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Revelations, deprivation and the politics of terror

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SPEECH: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the US Congress on Capitol
Hill in Washington last Tuesday. Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

SPEECH: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the US Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington last Tuesday. Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

REUTERS

SPEECH: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the US Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington last Tuesday. Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

That was the week that was. Let us join the dots . . .

In a memorable State of the Union address, US President Barack Obama delivered in style the words of his finest speech writer.

"We are 15 years into this new century. Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world. It has been, and still is, a hard time for many.

"But tonight, we turn the page."

He looked around. At this moment, he said, with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production, the US had risen from recession.

In Davos, Switzerland, meanwhile, at a gathering of the world's most wealthy, powerful and elite, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny told those who had flown in on 1,700 private jets that the economic recovery in Ireland was "fragile and incomplete".

What Ireland needed now, he said, was three to five years of steady growth and "political stability" - in other words, a second term for Fine Gael and Labour and, if Simon Coveney is correct, maybe Fianna Fail too.

The US, last October, called time on quantitative easing, a $4.5trn bond-buying programme; a radical monetary policy, introduced six years ago to steer the economy through the financial crisis.

But while the US acted, the EU dawdled. So in the week the States turned the page, the EU introduced a quantitative easing programme of its own.

In its latest bid to reverse a long, slow slide into economic stagnation, the European Central Bank is to begin buying government bonds with newly printed euros.

Specifically, the ECB will buy €60bn of assets a month, including government, institutional and private sector bonds, and will do so until at least September 2016.

The Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, meanwhile, still seeks to turn the page on his own: he said two things must happen now to ensure the ECB money flows to the pockets of "hard-pressed families".

First, pressure on the Central Bank here to sell the bonds it holds following the Anglo promissory note deal should be lifted.

This would save Ireland hundreds of millions on an annual basis, freeing up resources for capital investment and improved services here.

Second, the ECB could allow Irish banks to include their tracker-loans books in the quantitative easing programme.

This would immediately improve their balance sheets and allow them to lend to mortgage and other customers at lower rates.

And how hard-pressed so many of those families are . . .

But first, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney raised the ire of Labour, and Kathleen Lynch in particular, when he described Mr Martin as "very competent" and, potentially, a suitable partner in government.

Mr Coveney was immediately accused of seeking to regain the initiative from that other would-be leader of Fine Gael, Leo Varadkar, after the fall of Enda Kenny, whenever that may come.

Mr Varadkar came out as a gay man at the start of the week, an announcement which caused most, many - and all of a certain age - to shrug their shoulders.

His announcement came days before the Government announced the wording in a referendum to be held on same-sex marriage: "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex".

The referendum will be held at a date towards the end of May; coincidentally, at the same time Mr Coveney has said the Fine Gael General Election manifesto will be ready.

"At the moment," Mr Coveney said, "we don't have the numbers, absolutely" - a reference to the opinion polls. "We've had a terrible year, politically. If we don't make it up with Labour alone, we have to look at options.

"I don't have any ideological problem with forming a coalition with Fianna Fail. As long as we can hammer out a Programme for Government, that is something that Fine Gael can support."

Ms Lynch attacked Mr Coveney for his "disloyalty", when what he really suggested was a Fine Gael/Labour/Fianna Fail alliance, something which might actually appeal to Mr Martin.

And now to those hard-pressed families . . .

Figures published by the Central Statistics Office laid it bare: 376,000 families living in consistent poverty, double the number since 2008, when the US embarked on quantitative easing; 1.4m experiencing some form of deprivation, a 128pc increase in that time; nearly 700,000 at risk of poverty, 211,000 of which are children. That is, one-in-six children and one-in-10 pensioners is at risk of poverty.

The CSO define deprivation as going without a number of basic items, such as warm clothing or adequate heating.

Back in Davos, meanwhile, they discussed poverty and growing income gaps - again.

And again the anti-poverty charity Oxfam published research: in summary, by next year, 1pc of the world's population will own more wealth than the other 99pc.

The research shows that the share of the world's wealth owned by the 1pc has increased from 44pc in 2009 to 48pc in 2014, that is, throughout most of the period of inaction in Europe and quantitative easing which has allowed the US turn the page.

In his sixth and second-last State of the Union address as president, Mr Obama also took aim against the "bankrupt ideology of violent extremism".

As he spoke, the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, faced a life-or-death dilemma to which there can be only one answer.

The terror group ISIL threatened to kill two men unless Japan paid a $200m ransom, the amount offered by the prime minister in non-military aid to countries fighting ISIL.

Last night, there were grave fears that one hostage had been beheaded.

In his address, Mr Obama called on Congress to pass a resolution to authorise the use of force against ISIL.

Sunday Independent