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Enda Kenny, Ireland's prime minister. Photo by: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg

Irish women and children first to suffer as government cutbacks hit

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Enda Kenny, Ireland's prime minister. Photo by: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg

“In these situations it’s always women and children first,” said the senior civil servant soothingly as I complained bitterly about the first major Government response to the debt crisis which Fianna Fáil and the decision takers of the hour had visited upon the country.

Infamously, as we know, the action back then took the form of attempting to take medical cards away from the over seventies.

Some several years down the line under a new coalition, the watchword is still women and children first as wheelchair bound sufferers are forced to piss into cans outside the Dáil as they mount an all-night vigil in protest at cuts in their Homecare packages.

Modern Ireland deserves a damn sight better than it is getting. An unfortunate overtaxed people are striving as best they can to pick up the pieces of the bank’s crash.

They are coping with a factor not sufficiently acknowledged, vastly increased suicide rates, emigration, unemployment and a murderous crime wave which is visibly out of control.

And all this for what? I had an experience recently which made me question the validity of all the financial measures that both this and the previous government have taken.

I applied for a replacement for a lost Share Certificate through the large financial services company Computershare and as I was advised by a stockbroker,  had my local bank authenticate my application.

However, I got a letter back from Computershare stating that ‘Bank of Ireland are not recognised by Computershare Investment Services as authorised to conjoin Letters of Indemnity.’ And for good measure, the letter also ruled out Allied Irish Bank, IBRC (the bank mopping up the affairs of Anglo Irish Bank).

When I rang Computershare to seek further information I was told ‘these banks do not meet our criteria’

How many billions have we poured into our reckless, corrupt and negligent banks? Is this the reality of Ireland’s real credit rating behind the posturing on the deal of debt forgiveness which our government expects to get from Europe? Is this the reality for which our people are being scourged?

Given the stoicism and effort which we Irish have traditionally exhibited, it is not surprising that we are coping quite gallantly with our challenges. But we face a monstrous, inhibiting factor, it is the gross unfairness of modern Irish society, the women and children first syndrome.

George Bernard Shaw spoke truly when he said that all professions are a conspiracy against the public. The lawyers, the bankers, the stockbrokers, the accountants and the political class of Ireland brought crisis and tragedy upon their people but they escape justice while the people pay for their crimes.

Not one of the aforementioned categories of professionals have suffered for the misdeeds they committed during the boom years, the reckless lending, the hyping of shares, the covering up of criminal balance sheets, the blind eye turned to regulatory negligence, the political cover given to the disgraceful inertia of the Department of Finance and the Central Bank.

Yet as this is written, public spirited people are patrolling the banks of the Shannon, approaching worried looking citizens to enquire are they thinking of a walk or of suicide. No one has gone to jail. No one has even been asked to give a public account of their failures on watch.

Currently an effort is being made to bamboozle the public by holding hearings of the Public Accounts Committee of the Dáil which enquires as to how public monies were spent. It’s a meaningless exercise, the money is gone and retribution is inevitably far to seek.

However, a proposal which might have helped the people to understand what happened and to provide consequences was nipped in the bud in the early days of the present ‘reforming’ Government taking over from Fianna Fáil. This was the holding of a referendum, to change the Constitution so that the Dáil could hold committee hearings, like those conducted by the US Senate or the UK parliament into matters of public interest and make findings of fact.

The Referendum was defeated for two reasons, one people didn’t trust the politicians to hold such hearings lest they used them for private, star chamber purposes and two because a group of  ex-attorneys general (of all parties) gave a powerful jolt to public opinion by writing to the papers saying that such a referendum would take away a man’s right to his good name, and the independence of the judiciary.

One of the signatories to that letter was Dermot Gleeson, the chairman of Allied Irish Bank during the Celtic Tiger era, another Peter Sutherland of Goldman Sachs, a further defender of the individual’s right to his good name was Michael McDowell, who followers of IrishCentral shall remember from journalist Frank Connolly’s article, gave confidential documents from his department to the Irish Independent  which formed part of his case outlined under privilege in the Dáil that Connolly had visited Colombia on a forged passport to see his brother, who at the time was in jail as a member of the Colombia Three.

In the uproar that followed McDowell’s manoeuvre, a noble work by one of the most valuable men to ever visit Ireland, Chuck Feeny, was destroyed. This was the public enquiry institute of which Connolly was the chief journalist and distinguished figures like Mr Justice Fergus Flood, the chairman. At the time, Bertie Ahern said on television that no country, not America, not France, could stand for such an outside agency supplying information to its public.

Ahern conveniently overlooked the activities of Sky Television, CNN, The BBC and the Murdoch press when he said this but on losing office, he subsequently took a job with the scummiest publication in the English language, The News of the World, which Murdoch was forced to shut down and the Irish public never read the results of the story that Connolly and his team had been working on - an investigation of Ahern’s finances.

Given this background and the traditional Irish deference to the authority of both Christ and Caesar it is not surprising that the professionals have managed to keep the rich and the venial from appearing before the bar of justice.

But given the disturbed, near mutinous state of Irish public opinion, it is not unreasonable to speculate that unless the state acts to prosecute those responsible for the wheelchairs outside the Dáil the willingness of the Irish taxpayer to submit meekly to the horrors predicted for the next budget and those yet to come may be soon coming to an end.

I certainly hope so.

Tim Pat Coogan’s latest book on the Famine, in which he accuses the English of Genocide will be published by Palgrave Press in November

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