Tuesday, 8 February 2011
The truth that dare not speak its name
It’s terribly confusing, isn’t it? Let an interviewer ask a question about the economy, the politicians open their mouths and for the next five minutes you can’t move for budgetary commitments, policy-making skills, 0.182, gross domestic product, gross national product, three billion, NAMA, the structure of the funding facilities, banking liabilities and they do it in Canada, you know. On RTÉ’s ‘The Frontline’ last night, there were finance spokespeople from Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin, and they all dived into a verbal pot of financial jargon, where they bubbled and spouted for around an hour, leaving nothing behind except a suspicious smell of ignorance.
There’s one big question that must be answered before we get down to the detail of whether Eamon Gilmore has bigger cojones than anyone in Europe or Micheal Martin is Bertie Ahern in disguise. That question is: can the people of the twenty-six counties afford it? It’s a question Fintan O’Toole raises in The Irish Times this morning, and in answering it he refers to the by-now-famous article by Michael Lewis in Vanity Fair. The south of Ireland is groaning under a vast debt – some €800 billion – which everybody knows Ireland won’t be able to repay. Not today, not tomorrow, not in twenty years time. Yet we have hour-long discussions like that last night, where there’s round the houses and up and down about what interest rate should be paid, how Irish people must accept the broad outline of the bail-out, how it’s tough but if we dump 80,000 public servants we’ll be on our way to safety.
We won’t. A state plunged in the deepest debt is not going to pay off that debt if it can barely pay the interest on what’s owed. The south will NEVER struggle to safety under the terms of the IMF/EU bail-out, and all the fiddling and pretending we need to buckle down won’t change that. Economic experts like Michael Lewis and Paul Krugman and David McWilliams and Fintan O’Toole have made that clear time and time again, yet our politicians keep dancing away from the truth, tossing little smoke-bombs of figures in the air in the hope they’ll hide their financial cluelessness from the public.
That’s the single point that demands repetition: we can’t pay and the proposed IMF/EU medicine will kill us. Once we accept that truth, we can start deciding what needs to be done. An unpalatable truth indeed but guess what? The political party that speaks it, loudly and clearly and repeatedly, will reap a mountain of votes from a grateful people.