| 8.3°C Dublin

Austerity must be put to an end

The Taoiseach was at it again last week as we were told this was a man who would not shirk from making the 'tough decisions'. Mr Kenny needs to be careful for such has been the regularity with which he has been recently shaping up to make these 'tough decisions' that he may yet actually make one.

There was no danger of that happening last week as the Government swiftly threw a wet blanket over the claim by the departing ECB banker, Juergen Stark, that Irish public sector wages were still too high. Unfortunately it simultaneously emerged that Irish teachers are amongst the highest-paid and lowest-worked pedagogues in the world. Still they are not alone for as our 'spoilt' ESB workers prepared to revolt against Pat Rabbitte's 'Irish solution'-style privatisation policy we also learnt our judges and politicians continue to be the highest-paid wonders of western Europe.

In fairness, when it comes to ruling elites, the kindness of today's Sunday Independent opinion poll suggests the people believe our new Rainbow are far from being at the bottom of the class. Mind you, that is no great achievement for the most galling feature of the current crisis is that, like some man-made environmental disaster, our woes are being exacerbated by the worst collection of political gargoyles since the Thirties.

Two continents are governed by grubby playboys, amoral adventurers and the political trailer trash of the American Tea Party. The sleazy deference to the rich and the moral cowardice that is the dominant characteristic of modern politics would almost leave one sighing for the return of a Christian ethic for, apparently, only the fear of Hell can force men to behave in a moral way.

Self-interest certainly has not worked, for Europe has been so paralysed by the rule of the political miniatures that America and, more embarrassingly still, China have been forced to attempt to jolt a continent sleepwalking towards disaster into some form of cohesive action.

Some economic adventurers may believe the race towards a Greek default is a good thing. Anarchy in Europe, however, is not Ireland's opportunity. Instead, should Greece trigger a domino-style collapse the interests of a small island at the edge of Europe will be as peripheral as the Czech Republic in 1938.

The dangers of default should not, however, blind us, or the Continent, to the escalating failure of the voodoo economics of austerity. Our political leaders, in defending the current policy, regularly cite the success of Ray MacSharry in the Eighties. It would be nice, if, in future, they thought before they spoke for the austerity package was balanced by substantial EU Structural Funds invested in Ireland's infrastructure.

Debt cannot be paid down, in a recession, by austerity unless we are all turned into subsistence sharecroppers. Our German 'friends' who want us to fly the flag at half-mast might well be pleased by such a humiliation. But if Germany wants to be the master of a prosperous, and peaceful, Europe our Prussian 'partners' would be wise to embrace the virtues of 'enlightened self-interest'.

Obama's recent 'That's not who we are. That's not the story of America' chastisement of those Republicans who tell everyone 'they're on their own' provides us with a compelling example of such enlightenment in action. Sadly, on too many occasions recently, under the governance of the political miniatures sole trading has been the story of Europe.

Sunday Independent