble on Anglo will have their bets refunded out of our pockets -- or the country will be shredded by the EU and the bond vigilantes.
Now, the weighty, purposeful question -- why does the country sink further with every 'solution' offered by this Government?
Because it doesn't understand the enormity of the debt crisis, across Europe. And its consequences. It tried to preserve the insolvent Irish banks, and brought down the State. And now the effort to save the system of structural inequalities deflates the real economy and puts the whole system at risk.
There's a choice between engineered change and disorderly collapse. And it's heartbreaking that our elite seem to have chosen the latter.