Sunday 16 December 2018

John Drennan: Bravehearts in No camp are waging a futile war

We need to grow up and see that Europe doesn't need a Yes vote as much as we need a bailout, writes John Drennan

One would have thought our Government of Grumpy Old Men (and a few token women) would be wise enough to realise referenda can be very bad for your political health.



In spite of all these less- than-alluring precedents this Government appears to be intent on holding as many referenda as Switzerland.

In fairness, whatever about kiddies, the Seanad or banning alcopops (the last one hasn't been called yet but don't rule it out), the last thing this administration wanted to face was a vote on Europe.

Last week it was noticeable that after an initial flurry over the infamous promissory notes, Mr Kenny and the Cabinet went very silent.

Enda knows he is in a place of danger here, because the result of this referendum, more than any budget and far more than any comical furores about report cards, represents a national vote of confidence in the strategy his Government has adopted.

Unlike Dail votes of confidence, should a Government, which has the largest majority in the history of the State, fail to secure the support of the people, it will not be forced into an immediate election.

But, if the Government loses, it may continue in office for some faltering time, but it will certainly not be in power.

Whether one agrees or not with it, the central strategic decision of this cautious administration has been to accept austerity and hope, via the restoration of our reputation in Europe, that by escaping the Greek embrace of death and attaching ourselves to the soft Italian and Spanish underbelly we might regain some form of sovereignty.

It may be somewhat tedious that Ireland under Enda Kenny has replaced the desire for a democratic revolution with the simple desire to be respectable again.

But in fairness after the 'wild west of capitalism' during Bertie Ahern's era and the spectral fall of the Cowen administration, it is neither an ignoble nor an unreasonable starting objective.

The Cabinet, however, is agonisingly aware that a No vote will restore us to being the EU equivalent of the Michigan militia.

And the inevitable consequence of such a loss is that this will be a sham administration of political shadows who, both in Europe and at home will be serving out its notice, for no government can withstand the destruction of its central strategic objective.

The problem the Government faces is that the romance, and more important still the money, has gone out of Europe to such an extent all the Yes side can offer is the pessimism of austerity crossed with a Micawber-style policy of hoping something might turn up.

However, before 'middle Ireland' races towards the unlikely embrace of Ming the Merciless it should remember the wise advice that the greatest gift the gods can give is to see ourselves as others do.

It is a quality those in the No camp, who see themselves as Braveheart-style warriors raising their kilts at the EU bureaucrats and crying 'freedom!', are somewhat short of.

But when our unwilling masters among the Euro elite look at this crew, all they see is a spoilt child, jumping up and down saying give us our bailout now.

And in responding to the tantrums of a state which unlocked the contents of its Pandora's Box all by itself, they are more likely to be from the French school of parents who deal with their Violet Elizabeths via a swift smack on the bottom.

It should in fairness be noted that such smacks are informed by sorrowful logic, for the stern Franco-German school of parenting fears that if you reward one screaming child by swopping bailout cash for a referendum, then there will be a queue of them.

After that initial pride about Labour's way, red cents and bonfires for bondholders Messrs Gilmore, Kenny, Noonan, and even Varadkar, have learnt the hard way that only good polite children who wait get the dry cake that is in Angela's thinly stocked pantry.

Ireland, as a bold child being justly chastised by responsible parents is a humiliating position to be in, and one that we understandably like to turn away from.

But, it is time we faced the realities of why we are where we are.

Europe may simply require Ireland to grow up and behave like a normal country but the problem is this is a country that has never fully grown up.

During our pre-Independence era we somewhat justifiably blamed Britain for all our troubles. Unfortunately, when we secured independence we continued the policy, particularly under Fianna Fail, by claiming our flaws as a state and a people were caused by the legacy of colonialism.

In the Eighties and Nineties, Europe was, via its social policies and structural funds, the benign liberal-style parents that prepared us for independent living.

Sadly, like the profligate child, when we struck out on our own we behaved like the adolescent who throws a frat-house party while the parents are on holidays.

Now that the police and the insurance company have been called in, like all adolescents we sullenly deny responsibility for the mess while asking the parents to foot the bill.

Nothing epitomises this ongoing state of adolescence more than the notion that when it comes to this referendum Europe needs it to be passed as much as we need the bailout to continue.

Of course, Europe would like the Irish bailout to succeed, but, rather like 1948 when De Valera went on a world tour to outline the evils of partition and discovered the world had other things to be worried about, the EU has many more things to be dealing with outside of our national traumas.

And some are undoubtedly already thinking it might be no bad thing if Greece, Ireland and the rest of the fiscal deadweights were tipped out of the eurozone to tidy the place up a bit.

This should not just be the referendum where the Government grows up since one of our more serious national flaws is that the Irish tend to have a great welcome for ourselves even where it is not always warranted.

This attitude is epitomised by the belief in certain quarters that even if we fall out with Europe to such an extent that we don't qualify for a second bailout, someone else will adopt us.

Be assured, though, that if we turn up at Buckingham Palace, with a rucksack containing a quarter-of-a-trillion in debt and asking might there be "a'er a chance of coming back, Ma'am", the response will be somewhat cool.

The people are, of course, sovereign on this issue but, if they want to play with a set of matches involving a possible run on the banks, default and multinational flight because Phil Hogan wants to inspect your septic tank or Jimmy Deenihan won't let you cut turf, do not complain if your fingers get burnt.

It is true the Yes side can offer us little more than Angela's austerity policy that is as wrong-headed as the faux Keynesian economics of the Seventies.

But the clever strategists of Sinn Fein/FF Nua and foolish irredentists such as Eamon O Cuiv are selling snake oil if they think Ireland can hold Europe to ransom over the terms of our bailout.

On this occasion it is time for Ireland to get real, see Europe does not need us, grow up and realise that sometimes in the world of mature politics the pragmatic non-romantic response is the only one to take. After all, for all the rhetoric, it didn't end so well for Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

Ultimately for all its logic and righteousness the only option the No side provides is leaping into an economic abyss in the hope that after a brief period of turbulence we will bounce back to a better place.

Ravines tend generally, though, to be populated with rocks rather than trampolines.

Sunday Independent

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