Time to plan for the worst
'FOR God's sake, Sarge, say something, even if it's only goodbye!" The old joke about the platoon of soldiers about to march over a cliff carries relevance for a Taoiseach and a Government out of step with everybody else and refusing to acknowledge the proximity of the cliff.
For much of the last week, the story of Ireland's trouble has jostled for prominence in the headlines with massive world events. It has preoccupied leaders at international conferences. It has filled the pages of the 'Financial Times' and attracted the attention of the media in Europe and the United States. It has provoked comment, almost unanimously gloomy, from leading economists.
But "Sarge" has had nothing to say beyond a reassurance that we have enough money in the kitty to last us until the middle of next year. After that, who knows? At any rate, Sarge thinks the cliff is a long way off.
Brian Cowen is reportedly "furious" about the reports that we may seek to access the European bailout fund. Justice Minister Dermot Ahern dismisses the speculation as "fiction". Fiction from the 'Financial Times' and the BBC? Fiction from European leaders who fear that "Irish contagion" could bring down the currency?
More oddly still, there could be an innocent and mundane explanation of how the reports originated.
The Government rightly hopes that we can continue to manage our own affairs and avoid subjecting our financial destiny to the European Commission and/or the IMF. Again rightly, it hopes that the Budget on December 7 and the four-year fiscal plan can enable us, at long last, to begin to get a grip.
But nobody can deny that a bailout may be necessary -- in six months' time, or tomorrow afternoon. It would therefore make sense to enter into preliminary discussions on the methods to be employed. It would also make sense to inquire how we could contain the costs, and how much of our independence we could salvage.
And it would make sense to explain to the public how the Budget can help. But taking the people into their confidence seems to be beyond the ability, or the thinking, of Sarge and his corporals. There is a by-election to be fought. There are hoops to jump through, to please independent deputies who support the Government. And there is still money to waste. For this Government, the cliff is still a forbidden subject.