That was only a side issue, however. What got most people here riled up about the message was what came in the rest of the speech:
“The message of Christmas, shared by many faiths, invites us to care for one another and to be – in an ethical sense – one another’s keeper,” the president said. “At my inauguration two years ago I expressed my wish to engage with a number of themes that affect the welfare and future of our people.
“I am pleased that the first of these initiatives, ‘Being Young and Irish,’ has borne fruit. Ireland has young people of great ability who deserve to have confidence in their future and pride in their country.”
What Higgins is referring to here is a few talking shops he held with young people a year ago to get their views on the state of the country. Fair enough. But how have these “borne fruit”? Around 90,000 people -- most of them young people -- left Ireland in the past year as emigration continued to soar. That’s 250 people every day.
Talk is cheap. Nothing has changed.
This was a very insensitive thing for a man who prides himself on his intellectual sensitivity to say, and it was made worse because he seemed to be congratulating himself. But there was more nonsense to come.
“During 2014 I will be encouraging the widest possible discussion of ethics in every aspect of our lives, nationally and globally,” Higgins continued.
“This will, I hope, make a contribution towards moving beyond a version of our society and economy that has brought so much hardship, required so much sacrifice. As a New Year beckons, I am confident that Irish people will draw on the character and resilience they have so often shown to craft a vision of our shared Irishness that is defined by the values of care, solidarity, trust and responsibility.”
The trouble with this high-minded waffle is that it’s too late and it is misplaced. Ethics and our “shared Irishness” won’t pay the mortgage and put food on the table, or ease the crushing tax burden.
We have been screwed in a deeply unethical way by our inept politicians and their blanket bank guarantee, by the European Central Bank and by the failure of the present government to get the chunks of our national debt written off that are the result of paying back unguaranteed bondholders.
What lies ahead of us for the next decade or more is an economy that is going to be bled dry to pay back debts that should never have been imposed on the Irish people. Money that should be used to invest in the economy here and create jobs will flow out of the country in interest payments on the massive debt while our “young people” continue to emigrate in droves.
That’s not ethical. But Michael D’s “widest possible discussion of ethics” does not seem to include that.
Instead his proposal appears to be a call for a move away from the “version of our society and economy that has brought so much hardship,” which is another way of saying that we all partied, we were all too greedy and we need to learn lessons from our stupidity.
For the vast majority of people here, that’s not what happened. Most people here were swept along on the boom but they behaved ethically.
Ordinary people did not create the boom and bust, even though we are being made to pay for the crash. We can talk intellectual waffle about ethics until the cows come home but it won’t change our situation.
The most sickening unethical aspect of the situation we face was not even mentioned by the president. That is the way the top layer of Irish society — the politicians, judges, lawyers, bankers, professionals, senior civil servants and all the others who make up the elite here — have managed to insulate themselves from most of the effects of the bust.
And the president, who is paid an obscene amount of money for the largely ceremonial role he plays in our almost-bankrupt little country, is one of this elite.
Yes, many of th top layer have taken pay cuts, including the president. But they are all still on huge salaries and all of them who are on the state payroll still have their big guaranteed pensions for life, unlike ordinary people in the private sector where pensions have collapsed.
(The president is in line for four pensions – university, Dail (Parliament), Senate, presidential -- all paid for and guaranteed by the state. Is that ethical?)
Many of our elite, especially those paid by the state, have carried on as though nothing has changed. It’s as though they exist in an alternate world, with their comfortable lifestyles, cars and expenses.
They oppose cuts in state spending on jobs in the arts and culture sector, for example, at a time when special needs assistants in schools have lost their jobs. They defend state spending on the myriad of quango organizations we have, where the top people get fat salaries.