Ireland is still drowning in despair


So here we are in the economic basket case they call Ireland, the old horrible year well and truly over and a new annuls horribly just beginning.

The reality is that the year that stretches ahead of us is going to be even more grim than the one behind us.
As the brief Christmas cheer recedes and the feel-good factor of the holiday evaporates, we are left to contemplate the sorry mess we are in.

Over the coming weeks the cutbacks that were announced in the budget in December will begin to bite. It's one thing reading in the paper about these cuts in spending and hikes in tax. It's another thing when it's actually underway and life becomes a weekly struggle to pay bills and keep families above water.

That's what is happening here now. The realization has sunk in that the tough times have arrived, there is no escape and it's not something temporary. It's going to be the reality not just for months, but for years.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the prevailing mood here now is one of despondency. People are despondent because they see no future in Ireland.

Those who can are planning their escape, mainly the young unemployed and the college leavers. Those who can't, those with families or those trapped by negative equity, are grimly carrying on, knowing that so much of their tax in the years ahead will be going not to support services but to pay the interest on the huge debt burden we carry.

An indication of the national mood can be gauged from the fact that last weekend, The Irish Times began a major series called “How to Move Abroad.” Part one was about life in the U.S.

A major prime time documentary program on RTE television this Monday night was called Departure Day, telling the story of some of the new wave of emigrants as they prepared to go. There were young singles, of course, but there was also a young couple with two small kids who are setting out to build a new life in Canada.

They said they didn't really want to go, but they wanted to be able to provide a standard of living for the kids which they can't do here now. They thought it unlikely that they would be back to live here for at least five years, maybe 10, maybe even longer.

For people who can't get out, or don't want to get out, there is a high level of nervousness as well as despondency.

People are nervous about their jobs, about further pay cuts, about holding on to their homes, particularly if they bought during the boom at an inflated price. This nervousness means that people have stopped spending, and instead they are saving for even rainier days.

As a result the domestic economy is contracting, which is making a very bad situation even worse.

Don't get mad, get even, the old advice goes. People know it won't alter the hard times we face, but even so they are getting ready to take their revenge on Fiona Fail, the party that has been in government for so long and bears responsibility for what has happened.

The latest national opinion poll has them at 14%, a catastrophic fall in support for a party that has dominated Irish politics for decades. They only have themselves to blame, of course.

They are guilty of gross economic mismanagement on such a scale that the EU and the International Monetary Fund have had to come in to take over our financial affairs. It's a national humiliation that is going to see Fianna Fail decimated in the election that is coming in a couple of months.

If they only get 14% of the vote they will become a fringe party in Irish politics, with one former minister now predicting they could end up with as few as 12 seats in the Dail (Parliament).

Usually a New Year brings some hope for the future. But the prospect here for this New Year -- and for the years that will follow -- is so poor that it's no wonder people are depressed about it.

I mentioned above about families trying to keep their heads above water in the financial sense. But over the past few weeks, it was real water problems that were concerning so many people here as the cold weather meant that people all over Ireland, particularly in cities and towns, were without it for days on end.

As if people were not miserable enough already, now they had no water. They turned on the taps and nothing came out. In some areas, they were without water for a week or two.

And we are told the problem will persist for several more weeks, with low pressure and water being turned off at night. Where I live in north Dublin, the water is being turned off again tonight, even though the extreme cold spell ended over a week ago. It's like being in a Third World country and it seems to underline just how bad things here have got.