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John Drennan: No-one left to speak out when they come with the bill

Last week was the week where the screw finally began to turn on the Irish public as the real consequences of the so called 'bail-out' to which Fianna Fail, the Greens and Mary Harney had signed up became all too apparent.

Up to last week, the effects of the most invidious surrender agreed to by any European state since 1945 were mostly psychological.

We may well be in an economic war but whilst, like in the autumn of 1939 and spring of 1940, life has deteriorated somewhat under the new regime of reparations, the shops are still open and rationing has not been imposed by our new master-race of ECB bankers.

Of course, we know, in theory at least, that small business owners, the unemployed and those experiencing the living death of mortgage default have suffered terribly. But the indifferent response of our fractured society brings Niemoller's famous 'First they came for the Jews' poem about Germany's apathetic response to the rise of fascism to mind.

Like the narrator who did not speak out, our defeated country has maintained a sullen silence whilst 'they' came for the carers of our weakest, our lowest paid private and public sector workers, our pensions and our pay packets.

However, when the Government finally came for the last of our disposable income via Phil Hogan's 'now you see it, no, you don't' utility tax, the voters found out that there was no-one left to speak out for them.

The even worse news is that this is only the end of the beginning because Ruairi Quinn's stealthy U-turn on third level fees means they will soon be coming for our children's future.

Mr Hogan did try hard to live down to that 'Cute Oul Phil' moniker as he claimed this was all about water conservation rather than taxation. But the minister's attempt to play the politics of 'a rose by any other name would smell as sweet' couldn't disguise the thorns.

The Government can use whatever variation of spin it likes but Phil's new poll tax is, in conjunction with the pension levy, another example of how, like 'Joe the insurance fraudster', this administration is putting its hand into your pocket to pay off the gambling debts of well-heeled German bankers.

Sadly, like any clever fraudster, our Rainbow of Grumpy Old Men is only targeting some pockets. The absence of any recent barks from Alan Shatter about a referendum on judicial pay is just another case study into how ministers who challenge powerful vested interests in our curious Republic are far more likely to have their tails (rather than the pay of judges) docked.

Another, even more intriguing, example of political selectivity can be seen in the phenomenon whereby the only public houses doing a roaring trade in most rural towns are colloquially known as the 'dole' pubs.

They are the establishments frequented by the class of (mostly) gentlemen whose dedication to the vocation of unemployment meant they entirely missed the rise, zenith and collapse of the Tiger.

Their current happy circumstances should not surprise us for unlike most of the rest of the country, our friends on the dole have experienced no real deterioration in terms and conditions.

There are plenty of other examples where the Irish State is paying vast swathes of money it cannot afford to carefully selected groups of special interests.

Outside of pensions, unemployment payments and rent supplements, the pay of our lawyers, politicians, hospital consultants, gardai, teachers, consultants, county managers and bankers are a source of shock and awe to our IMF 'partners'.

Some of our academics appear to have barely refrained from commissioning jewel-encrusted crowns for themselves whilst our top level mandarins and semi-state workers continue to enjoy salaries that resemble the fiscal incontinence of some comic operetta fascist state.

The current administration has attempted to evade the consequences of Phil's poll tax by claiming its hands are tied by the surrender of its predecessors to the German-led Axis of Bankers. But whilst it may be technically correct, an electorate who did not put Fine Gael into power so it could behave like Fianna Fail is not so discriminating.

Like in Weimar Germany, people here will begin to believe that those who administer the reparations, which a fatally divided ECB/IMF Axis of Bankers have imposed on us, are as guilty of stabbing our futures in the back as that ugly duo of Frau Merkel and the petite Monsieur Sarkozy.

It is in one respect an unfair allegation because the difficulty which the Rainbow, and the public face is that we do not have control over our destiny. In charting a road back to normality, however, the dilemma the Government must resolve is that whilst the conservative Irish do not want to be like those riotous Greeks, we are, in fact, far too like Greece for our own good.

One of the clearest examples of this is the ongoing inability of the Irish governing classes to respond decisively to a crisis. Nothing epitomises this trait more than the response to Charlie Haughey's famous warning in 1979 that we were "living beyond our means", where it took a decade and four changes of government to address the economic crisis.

It is unlikely our EU/IMF masters will be quite so patient, and perhaps understandably so, for Ireland has already passed the point of even being permitted to live beyond our means.

A previously independent proud nation is instead, to paraphrase the dramatic imagery of Morgan Kelly, a beggar at the side of the road with a tin cup in our hands.

During the Tiger era, we may have patronised the Eastern European states but these are all still capable of paying their bills. We, in contrast, are in such a heap that even attempting to impose what would be entirely normal taxes in any other country may tip the middle classes over the fiscal edge.

Sadly it is unlikely our liquidators from the ECB/IMF Axis of Bankers will be swayed by any pleas for clemency.

We are essentially in liquidation, and the bad news for middle Ireland and the Government is that in all liquidations, preferred creditors such as the ECB and the IMF are paid in full whilst the productive middle classes and hospitality workers take the hit.

The choices faced by this Government and the people are limited and stark.

If we are not to be completely sunk, the only positive end-game is to create a fiscal zone of contamination where we can park the debts of the banks and say to Europe we are going to have to deal with this together.

But, to even reach that lonely place, we need first to sort our own house out. For that to happen, though, there will be a lot of blood, tears and very little gain before we reach a still fairly arid Promised Land.

The one thing we can, however, be sure about is the identity of the foot-soldiers who will lead this forced march. Unlike the equally worthless habitues of the law library and the dole bar, there is no-one available to speak for the ill-regarded private sector coping classes.

Sinn Fein, for now, is still not sufficiently house-trained and draws too much of its support from the inhabitants of the dole bar whilst FF is incapable of looking after itself, let alone the country.

Instead the blunt message the Irish middle classes must learn is that unless the real opposition of FG and Labour TDs, or a reformed SF, raise their game, when the man comes with the bill, there is amongst the political classes 'no-one left to speak out for us'.

Sunday Independent