My son in London has bought a house – or to be more exact, the bank has bought it for him and he’ll be paying it off for a lifetime. There were some repairs needed doing, so like the concerned father I am, I was on the phone to him urging him to be sure and get reliable people to do the work - London is not a city that is gentle with gullible paddies. As often happens, I found he was ahead of me and my advice. He’d gone online, punched in his post-code, and immediately got a range of companies capable of doing the work, plus comments from people who’d used each company in the past. It takes just one bad online report to muck up a company’s reputation and deter future potential customers, so it’s in everyone’s interests to make sure they do a decent job. In this way people like my son now have real control over the quality of work paid for. P T Barnum may have been right about one being born every minute, but today’s technology makes it more difficult to take advantage of the uninformed sucker. Everyday life, for the bread-and-butter consumer, has suddenly become more controllable and democratic.
However, at the apex of the power pyramid, things are strengthening too. Ask David Cameron. Whether through naivety or stupidity, he thought that his veto could stop the fiscal plans of the EU in their tracks. Now he knows otherwise. He has a veto all right but there are ways round it, as we saw when the rest of the EU states calmly left him out in the cold and continued with their plans to exercise central control on each country’s budget. Fiscal power that had been in the hands of the government of each country will be moved to a centre-point and the south of Ireland can start taking German lessons any time.
Which force – the one at the bottom or the one at the top - is the more powerful? I’d like to say that Sean Citizen, as exemplified by my son, is winning. I’d like to, but I know it’s not true. It’s as if a zoo-keeper had given a lion the illusion of freedom, by putting him in a bigger cage. The czars of the EU are only too happy to leave us with increased control of the small things, as so long as they get to make the big decisions that reduce national sovereignty to a papier-maché fraud. Parnell may have believed that no man has the right to fix the boundary of a nation, but Berlin isn’t a man. It’s a European super-power and it’s in charge.
Maybe John Hume wasn’t so much wrong as premature in his remarks about a post-nationalist era?