06 Jul 2022

Anger is everywhere Political notebook with Mick Mulholland

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God be with the good old days when recessions were less complicated affairs!

God be with the good old days when recessions were less complicated affairs!

Even in the grim 1980s – and they were grim – negotiations between unions, employers and the Government were reasonably straightforward.

A worst case scenario was a pay freeze. But there might be scope for a modest pay increase if productivity was generated.

Social partnership took off. It was a worthy development and it brought industrial peace.

Soon, the economy started to recover somewhat. But it was slow and painful. But we managed to get off our knees.

Today, it is all very different. Pay cuts are the sole item on the agenda.

In such circumstances, it is not surprising, that there is chaos and confusion on the part of the response of the public sector unions. It is far from clear whether the deal will be accepted.

And the root cause of it all? Anger.

Anger is everywhere. It is to be found right throughout Irish society among the people who did not party during the infamous Celtic Tiger.

Some did party. Some made hideous investments which bore no relation to income or reality.

But most people lived ordinary lives, not gaining that much from the Tiger, except, perhaps, a measure of job security that was inevitable in an apparently booming economy.

A younger generation had to come to grips with purchasing a house. A basic right, just like a job.

But the costs were huge. Mortgages were available but the recipients paid through the nose.

Still, it seemed as if employment was reasonably secure. So while the monthly mortgage was high, there was every prospect of being able to pay it over the years.

Then, there was childcare. The payments were generous, overly generous in retrospect.

Pensioners felt that they could look forward to a reasonably comfortable old age. There would be the psychologically reassuring medical card if they were to get ill.

And those public servants on higher salary scales never had it so good.

Benchmarking boosted their incomes. Nobody could quite make out what it was all about, but it was money in the pockets of public servants.

Trade unionist and Senator Joe O’Toole said it was similar to walking up to an ATM machine and withdrawing cash.

In Leinster House, just one TD, Fine Gael’s Richard Bruton, put his head above the parapet and questioned its wisdom.

The rest remained silent. The votes of public servants were important.

And then came the crash.

The Celtic Tiger was over and those who had led ordinary suburban or rural lives found themselves lost among the carnage.

As the incompetence and greed of their betters began to emerge, anger took over. It is still there. And it will remain there until there is a real relief for people battling the austerity of The Economic War for too long.

The Government will have to understand that.

Success regarding the promissory note, a mild improvement in the jobs’ scene, or other minor victories, will not improve this Government’s popularity rating.

People are pleased with any kind of progress.

But what they want to see is a return to normal economic times where basic rights, which should not be beyond the scope of any Republic, like a job a house and a reasonably comfortable old age, are available.

And being the good boys and girls of Europe is no compensation.

The European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, said in Dublin last week that he is confident Ireland will return to the financial markets by the end of the year.

In fairness, he did say he was not suggesting that things were easy for people, or pretending that all problems had been settled.

He spoke of the sacrifices people had made.

And he added: “In Ireland and in other parts of Europe, without these kind of measures we could not see the light at the end of the tunnel.’’

Fair enough. But the Irish people did not create the tunnel, in the first place, and the light is a long way in coming.

We live in a failed Republic. The high hopes of Independence are long dashed.

Some of those who caused it have not suffered at all. They have marched off into the sunset with handsome pensions and lump sums.

And so people are angry.

It will not change in the short-term.

The extent of our failure since Independence, in the fiscal and social area, is enormous.

The State lived a lie. The Lemass revolution, despite its success, was all too short.

Mr Lemass came to office too late, held back by the Dev economic and social road block. Illness forced him to retire before he might have.

After that, despite some solid achievements, particularly relating to Northern Ireland, much leadership in politics, banking and elsewhere ranged from the indifferent to the truly awful.

In such circumstances, anger is an understandable human reaction. And it might just spur those currently running the country to deliver good leadership.

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