Irish take to the streets in angry protests




There was a protest outside the Dail (Parliament) last week against the cuts in government spending.

There's nothing unusual in that because protest marches to the Dail are a time honored part of Irish democracy. When people here are upset with the government of the day about something they march on the Dail, make angry speeches and then go off to the pub for a pint or go home to watch their protest on the nightly news.

Last week's protest march through the center of Dublin ending outside the Dail seemed to be the same, with the protesters shouting angry slogans and waving banners comparing the way the state is spending billions propping up our bust banks with the severe cuts it is making in the services given to ordinary people, many of whom are out of work and struggling.

As I said, protests like this are not unusual, and certainly many people here are extremely angry about the current situation. But this protest was not the same.

In fact it was very different, because it ended in violent clashes between the protestors and the Gardai (police) lined up outside the gates of the Dail. The protestors attempted to storm the gates and fight their way inside the Dail. The Gardai drew their batons and fought back.

It wasn't that serious and it didn't last very long, but it wasn't pretty. Suddenly it seemed like the kind of anti-cutback street fighting we have seen in Athens over the past few weeks had arrived in Dublin.

There was an element of militancy and viciousness in the protest here last week that was new. The fighting, especially since it was right outside the Dail, looked really bad in the newspaper pictures the next morning.

The faces of the protestors in the pictures were contorted in hatred as they attacked the Gardai, something that most Irish people find deeply offensive because there is huge respect here for our police.

It was vicious. But it would not be accurate to say that it was the start of our Big Fat Greek Revolution.

While parts of Athens were in flames last week, there were only a few hundred on the protest march in Dublin, and only a few dozen of those were involved in the violence. And it soon became clear that this was a calculated tactic by the usual suspects.

Up front doing the kicking and punching were Republican hardmen and members of the miniscule Socialist Workers Party (some of whom have never worked a day in their lives!). Pushing and shouting at the back were some of the People Before Profit Alliance and other looney left groups, including a new one called Eirigi (which is Irish for Rise Up).

These groups are a sort of throwback to the sixties when a lot of us believed in revolution, and that undermining the capitalist system would lead to a socialist workers paradise. Most of us have grown up since then and realized that things are a bit more complicated than that -- and also that communism could be even more corrupt than capitalism. But all that seems to have passed these people by.

Somehow they think that attacking innocent Gardai will cure the current crisis (which is ironic since the Gardai are unhappy about the cuts in the pay they and other state workers are suffering).

The protestors last week were demanding an end to cuts in government spending and jobs for everyone. And they called for a mass campaign of civil disobedience and mass protests to force the government to change its policy of cutting back to balance the budget.

Wouldn't it be great if it was that simple? We could all protest for a few days, and then get jobs, housing, the best government services and so on ... and not have to pay any more tax to achieve this nirvana.

Back in the real world, most people here now realize that governments can't do things for free. Governments are not very good at creating jobs or providing free housing.

They can only do these things at enormous cost, and in the end someone always has to pay, either taxpayers or the foreign money markets that give us loans.

And that's our problem. We're spending ****50 billion a year and getting ****30 billion in tax revenue. The rest has to be borrowed, and the money markets don't want to lend us any more.

As I've said here before, the Irish government has not run out of compassion. It has run out of money.

We are currently running a budget deficit of 14.3% of national income which is almost five times the European Union's limit -- we're worse than Greece!
But we have promised to bring it below the 3% limit of national income by 2014. To do this we have agreed to cut spending and push up taxes so that our deficit will be reduced by ****16 billion by 2014.

Last year in the budget for 2010, the government pushed through ***4 billion worth of savings. In the budget this December another ***3 billion euro in savings has to be found.

In preparation for this, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan last week told his fellow ministers to start making lists in their departments of where new cuts can be made. They have two weeks from today to make their proposals for more cuts, otherwise he will do it for them.

So it's going to get a lot worse for all of us before it gets any better. And we can expect a lot more protests from the looney tunes outside the Dail.

Because of the huge damage done to the stability of the euro by the overspending and borrowing by some member countries (like Greece and Ireland), the European Commission has now said that in future the annual budgets in countries in the euro zone will have to be approved by the commission before they are presented to national parliaments.

This led to an outcry here last week, with some people complaining we were losing our sovereignty to Brussels. But the fact is that it may be the only way to get some countries to behave sensibly.

And given that it is largely the taxpayers of Germany who are carrying the can for the new ****750 billion euro emergency fund to help European economies that get into trouble, one can't blame them for wanting some reassurance.

The reason all this is necessary goes back to the euro, which ambitiously stitched together in a single currency a range of countries whose economies were at very different stages of development. Political and economic convergence were supposed to make it all work, and massive transfers of money in structural funds were used to help the slow nations catch up.

But it's only been partly successful. Germany makes Mercedes cars.
What does Greece make? The answer is very little. And Ireland is not much better.

The answer to the problem Ireland -- and the other countries in Europe with weak economies and big deficits -- faces is being able to answer that question. What do you make?

Being able to answer that question in the future will mean developing a new entrepreneurial spirit among young people here. We have the brains and the education, but too many of our young people want to be marketing assistants or stylists or lawyers or (God forbid) journalists, and not enough of them want to start their own businesses and create products that will sell globally.

Instead of protesting and shouting Give Us a Freakin Job (like in America last week) or Give Us a Freakin Home, our young people need to be innovating and creating their own futures themselves.

There's no mystery involved. You don't have to be part of a giant corporation.

You have to identify products that are needed and then work cheaper and faster than the competition. That's how China does it, with millions of small businesses that make the products we all buy. That's what we -- and young people in America -- need to do.

Because it's not just Ireland, or the U.K., or some weak European countries, that have to stop running enormous budget deficits and living on borrowed money. America is facing the biggest problem of all.

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