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Tag Archives: Celtic tiger

Peter McVerry made a simple point in a recent letter to the Irish Times. He asked if the hundred million spent on building a free flow structure on the N7 at Newlands Cross might have been better spent on accommodation for homeless people. He said he’d have been happy to wait a few minutes in his car.*

He’s talking about priorities here, how state money ought to be spent, and he’s calculating on the basis of inequality. It would be easy to confine this discussion to the degree to which motoring is favoured: There are constant complaints about the lack of Gardaí on the beat while we recently created a traffic corps; far more people die by suicide than are killed on our roads while the RSA is favoured for funding. That however is too limited an approach. The reality is that we don’t talk about priorities, and that helps keep equality and real change off the agenda.

Avoiding the issue of priority has not only made public discourse infantile but reinforces the dominant model of Irish politics, and that model is deeply conservative. What passes for public discourse involves rival claims on the public purse. It seems to be unthinkable that anyone calling for more spending in one area would be asked at whose expense it should be funded. There’s a political model in operation and it goes unquestioned. In brief the majority of journalists seem to believe that we have a “political class” with access to unlimited funds which because of stupidity or meanness, they will not spend on worthy and needy causes unless they are forced by “pressure” from civil society organisations, activists and media.** It’s quite like a peasant society in which the ruler concedes a bit here or there in order to keep the structure as it is. It’s also like the child’s misunderstanding of family finance: the little kid who thinks that parents should stop being mean and just get more money. It explains the return of support for Fianna Fáil who can once again seem to be “more in touch” and better rulers.***

The model, and the organisations, activists, journalists, elected politicians and citizens who operate it, guarantee that there can be no real change to existing structures of inequality. The view is that all spending is equally important and everyone must be treated fairly. Indeed “fairness” has become the watchword of Irish conservatism. ****

The left is hideously implicated. Leaving aside revolutionaries who view all unrest as potentially advantageous, many among the Irish left have a romantic view that all objection to tax, cutbacks, government and politics generally is progressive. The notion of discussing priorities in state spending would be dismissed as helping the government with spending cuts rather than resisting them. The idea of using cuts to assault inequality can’t get a hearing; progress has been swallowed by a conservative populism which essentially argues that the “Celtic Tiger’s” incomes and inequalities can be restored if only the rich paid more tax. Conveniently for most of the rich, they too can pose on the left because the emphasis is almost invariably on the top 1% and never on the top 20%.

Ireland needs to talk about economic inequality but not in vague terms which allow conservatives to pose as egalitarians. It’s time for socialists and other progressives to make the reduction of inequality of income the prime objective. The Labour Party now favours equality audits before budget and policy decisions ***** but the party in government continues to talk about economic recovery and fairness as if they were prime considerations, and most of the government’s harshest critics on the left share that agenda.
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* http://www.irishtimes.com/debate/letters/speedy-aid-for-the-homeless-1.1446630
** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/now-that-almost-everyone-is-anti-establishment-whither-dissent/
*** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/theres-nothing-surprising-in-the-return-of-support-for-ff/
**** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/fairness-has-become-the-conservatives-shield/
***** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/inequality-of-income-can-labour-put-it-on-the-public-agenda-and-achieve-some-reduction-while-in-government/

There are three components to the Irish financial mess. 1. The decline of the export economy. 2. The international banking nonsense. 3. The Irish government policy that created and sustained a property bubble.

In last Saturday’s Irish Times Garrett Fitzgerald argued for a public enquiry into number 1, the true death of the “Celtic Tiger”. He’s right: In the long run this is the most important issue. Employers organisations and both Garret and John Fitzgerald argue that wages at the lower end will have to compete with low wage economies. Essentially what they are saying is that Ireland must WIN a race to the bottom.

Socialists should join Garrett’s call for an enquiry as it would open a debate on different conceptions of or routes to economic development.

It was obvious from RTE’s Frontline programme last night that many have swallowed the popular storyline that Ireland’s boom was destroyed by developers and bankers. Ireland is indeed cursed with chancers and an incompetent ruling class but that’s one just part of the story. Ireland’s FF/PD/Green governments maintained the appearance of a thriving economy by stoking a building boom; it was criminal folly. However, the fact is that the flourishing export-led economy ended years ago as industry relocated to cheaper countries. Any fool driving around the country could see this as the factories closed and the furniture warehouses multiplied. On TV last night over and over again the simplistic view was aired: builders and bankers killed our lovely Celtic tiger!

It was sad to see on this programme too an ambulance driver making a case for maintaining his small income and in so doing protecting a group of people who were conspicuously absent: rich public servants. None of the private sector workers whose function in the programme was to attack fellow workers was prepared to have a go at poor public servants. Unfortunately, the word “rich” was never used; it seems to have been banished from our vocabulary. Instead both sides seemed to want to attack “administrators” so that “frontline” staff can be protected. It was a depressing sight: two sets of workers baying for the dismissal of poor office workers while the rich sat at home watching the spectacle.