Smoke and Mirrors — Looking to the Future

A small nation that won’t surrender

Brian Lenihan has delivered the Budget, and it seems that the greatest pain will be borne by the most vulnerable. But we already knew that, didn’t we? The Irish people will be made to suffer for the sake of a bank bailout that was never our fault, for wounds inflicted by lazy and corrupt politicians. I said before that “the government seems to be unwilling to stop giving money to Anglo-Irish, so the cost of running the country must be reduced somehow – and that means bleeding the ordinary citizens of Ireland dry.”

This is the first blood-letting. I suspect the full effect will take time to make itself known.

We can take comfort in knowing that the web of lies is finally beginning to fall apart, as support for Brian Cowen and Fianna Fáil plummets to a record low. It seems that we’re starting to wake up from the dream that they’ve tried to sell us; that they are actually competent and able to run the country successfully, that they can guide us out of this financial storm. The swing voters, who might have leaned towards FF out of familial obligation or out of tradition, cannot delude themselves any longer about the party’s true character. If the trend continues, we may even bear witness to the end of Fianna Fáil as a viable political entity, and a true turning point in Irish politics.

It’s all pie in the sky stuff, unfortunately, for the people on the ground who will take the brunt of FF’s treasonous actions. Who cares what happens in Dublin if your family in Galway can’t pay the bills? What does it matter to a TD on a still-fat salary if you’re in danger of losing your house because you’ve lost your job? And they don’t care, believe me, apart from one or two who desperately try to play the game in the hope of making a difference. The ones in power will ignore your rage and belittle your concerns until you start to think that maybe you deserve this, and there really isn’t anything you can do.

…or is there?

The Law is an Ass

The Dáil could say that we must share in the pain, and pay our taxes like good little citizens, but Cowen and his cronies seem to forget that they are not the only ones with a rather blasé attitude to the law.

This is Ireland. It’s all who you know, and who did you a favour last week – certainly not what’s illegal and what isn’t – and although it was that kind of thinking that got us into this mess, it might also be the thing that shields the ordinary people from the worst of it. In another country, and another populace faced with high, unfair taxes, you might get riots in the streets. Here, well, we’ll just find a way not to pay.

The black economy is already making a comeback. The article from 2009 says:

That would mean that, each month, over half a billion euro is generated that the taxman doesn’t ever get a penny of, or well over €1bn worth of missing-in-action VAT returns for this year alone. Brian Lenihan might find it very handy these days, amounting as it does to a quarter of what he has to find in the upcoming budget. This hidden economy could grow by a further €350m this year, or up to 0.9 per cent, Schneider predicts.
Everyone knows someone who’s been paid under the table. What better way to avoid paying back the debts of rich bankers? Oh, there are laws against it, but the Irish attitude to them seems to fall roughly in line with that of Mr. Bumble from Oliver Twist: “If the law supposes that, the law is an ass.” I will easily predict that the black economy will grow faster than ever in the next few years as people begin trading among themselves, outside the sphere of the government

It’s not a viable solution, of course. It’s certainly not going to do anything except destabilise the economy further, as less money goes to businesses operating legally. But this isn’t about economics, and there’s no such thing as ‘the greater good’ when it’s coming up to Christmas and you don’t have enough money to buy your child the present they want. It’s bloody minded tribalism all over again – but this time, it’s the government getting screwed. Whether the effects are ultimately ruinous for Ireland makes no difference; people will do it anyway to survive.

Future Imperfect

There will be no greater indictment of how the Dáil no longer speak for Ireland than if people stop paying their taxes. It would be a subtle rebellion; insidious, like a poison, and something that the government will not be able to stop. A default will not happen while the ECB have a vested interest in keeping Ireland afloat, so the main effect will be to strangle the Dáil and the supply of money going to run the country and pay the bankers’ debt. It will hurt us, long term, but in the short term it will keep a lot of people going.

