It’s difficult to summon any enthusiasm to write about Irish politics at the moment. Over the past few months I’ve pretty much worn out all the words required to do the subject justice. There’s only so many times you can use words like “incompetent”, “craven”, “absurd” or “destructive” before they start to lose their impact. On top of that, the realisation that the fools and charlatans that comprise our political class have no intention of listening to reason, and are determined to persevere with ineffective policies, like punch-drunk bluebottles convinced they’ll somehow pass through the window if they just keep flying into the glass for long enough… well, it’s just disheartening.
Sometimes I look at a politician on the TV and my heart goes out to them with the same kind of melancholy sympathy that I feel when I see a clumsy child desperately trying to impress those around them with a plucky, if badly executed, attempt at sports. And then I remember that unlike the child in the local park, these men and women are in positions of power thanks to their ruthless ambition and willingness to deceive those around them. And they are being paid huge salaries to completely destroy this country. At that point my sympathy turns to anger and contempt. In Irish politics, as with the Hollywood film industry, people seem to fail upwards.
That “willingness to deceive” was on show again this week. Our Inglorious Leader, Enda Kenny, spent a few days at the World Economic Forum in Davos. I found myself calling to mind Stewart Lee’s stand-up routine in which he viciously skewers Top Gear and its presenters. In that splendid diatribe, he compares Richard Hammond to the obnoxious little kid we all knew from school who would hang out with the bullies, egging them on and squealing with laughter at their cruel jokes. It’s the sycophantic survival strategy of a coward. This week in Davos, Enda Kenny adopted that strategy. And just like the little coward at school, as soon as Kenny thinks he’s out of earshot of the bullying cabal he want so desperately to impress, he contradicts everything he’s said in their presence and pretends to be our best friend.
For those who have forgotten, let’s step back a couple of months to the weekend prior to our last budget. Enda Kenny appeared on our TV screens like a low budget horror film and gave his State of the Nation address. There’s an oft-quoted line from that speech…
Let me say this to you all: You are not responsible for the crisis.
He looked us straight in the eye when he told us that. It was almost as if he was being sincere. And let’s be clear; it’s the truth; the people of Ireland are not responsible for the current crisis (except in the sense that they voted for the gombeens who brought it upon us, and continue to do so… for that much they must bear responsibility). But whether Kenny believes it or not is open to interpretation. Because this week in Davos, to a rather different audience, he contradicted this position when he announced that the Irish people “went mad borrowing”. It was, he insisted, a collaboration “between people and banks” which created…
a system that spawned greed to a point where it just went out of control completely with a spectacular crash.
Once again, let’s be clear; throughout that dark period when this country was being ravaged by The Tiger, Enda Kenny and his Fine Gael cohort were the biggest cheerleaders of that greed. They weren’t on the opposition benches urging caution. They weren’t denouncing financial deregulation or tax cuts for the wealthy. Far from it! They were on their feet baying for more of the same. The tax cuts and the deregulation didn’t go far enough for Kenny and his ideologically blinded party. He wasn’t calling for The Tiger to be tamed, he was demanding we throw more meat into it’s gaping maw.
Certainly there was a culture of greed spawned in Ireland during those years, but it was spawned at the top and rampaged downwards doing more damage the further it got from those who unleashed it. And the evidence of this is that most of those at the top are not being badly affected by the crisis that is plunging the bottom tier into poverty. And the evidence that this injustice is still being supported by Kenny and his ilk can be seen in the budgetary policy that cuts disability benefit, the winter fuel allowance, child benefit and back-to-school allowances; money that helps keep poorer heads just above water; while drawing a high ring-fence around the wealth of those at the top. All the while his party fills the media with stories that blame the public service and try to make villains of the unemployed rather than those who landed them there.
When Kenny speaks to a gathering of international financiers and political leaders, he immediately falls back on blaming the Irish people for his woes. As though they are his woes in the first place. As though he’s feeling any of the financial pain he and the rest of the political class are inflicting upon the people – not just in Ireland, but elsewhere around the world. It’s the riff-raff that are the problem, he insists. If only they’d have the good grace to go away and keep quiet, then decent people like you and me – here he raises his champagne flute in acknowledgement of his well-fed dinner companions – could get on with the serious work of consuming our lobster salad.
And it goes without saying that once he’d blamed the financial crisis on the reckless greed of the Irish people, he immediately backtracked when confronted by the Irish media. “Our people have been the victims of this situation”, he told an interviewer. So are we the victims? Or are we the mad borrowers, Enda? Are we responsible for the crisis or not? It seems he needs to know what the questioner wants to hear before he can answer those questions.
Let’s get one thing straight. Many Irish people did borrow too much during the boom. In fact, as The Guardian pointed out earlier this week, 15 individuals alone owe Anglo-Irish Bank over half a billion euro each. I guess they’re Irish people all right. But it’s hardly fair to describe them as The Irish People. Certainly I don’t recall borrowing €500 million, and none of my friends or family did. And I doubt any of my neighbours did either, though I suppose they could be keeping it to themselves.
The reality is; it was a small number of politicians, bankers and property developers who created the Irish crisis. And they were eagerly encouraged by European banks and other international financial institutions who bought into the bizarre fiction that the Celtic Tiger could somehow live forever. It was they who destroyed this country and not the unemployed, the disabled or the poor families living in negative equity who are now being hammered by a government determined to make anyone at all pay, other than those who morally should do.
It’s a travesty; an absolute nightmare of a problem. And Enda Kenny’s two-faced attitude tells you all you need to know about the people who are supposed to be fixing it.