Ironic Comedy from my friend Fergus Finlay

Today Fergus Finlay wrote an essay of sublime irony in the Irish Examiner. He writes to David Begg and Jack O’Connor as if neither is in any way complicit in the national economic mess. Sorry Fergus – this is sanctimonious kant.

When the construction industry soared to about 21% of GDP and the OECD average for construction was 8% – was there not a Partnership Deal in place which transferred the economic government of the state away from the Deputies of the People to an unelected group looking after various sectional interests? Was this charade not repeated at Croke Park? The union leaders have become part of the establishment. Did the Irish insiders not negotiate the deal to ensure that we have the best paid workers in nearly all occupations in the Eurozone, paying ourselves in a hard currency with obvious consequences? At least I wrote that about medicine many times in the past, so I have form. I told you many times that the unions sat on both sides of the table in the health service and were a serious impediment to reform. Openness, accountability and access to all information is the key to a fair society. When the curtains are closed and the door is locked, what is going on? The purpose of a trades union is to agitate for the best pay and conditions possible for its members. Irish Unions have been hugely successful in this regard. Their leadership has lead governments by the nose. Fianna Fail was the label of the unions while pretending to be Labour. Pat Rabbitte famously called for those who thought Labour and voted Fianna Fail to reconsider. Opinion polls show that they surely have. The 340,000 in the public sector have a voting impact of about 600,000. That number is huge and explains the opinion poll gains that Labour has made at the expense of a discredited Fianna Fail. The unions blithely acquiesced to a widening of the gap between rich and poor during the splurge of imported money.
Social solidarity is the crucial national requirement now. We have to trade our way out of the recession. Scaring foreign lenders by mass demonstrations by the best paid, financed and subvented everythings in Europe is not going to convince capitalists. We need leadership and I’m glad that Labour’s Eamonn Gilmore stepped up to the plate on the Late Late Show. Team Fine Gael in the form of Michael Noonan, Richard Bruton, Brian Hayes and Leo Varadkar is the only Champions League Team in Ireland. Joan Burton is a worthy woman but Labour should put their A Team out – Add Ruairi Quinn and Pat Rabbitte. This is my business because I care about the country and I have respect and confidence in those two. I also know that Joan was underwhelmed by Comrade Gilmore’s Evening Herald efforts weeks ago. You can throw the usual ” What about Enda” back at me if you wish. Enda is the Chairman, Captain and Selector. He has selected the best team. He won’t try to dominate the decisions like Garret who is a true intellectual.
So what is your purpose in walking across town on a Saturday in November? To change the budget? Well that won’t work. To prevent the IMF coming here? You can only do that if the markets will lend us money ie buy Irish government debt (bonds). At the moment the markets will but only at a huge price. Do you seriously believe that marching down town with Union leaders who have had their feet under Bertie’s table for ages will make the markets feel sorry for us and say that they should drop their prices and give us a bargain. Meanwhile the lenders will have to pay higher and higher insurance premiums (credit default swaps) against the risk of sovereign default by Ireland.
Labour was against the bank guarantee of 2008. That was fine and dandy but wrong in my view. I supported the guarantee of AIB and BoI only. I think that Richard Bruton was the nearest any politician got to the right bank policy, then or since. The problem for Richard was that he failed to be clear to the people at large what the basic principles of what he was advocating were. Using analogies is wasteful and usually confusing. Clear simple teaching in common language is necessary, not gobbledygook. Richard was then slagged off by Dr Garret Fitzgerald and by Alan Dukes. In my view, they were wrong. NAMA was and remains wrong. Why? – read my website.
Should we have the same welfare payments in every eurozone country? If we want choice and I do, then we have to be economically solvent. I want higher state pensions for the elderly but I also want all state payments to reflect need only, not universal featherbedding. Universal payments subsidise the wealthier. Society only needs welfare because some people fall into circumstances where they cannot look after themselves for various reasons. I believe that human civilisation means recognising our interdependence and ensuring that the survival of the fittest is tempered to look after the less well endowed. If we want the same welfare payments across the Eurozone, then national characteristics are eliminated and these payments will fall precipitously. That is the way of a Euro superstate – a non-starter.
Angela Merkel is correct when she says that lenders are paid a risk premium and must share responsibility when their loans go bad. Why then did the Irish government not go to see her and make the bondholders co-share the pain in loanbooks of the Irish banks – all of them? Incompetence and lousy advice!
Other than psychotherapy for redundant insiders and a walk in the city, I don’t see another useful purpose for the organisers of the march. For the marchers, relief of the powerlessness of frustration and a venting of anger will serve a purpose.
My purpose is to provide an honest commentary here and to put myself forward in the next election and again ask the people to elect me on the basis of my record of competence and clarity of purpose.
Fergus, you have soul and a pulpit in the Examiner, the Evening Herald and RTE. Keep focussed on campaigning for fairness for all of society. The people who will suffer most are those who are young adults out of work, well educated with partners and children. The psychological damage to them will be immense. I will follow any cogent plan to get them sorted. Without the competent and self starters, we are in real difficulty. Bruton’s idea to have a one stop shop for state benefits is a start to his reform of government. Let me read from you here what you think of the “Reinventing Government” document by Richard Bruton. As Con Houlihan says “Read on……………………” I am waiting. Your criticisms will be welcome to those negotiating the new programme for government. You have been there and have the teeshirt.