But the future is still bleak for so many of us, even if tax dodging really does take off. Middle and lower income families will be hit hard by the reduction in child benefits and the minimum wage. With no more first time buyers’ relief, the dream of owning a home will be pushed even further away for younger workers. With the changes to business, entrepreneurs will feel the pinch and even fewer new companies will appear. The wealthiest Irish citizens are already paying the highest rate of tax, and they will not pay any more – and there are even some reports that they will gain a tax break overall.

A paltry cut in the Taoiseach’s salary and a €250k cap on public servants’ wages is pathetic. (There was also no mention of expenses – remember those? They’re still unvouched, meaning no receipts are required.) Cowen will take a reduction of €14,000 on his €200,000+ salary, and one can only assume he will not find it a stretch to support his family on what he has left. But for the person on minimum wage? Losing a single euro per hour is like taking a punch in the face; it amounts to a reduction of 11.5% of their income, and that cut is going to hurt. Cowen, in comparison, is losing only 6.1% of his, and I doubt he will even notice.

Don’t worry, though. They’re cutting down the number of ministerial cars, so that makes it alright.

Finding Hope

The most heart-breaking part of this whole play is the sense that people truly feel powerless in the face of this wholesale razing of their country; that people would rather emigrate, and join the Irish diaspora in forging a new life in a foreign land, instead of trying to fix the broken shell of their home. That is the true crime of the politicians and their friends in high business – despair, driven into the soul of a nation, the last nail in the coffin of what used to be a sovereign state.

But the soul of Ireland – ah, now that’s something a little different. That’s something that can’t be killed.

We are a small country, but we are a great country. Our culture survived seven hundred years of oppression; today it’s celebrated across the world on St. Patrick’s Day. We’re welcomed just about everywhere, and famous for our music, art, dancing and wit. We are the country of Oscar Wilde, U2, Newgrange, and Guinness, and one of the few places in Europe that the Romans never conquered. We’re right next door to a colonial superpower, and we fought them for the right to choose our own destiny. We are a country of myth, legend, magic and story; saints, scholars, warriors and heroes; the ancestral home of eighty million people; renowned for generosity, loyalty, and spirit.

We have a lot to be proud of, and it was not built by the likes of Brian Cowen. For all our ideas that Ireland is insignificant, and really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, the truth is that Ireland has changed the world. We should never forget that. And so despite everything that has happened, and that will happen, I am still hopeful; I believe that Ireland will survive this, that we will survive this. In the blood and in the bone, we are greater than this one little island and the gombeen men who are trying to control it.

That is the final truth behind the veil of smoke and mirrors.

Eamon de Valera, addressing Winston Churchill after the end of WWII:
Mr. Churchill is proud of Britain’s stand alone, after France had fallen and before America entered the war. Could he not find in his heart the generosity to acknowledge that there is a small nation that stood alone not for one year or two, but for several hundred years against aggression; that endured spoliations, famine, massacres, in endless succession; that was clubbed many times into insensibility, but each time on returning to consciousness took up the fight anew; a small nation that could never be got to accept defeat and has never surrendered her soul?

20 thoughts on “Smoke and Mirrors — Looking to the Future

  1. It’s an excellent piece. Well done.

    However I disagree about us being a great co untry. Actually I think we are all self serving shams who only ever seem to shine when we are forced into it by being entitled to no child allowance in whatever far off country we fetch up in. It’s a shame the light of the diaspora never shone at home. Otherwise we might have truly been great indeed.

  2. I agree with Dr Orgasm. There seems to be little if any appetite for hard work at home compared to the efforts by emigrants, why? Is it taxes? Is it a lack of incentives at home? Why do we not have an meaningful indigenous manufacturing sector? Is it the parasite political gombeens who’d suck the live from a rock? I’m 45, I cannot remember a government member or party doing anything for the greater good. Why is Dublin the centre of the known universe? Why oh why do we continue to re-elect FF to government? Why oh why do we deny voting FF?

