Sunday 15 December 2019

We can't afford to elect the spineless

Our leaders have proved worthless. It would help to elect people with more guts, writes Gene Kerrigan

Cartoonist: Tom Halliday
Cartoonist: Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

There are, of course, other things going on in the world, apart from the general election. And some of them will have a greater effect on our lives than the outcome of that election.

Last week, for example, stock exchanges around the globe were suffering a dose of the jitters.

According to those who claim to know, there's a strong chance we're about to have another recession.

On the news programmes the politicians tell us of recovery. It is, however, the business news to which the people with real money go for their information. And there, the talk is of how best to survive the coming instability.

Irish shares lost €4bn last Monday. "Investors," says Reuters, are "running to safe-havens like bonds and gold."

RTE's Morning Ireland interviewed a "head of investment strategy". When you're a head of investment strategy you spend all day thinking about money, and how to help your clients make more of it. Or, in a recession, to lose less of it.

This chap, named Eugene, spoke of the dangers of the slowdown in the Chinese economy, and the plummeting price of oil. (Mind you, I would have thought that cheaper oil was a good thing, reducing business costs, but apparently not.) The slowdown in the US economy doesn't help.

As a result, central banks on several continents are uncertain what to do. This, Eugene said, has caused the markets to respond "very, very sensitively".

By "very, very sensitively" I think Eugene meant "very, very hysterically". Remember, "the markets" are a gambling arena in which highly emotional people respond instinctively to what they believe other highly emotional people might do. They act with the speed, aggression and social conscience of a frenzy of sharks scenting blood.

Now, when the recessionary excrement hits the fan it helps to have the economy overseen by a government that's tough, knowledgeable and decisive.

The aim in a recession is not to "keep the recovery going", it's to keep the vultures from stripping us bare.

If the business people who interpret the markets are right, the impending recession will see bankers and bondholders from here to Frankfurt telling the incoming government what to do and who to do it to.

How will that government respond?

Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan are likely to be involved. Whatever the result of the election, it's hard to see a government that won't be dominated by the right wing. Enda is terrific at looking someone in the eye and saying the first thing that comes into his head. But Michael Noonan has been around since God was a boy, and when he talks about the economy, well, at least he seems to know the lingo.


There are other things everyone used to believe just as strongly as some now believe that Enda and Michael represent stability. Here are some of them.

Things We Used to Believe, No.1: Charlie McCreevy was a very smart man. No.2: Bertie Ahern was presiding over the greatest period of prosperity this country has ever known. No.3: Brian Cowen was "a safe pair of hands".

It's easy to forget that public faith in those people was as strong as the faith many today have in their Fine Gael successors.

So complete is our disregard for the creators of the Celtic bubble that we now wouldn't trust any of those gents to run a fruit stall.

What's the evidence that Enda and Michael are an improvement on that shower?

They have, we're told, created "the recovery". And it's true there's an increase in economic activity. It's limited in area and depth, a result of various factors, mostly beyond the reach of government.

Revenue has risen by several billion, for reasons the Minister for Finance can't explain.

When the bankers and bondholders send their mouthpieces from the European Central Bank to tell Michael Noonan what to do, how will he respond? What's his record?

In Opposition, in 2011, Mr Noonan said: "What legal or moral compulsion is there on Ireland to honour in full debt incurred by Irish banks when there was no State involvement in the arrangements? These loans were entered into freely by willing lenders and borrowers with absolutely no State participation. . . It is obscene that the liability for these loans is now being transferred to the Irish taxpayer."

In office, he resolved to throw at least some of that debt back to the bondholders. He was threatened by the head of the ECB and told to sit down and shut up.

He went into the Dail and said, "Jean-Claude Trichet is a perfect gentleman." That gutlessness cost us €9bn.

We've been paying for it in cuts and levies, in unsafe hospitals, in soup kitchens and homelessness, in Nama deals that sell cheap to big business.

Obama's money man, Tim Geithner, was briefed for a meeting with Noonan and told to expect our Michael to question a Geithner intervention that cost us €20bn. Noonan didn't say a word.

Afterwards, talking to RTE, he seemed thrilled that Geithner had given him his personal phone number.

Subsequently, Michael Noonan offered an "analysis of the crisis" that said it was caused by reckless government borrowing.

It was not. It was caused by reckless private borrowing by the very wealthy, combined with Fianna Fail's erosion of the tax base.

Noonan spoke too of how "the Taoiseach renegotiated our interest rate reduction". That never happened. No doubt, with his record of imagining things that didn't happen, Enda could describe the wallpaper in the room where this "renegotiation" took place, but there was no such event.

The Greeks achieved a cut in the borrowing rate and it had to be applied to Ireland's borrowing.

Less than two weeks ago, Mr Noonan was speaking of €12bn fiscal space; then, Pearse Doherty corrected his figures and Noonan shut up about the €12bn. We're now assured by Mr Noonan's media fans that that didn't happen. In short, the right wing have a record of dropping to their knees when a tough stance is required. They then attack the weakest - the sick, the old, the poor - and call it "making tough decisions". Then they rewrite history to make themselves look good.

The election campaign is a bit of fun, but nothing that's said matters. At the last election, the words, "We won't impose water charges" meant they'd impose water charges. The words, "We won't increase college fees" meant they were about to increase college fees.

The political parties have so degraded the political process that the election campaign has less substance than the voting in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Eugene, the "head of investment strategy" on Morning Ireland, fears a "toxic combination" will undermine our economy. He suggested we don't confine ourselves to equities, that we diversify to bonds and property "when we're facing this level of volatility".

But that's advice for people whose only worry is how rich they'll be when the volatility ends. The rest of us have to worry about jobs, wages, levies, our kids emigrating, and how long we may have to spend on a trolley when we get ill.

Every left wing vote will reduce the freedom of the servile right to sacrifice our interests when the heavies give them their riding instructions.

Sunday Independent

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