I’ll be marching for a new republic and I hope you’ll be in step with me
By Fergus Finlay

Tuesday, November 16, 2010
DEAR David and Jack, I hope you don’t mind if I take the liberty of writing you an open letter.
In your roles as general secretary and president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions you’ve called for a major march and protest on Saturday, November 27 – that’s the weekend after next. According to the SIPTU website, the plan is that the march will assemble at noon on the day, at the Civic Offices on Wood Quay in Dublin and march to the GPO on O’Connell Street.

The first thing I want to say about the march is: count me in. I’m only one citizen, but I’m hoping that on that particular day I’ll be one of a million citizens marching to make our voices heard.

I hope there’ll be a thousand banners, representing every strand of our people and our country. I hope it will be the most successful demonstration you’ve ever organised, a day to be remembered for years as the moment things began to change for the better.

But I hope you don’t mind also if I won’t be marching that day as a trade union member. I’m going as a citizen of a country whose leaders are not just out of touch, they seem to be entirely out of control.

We’re on the brink, it seems to me, of handing over the future of our country to entirely faceless bureaucrats because of the complete and total failure of policy over the past two years.

If we don’t stick together and stand together now, there may not be another chance for years to come. For that reason alone, it’s time for all of us, whether we’re trade union members or not, to stand up and be counted.

But I’m guessing you don’t just have trade union members in mind anyway. In your statement announcing the march, David, you said you’d be making contact with a number of other civil society bodies in order to ensure the November 27 demonstration reflected the real concerns across all of Irish society.

And Jack, in your statement you called on not just trade unionists, but “community activists, students and youth, the unemployed, the aged and those citizens concerned at the manner in which successive governments have destroyed the prospects of a decent quality of life for our people, our children and grandchildren” to attend the rally.

And you encouraged everyone who is “angry at the Government’s policy of bailing out errant and reckless banks and other financial institutions at the expense of working people and public services” to voice their support for an alternative economic and fiscal strategy. We need that. And we need it underpinned by a sense of vision and solidarity. That’s why it’s really important, if you don’t mind my saying so, that this protest must not be about pay and conditions.

And it must be open to everyone – especially people who have felt up to now they have had no voice at all. Or that their voices have been drowned out by the louder and more powerful voices of people who are better organised, like you.

None of us marched before or after the budget last year and I’ve always been ashamed of that (ashamed of myself, that is, for not protesting even louder at its injustice).

To be honest, most of us heaved a sigh of relief last year because, by and large, we didn’t fare too badly.

The only people who really suffered last year were very low-paid public servants because the 5% pay cut they got on incomes under e30,000 a year was savage. And carers and people with disabilities and lone parents and parents who desperately needed child benefit.

They all suffered – but they’re the ones with the little voices.

They’re the ones who don’t count because no one was willing to march for them. Hopefully, with this march, that will change for ever.

Hopefully this march won’t be just about those of us who are a bit better off looking after ourselves. There are three reasons we have to march.

First, we have to show the world how angry we are. We’ve been betrayed and let down. And that betrayal has meant that our kids, and their kids quite possibly, are going to have to carry burdens they shouldn’t have to carry. Anger, we’re told, is a poor substitute for policy. But the people who tell us that really don’t want us to be angry with them.

But we’ve got to maintain the anger because without it there’s every chance all this will happen again. We all know, in our hearts, that we’re stuck with austerity although actually I hate the way that word is used nowadays. We’re stuck with cuts in essential services and cuts in quality of life. We’re stuck with overcrowded classrooms and long queues for healthcare.

But we don’t have to be stuck with the political system that gave us all those things. The one thing we are absolutely entitled to – and that is being denied every day – is accountability. Accountability is the second reason to march – because accountability is the only way we can begin to guarantee that nothing like this will ever happen again.

And the third reason for marching is fairness. The two of you have campaigned for greater equality all your working lives. There is no doubt whatever that right now a more sustainable approach to working our way out of this mess would involve a commitment to greater quality in everything we do.

But in the immediate future, maybe the best we can hope for – certainly the least we must demand – is fairness. It looks as if our economy and our society is going to have to be rebuilt from the ground up. It won’t be done without everyone making a contribution.

AND it won’t be worthwhile doing if the end result is that the same people end up taking the cream again.

So marching for fairness means marching for a fairer tax system with the owners of wealth making a bigger contribution than those who have none.

It means all of us being willing to pay higher taxes on our incomes to provide and protect what is decent. It means each of us being willing to contribute to the growth of the economy by being more flexible in our jobs, by being willing to work harder without expecting more reward.

If students, for example, have to pay more for their third-level education, should third-level teachers be willing to give an extra hour of free teaching in return?

I really believe if enough of us get out there next Saturday week, we will be listened to.

A million Irish citizens marching for each other – students marching alongside pensioners, people with disabilities marching alongside nurses and doctors. If we could make that one big statement of solidarity with each other, laying aside once and for all the vested interests that bog us down, we could begin to change everything. All of us will know that nothing is going to change overnight – but we can also make certain that nothing will ever be the same again.

With best wishes…

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Tuesday, November 16, 2010