A lot of the veils that hide the interests of the Irish establishment have been ripped away by it, but there still are many left, which is why McWilliams engagement at the Abbey was a sell out.
“If there was clarity now people wouldn’t turn up to the Abbey to see a celebrated Irish economist hold forth on what happened and what it all means for the future,” he says.
“What I would say is that there’s an extraordinary attempt by our political classes to rewrite history going on right now in Ireland. It’s important that the national theater and independent journalists expose that attempt.”
There’s a personal aspect to McWilliams’ performance. When he was a boy during the late 1970s, McWilliams’ middle class father lost his job. McWilliams talks about it in the play, discussing how his family coped with their sudden change in fortunes.
“I think that what compelled me to speak up is my own father’s experience with unemployment. That’s what makes me keep doing these things,” he says.
“Economics is not about abstract concepts like finance and money and GDP, it’s about life and personal experience and what happens to people. It’s without boundaries: it goes into psychology, emotional, physical and mental health – all these things.
“It has always driven my own personal sense of economics. It’s not simply a science, it changes lives. It’s not just something theoretical or financial. I saw what happened to my dad and I wouldn’t like that to happen to more people.”
Ireland has options. It’s just not pursuing the right ones, McWilliams’ says.
When the financial crisis hit Iceland, for example, it didn’t adopt the austerity measures Ireland did and it’s getting out of the mess very quickly.
“Their unemployment peaked at 7% and Ireland’s is still rising at 14%. I have always felt that unemployment is the only thing that matters in an economic sense, everything else is extraneous. Everything else is just simply noise,” says Williams.
The thing is Ireland is a society that can get its economy right, McWilliams says. If you get your economy right, you can do anything. But if you get it wrong, and Ireland has done so, you destroy lives.
“We should let the failing banks close down, forget them, not bail hem out and stick the taxpayers with the bill. You have to draw a line under the sand and stop giving the next generation the bill for the last generation,” he feels.
“That’s what happening now. If you do that by manifest and clear economic decisions you start to corrode and destroy the insider system here. The idea is to liberate the country, not through socialism but through capitalism, by saying we can make this country into a better capitalist country where people have a better opportunity and we can do that by destroying the power of the insiders.
“That’s what I’m saying in the theater, and I believe it’s the right message to bring to the national stage.”
Despite the crash, some claim that the Irish political class have yet again managed to contain the public relations explosion. McWilliams has an answer for that.
“It’s not over yet. They are rewriting the history but you can only airbrush out so much. You see their claws at the bottom of the photograph.”
Then he adds with a laugh, “If I don’t get kicked out of the country hopefully I can bring the show to New York soon.”
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