The cat’s out of the bag: Ireland’s sovereignty was the price we paid for the lunatic excesses of our bankers.
Thanks to their panicked fire sale, we don’t take our marching orders from Dublin or even London now. These days we take them from the unelected central bankers of Frankfurt who dictate to our elected leaders behind closed doors.
We were – how should I put this – short sighted to allow our political leaders to agree to a blanket guarantee in 2008, which lumped €64 billion of bank losses on Irish taxpayers. That’s a lot of loose change to find behind your sofa. There will probably be no end to it in our lifetimes.
Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner spoke earlier this month of his incredulity over our government’s moves. “Ireland, most people view in retrospect, was stupid to guarantee all their banks. They couldn't afford it,” he said.
He also wondered why Europe hadn’t stepped in and guaranteed the banks as it could afford it. “The Irish couldn’t,” he said.
No kidding. What is fascinating is to watch as this message and its implications is finally sinking in from Cork to Donegal.
Ireland doesn’t think of itself as a revolutionary nation, but we might do well to remember that our ancestors – many within living memory – fought and often died to hand us the freedom they had never known themselves.
Because they did there’s something unbearably poignant about the circumstances the nation now finds itself in. A proud people have been brought low by emigration, by low wages and job losses, by cut after cut, until it seems the connecting social fabric – which is inseparable from how the Irish think of themselves – has been pulled to pieces.
Our leaders apparently thought we would do everything we were told to. After all, we hadn’t rattled our sabers over the biggest swindle of all, the bank bailout. They had no reason to expect that the Water Charges would be anything more than another turn of the thumbscrews.
But instead of another whimper they got an earthquake. That sound you heard was the lumping together of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail and the final collapse of Irish Civil War politics, a remarkable development.
Finally we have bigger fish to fry. The question is if this development represents progress.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar recently conceded that the government coalition had lost the confidence of the public and would not be re-elected unless it changed its political strategy.
Other farther seeing Irish politicians can also see which way the wind has turned. The idea of a coalition between flailing Fine Gael and Fianna Fail was addressed by Varadkar who told the press, “Coalition with Fianna Fail would be a little like a same-sex marriage: it would seem wrong at first but would probably work out fine in the end.”
The genius of Irish politics has always been to make lemonade from lemons. But there may not be enough sugar in Ireland to sweeten the water charges fiasco and the government knows it.
They have lost the confidence of the people, and just rearranging the chairs on the Titanic ship of state probably won’t save them now.
If any good has come out of the massive protests held in recent weeks – and indeed there has been much good – it’s that it has reminded the Irish public that they do have the final say in their own affairs. Governments, politicians and parties all fall like a house of cards when the risen people take to the streets and demand change. That’s really worth remembering.
The Irish don’t think of themselves as romantic revolutionaries, they think of themselves as pragmatic cynics, but what they have done in recent weeks has rattled our usually unflappable establishment. Since the foundation of the state there has been a cozy cartel of well-placed insiders who thrived as the nation faltered, who walked between the raindrops as times turned tough for everyone else.
We have always known who they are and at times we have even grudgingly admired their graft, their utter shamelessness. The Irish love a rogue, if he’s one of our own, that is.
No more. It was a bad marriage from the offset and it has only brought us increasing heartache.
But despite everything, leaders like Varadkar still think we’ll take him and his two oddly conjoined parties back, in a marriage of convenience if not of principle, when the truth is that we’re really looking for a divorce.