    BTW, Dev had some cheek. The whole rotten mire that is FF was started by him and the Irish Press money. He hadn’t the bollox to go to London. Then he started a civil war when the result didn’t suit him. He allowed our children to raped for fun by his Catholic buddies. He was a scum bag.

    Good piece.

  3. Great post there Claire. Would love to be able to write like that, takes me a half hour however to string a decent sentence together.. :)

    I like that a lot – “a small nation that could never be got to accept defeat and has never surrendered her soul.”
    We’re a nation of 4.5 million people so I don’t think you can categorize that many people as being self serving as Dr. Orgasm stated. I think it’s a small group of elites who are self serving and the rest of us obediently follow what’s dictated. Some of the most enlightening posts I’ve read on the reasons for that, were written by Bock on the Irish psyche. All though I sometimes wonder whether our less obedient European neighbours are capable of affecting the subjugation coming from their governments. There are widespread strikes going on in Greece at the moment.. is it making any difference there?

    I personally believe some people have no problem with critical thinking, understanding the crux of a problem or foreseeing the consequences of events – e.g. The consequences of Nama, bank guarantees and the IMF “bailout” etc. It’s just that they are lacking any sense of altruism or compassion for how it will affect the general populous. I’ve talked to one or two politicians in my time and pointed out some PAYE/PRSI inequities and the reply I got was, “yeah, well, and it’ll only get worse next year”.. said with a condescending, flippant tone. I totally agree with you that the majority of politicians are not in it for the greater good but because of the lure of power and greed. They just don’t care for anyone beyond themselves and their circle. They don’t care if our young have to up sticks and emigrate to have some chance at a future. In fact I’d say emigration is the unspoken policy. If people are better off not working than earning the minimum wage, you can be sure they are counting on emigration. That’s just despicable to me.
    They care not a jot for people’s loved ones who have to leave Ireland so they’ll have some sort of a future for themselves. I have an older brother and sister who emigrated in the late 80’s, so I know the effect it has on a family.
    Without trying to sound too sentimental, I believe we are a great nation and we will survive this. We’ve had to be resilient in the past and will continue to be so in the future. There are reasons we are loved around the world. I think peoples’ opinion of the nation are obviously prejudiced by their own view of the world and experiences,so in saying that, I believe we’ve a lot to be proud of.

  4. That quote from Dev did sum it up. The world defended itself against murderous fascism and all Dev can see from the fence is his own back yard.

  5. I think Dev had no difficulty surrendering the nation’s soul to the Catholic church of which he was in so much awe, but that takes away from the general point of the piece, which is a call to understand that we will not be defeated by these fools.

  6. Good article Claire.

    I would include in our list of achievements our great Irish music tradition. You can hear World class music in Limerick everyday of the week.

    Also, in early Christian times, Ireland was a centre for learning and spirituality. The early christians left our shores to bring new ideas, and teachings to the four corners of the globe. I should point out that that was a different era then and the decline and corruption in Catholicism came much later.

  7. A great post Bock but I’d be a little wary of falling for the note of great Irish exceptionalism; one that has struggled against all the odds as a self -conscious collective grouping, bravely resisting trial and tribulation, oppression and aggression, etc in an unbroken lineage back to time immemorial. The reality was probably more ambivalent, with pragmatism, compromise, opportunism, resistance, “I’m all rightism”, supineness, pockets of rebellion (Young Irelanders, Fenians), compliance, gombeenism, and all other human reactions in between. Unfortunately, the less palatable of the qualities above have triumphed moreoften and is widely represented in our political culture of clientilism and chicanery.

