|President Michael D. Higgins. Source: Photocall Ireland|
As we get started on the New Year and wave goodbye and good riddance to 2013 and the bailout, there is a lot of talk here of having turned the corner, of green shoots, of hope for the future.
Most of this is just wishful thinking.
It is true, however, that things are not getting any worse. The latest government figures show that the deficit for 2013 is likely to be below the target of 7.5 percent of GDP, possibly even below seven percent when all the tax returns and state spending figures for the past year are in.
So we are keeping up with the program laid down by the Troika to get our state finances back in order and get our deficit down to three percent by the end of 2015.
That’s all fine and dandy. But we are still being suffocated by the enormous debt burden we have been forced to carry, the interest payments on which alone are sucking €10 billion a year out of the economy, paid for by cutbacks and tax hikes forced on ordinary people here.
Many families are struggling to pay the bills and hold on to their homes. Unemployment and emigration are still very high.
So although we’re out of the bailout, we’re just limping along and any recovery will be painfully slow. We’ll be looking into all that in the next few weeks.
But before we leave the holiday behind us, there is one Christmas greeting we want to bring to your attention. It’s not that important itself, but it’s a perfect illustration of the way the so-called leaders and the elite in Irish society are completely divorced from the reality that faces the rest of us.
I’m talking about the Christmas and New Year message from President Michael D. Higgins to the Irish people broadcast on television a couple of days before the holiday. You can see the video on www.president.ie and you really should have a look at it.
It’s not just the sanctimonious tone and the elaborately cultured enunciation (from a guy with a very ordinary background in the west of Ireland) that grates. We’re used to that from Michael D., although he does seem to have acquired a more Anglo accent of late. In fact it was somewhat unnerving how much his TV message sound like the encouraging exhortations delivered by Queen Elizabeth in her Christmas TV message every year.
As we said, it’s not that important. But it’s just not the right time for this kind of pious piffle here.
The reaction on the Internet and on the websites of the newspapers here to the president’s Christmas video was not just negative, it was scathing and derisive, with people cracking jokes about Michael D’s pretentiousness and heaping scorn on his wooly thinking.
Even for a man who has been in love with the sound of his own voice for years, it was a bad misjudgment. Higgins, a former sociology lecturer, has long regarded himself as a kind of intellectual seer and keeper of the moral high ground.
He imagines that he has subtle insights into the shortcomings of Irish society that the rest of us don’t get. He works himself up into verbal knots trying to define where we have gone wrong and what we need to do to get back to real Irish values.
Normally this does not matter a great deal, and most people here take his pontificating with a pinch of salt. But it’s hard to swallow right now, and if you watch his speech you will see what I mean.
The speech began with the usual warm wishes for Christmas and the New Year, with the obligatory nod in the direction of our emigrants. There was the politically correct allusion to all the immigrants who live here now and us all being members of the same national family.
Nothing wrong with that either, although it does dodge the issues involved. This led on to a reference to the message of Christmas being “shared by many faiths,” which again is the politically correct thing to say in our new Ireland, even if it is only partially accurate.
This has had some Catholics here -- including the head Army chaplain -- suggesting that Higgins’ political correctness is taking Christ out of Christmas, the kind of thing that your Bill O’Reilly gets so worked up about.