How would you like to be involved in a “liability management exercise”? Mmm – I thought as much. It’s three words you’re probably familiar with, strung tight together so they rub each other into a state of excited importance. I heard the term used by a financial commentator on RTÉ radio this morning, even though he knew people were having their breakfast. Later in the interview, he explained that it meant making people liable for their losses; later still that he was referring to the ‘senior bond holders’ whose losses the people in the twenty-six counties have been loaded with. In short, he was talking about the need to ‘burn the bond-holders’, not the Irish people.
Sound familiar? Well when Pearse Doherty suggested exactly that earlier this week in a discussion with Brian Lenihan and Michael Noonan, both the Fianna Fail and the Fine Gael financial experts expressed disdain for Sinn Féin policy. Eddie Hobbs was taking a similar line on RTÉ television the other night – Sinn Féin didn’t know what they were talking about and they’d get torn to shreds in the leaders’ TV debate.
This conflates two matters: that Gerry Adams is a poor TV performer when talking about the south’s economy, and that Sinn Féin’s plans for the Irish economy don't make sense.
It’s true that Adams can seem hesitant in the face of questioning, especially when those questions are of the Mastermind variety – that is, they require the recall of economic facts. When he stumbles or doesn’t know the answer – for example, what VAT in the South is – this is seized on as Sinn Féin economic illiteracy. The truth is, it’s the people making this judgement who show fundamentally flawed awareness.
That’s because facts today are less than ten a penny. The internet groans with a universe of factual information, available at the touch of a button. What’s needed are not Memory Men and Women; what’s needed are people – leaders – who can construct a credible policy from those facts. Unfortunately, excited by reporters’ questions, many politicians content themselves with firing salvos of facts into thin air, as though that proved they were economically competent. At the same time, a number of commentators and politicians have begun to tiptoe round to the Sinn Féin position, that the Irish taxpayer must simply refuse to take on the debt of big bond-holders
Meanwhile, we await the debate between the five party leaders - Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour, the Greens and Sinn Féin. If questions to the panel can flush into the open the specific plans of each party for economic regeneration, rather how many numbers they can juggle in their heads without passing out, the electorate might finally be able to make a bias-free decision about who they will vote for.