  8. Good article Claire.
    Bock @ 5 + 10
    Personally theres not an atom of misty eyed patriotism in my being, But what I do believe in from personal experience is the kindness, awareness and driving force behind smaller groups and communities focused on the good and survival of what is their own agenda.
    Two positive moves I am aware of……….
    1. The Law Reform on personal debt and insolvency, Reform on debt enforcement procedures .
    2. I am part of a small Charity which through the spectacular driving force of the people involved and the outstanding kindness of strangers and loved ones has come very far, In about 2 years since formation the first goal will be close to achievment in early 2011, Something which initially I thought would take about 5 yrs, This has been achieved through sheer grit, determination and the true spirit of all that is Ireland.

    I feel absolutly blessed to be part of a group of people who do not entertain a moments negativity, Who encounter obstacles with the view of challenge, Who are so focused on achievment that nothing ever dampens their enthusiasm, All of this under the broad ceiling of dealing 24 / 7 with serious illness has shown me in clear and practical terms that what people set out to do can be done and will be done.

  9. Also want to say that it’s an excellent article, Claire. I didn’t even notice that it wasn’t Bock until someone mentioned your name!

    I think that it’s good to try to aspire to the positive things based on the positive history you described in the article, even if the reality is probably a little closer to what some of the commentors said. As they sang at the end of “Life of Brian”, “Look on the bright side of life”. And aspire to it, while still being aware of the challenges on the way there.

    America looks likes it’s falling apart, just printing money to tread water, and might take the whole world down with it, with the bankers left in their exclusive lifeboats. And the few super atheletes that sign 8 and even 9 figure contracts, while the fans that support them can barely buy food to eat, let alone tickets to the games. Like this guy that just killed himself at the Florida School Board meeting, whose wife was fired from her job. Things really aren’t looking good over there, and the financial system that is causing it is spreading its cancer all over, particularly now in your Eurolands.

    Anyway, back to more positive things. I also agree that Irish music is very special. I live in Israel, and at many weddings I’ve seen, there is a dance of Irish music that get’s everyone even more happy than they already are. I wish you all could be so happy all the time.

    There are two songs that they like to play in that set. I wish I knew the names. If anyone can decipher this out there (1=relative do, 2=re, 3=mi, etc – I don’t know the actual keys), they go like this (notes in parentheses are lower than the adjacent 1’s; each line is a measure of 4/4, notes and dots are 1/16ths; both songs are major):

    A: (5).1.1.712171(5)…

    B: 5…3…34321…

  10. “If shit were money, the poor would be born without arses.”

    That’s a well written piece, Claire.

    The only problem is the “we” business.

    We are not all in this together so long as we have structural inequality and a pyramidical socio-economic system.

    Until we reject the premise that “the poor we shall always have with us” we are going round in circles, we shall always have the rich and powerful devising the rules to suit themselves and the “little people” will always be screwed.

  11. Cash girls and boys cash is the way forward. We have all been forced into the banks clutches for years – no salary/wages paid in cash, credit/debit card on this that and the other, you can buy a burger or a pint with a cards for christsakes. Why is this? because every transaction can be traced and verified ands the Revenue/Govt can get their filthy hands on ‘their share’. So if the they way to deprive the govt. of income is ‘cash deals’ and the increase in the black economy, I say bring it on. I maintain they had surpluses for years of tax income and what exactly do we have to show for it? A world class healthservice? No, Any sort of public transport outside Dublin? No, A fantastic school building programme to replace all the prefabs? No -So if in the ‘boomtimes’ they couldn’t give us the basics of a Ist world economy you can gaurantee they will be picking your pockets during the bad to line their friends and their own pockets. Sod that – Govts hate cash because they can’t control its end use. How much for cash? for everything from now on.

  12. Thanks Claire.A good post.I wouldn’t be a great fan of Dev either but your point is good.It’s just a bit hard to keep the faith these days.

  13. Let’s be honest: the Romans never conquered us because they couldn’t be bothered. They took a quick look around the rocky, barren island and decided to repair rapidly back to France, where the women were better looking and it didn’t piss rain every day. Nothing heroic here.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.