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More than 100,000 people took to the streets around Ireland on Saturday (February 9) to demonstrate against the €64 billion bank debt which has been forced onto the country’s population. The protests, organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, marked the end of a busy week in Irish politics, which saw the publication of a report into the barbaric Magdalene Laundries, the liquidation of the former Anglo-Irish Bank and the announcement of a supposed “deal” on the hated promissory notes. Basic democratic standards took a hit on each occasion.

Although the population have been subjected to a relentless campaign of government spin and misinformation, those who attended Saturday’s rallies were well aware that the “deal” presented to the population earlier in the week was merely an extension of the calamitous bank guarantee which Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan condemned this country to. As a result, Ireland will pay for almost half of the total cost of Europe’s banking crisis, with every citizen coughing up €9,000 – compared to a European average of €191. Over the next 40 years, because of our political class’s dread of seeing billionaire speculators suffer a loss, the country’s population will witness hospital closures and mass emigration in order to repay a loan which they never took out. This is the incessant “no bondholder left behind” approach so eagerly adopted by Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil. “We are not going to have the name ‘defaulter’ written across our foreheads,” boasted Taoiseach Enda Kenny. “We will pay our way, we have never looked for a debt write-down.” The only concern this government has with paying off an illegitimate debt, it seems, is the timing. It will now be paid off over four decades instead of one. So much for a “deal”. So much for our “partners” in the ECB.

The political class in Ireland have long been infatuated with the wealth of foreign capitalists. Since partition, our economy was built around the goal of attracting “foreign investment” rather than the development of native industries. Economic policy was constructed around the desires of the wealthy, more so than most other European nations, a situation which continues to the present day. It is the enduring continuation of “trickle-down theory”, the folly long promoted by Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher which contends that the more wealth those at the top accumulate, the more those at the bottom will benefit. The global stagnation of wages in the midst of rising CEO pay over the last three decades is proof of its failure.

Despite the gravity of last week’s events, as well as the wider drive for austerity in general, the ICTU leadership succeeded only in completely neutering the message of Saturday’s rallies. A comedian, a rapper and musicians dominated the stage outside Government Buildings in Dublin in what seemed to be a deliberate attempt to depoliticise the protest. The crowd was entertained rather than radicalised by an uninspired display devoid of any political content. Its success in entertaining those in attendance was affirmed by the droves of protesters who departed the rally early.

The overall message of the demonstrations was carefully crafted by a trade union leadership determined to pursue a social partnership model which has immensely weakened the movement. The ire of the top brass was directed solely at the EU/ECB/IMF Troika, and not the government which has chosen to implement their policies, betraying pre-election promises. Rather than demanding the outright repudiation of a debt that we have no moral obligation to pay back, the ICTU leadership is content to call for a “better deal”.

Bland, apolitical campaigns which fail even to inspire otherwise enthusiastic activists are unlikely to reverse the drop in trade union membership we have seen over the past number of decades. The opportunity to send out a radical message on Saturday was entirely squandered. This is a somewhat unsurprising consequence, given that this same leadership failed to take a position on the Fiscal Compact Treaty last year which enshrined austerity into EU law.

As we approach the centenary of the great class battle which occurred during the Dublin Lockout, the contrast between Larkin and Connolly and the present leadership couldn’t be greater. It’s time for change.

This article was published in The Morning Star

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I’ve never really understood the world’s fascination with Irishness. During my time living abroad I have found telling people that I’m from Ireland automatically leads to a reaction of respectful awe. Many in the English speaking world seem to believe the notion that being Irish, a mere accident of birth, is somehow “cool”. Maybe it’s our attitude towards alcohol. Maybe it’s the music. Or maybe people just find the place curious. And a curious place it most certainly is.

Since 2008, the life of the Irish economy has been battered by austerity, imposed on the population by two successive governments on behalf of the world’s richest people. Much of the international commentary on the collapse of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ has focused on the seeming passivity of the Irish populace in the face of deep cuts in public spending, starkly contrasting with the heroic resistance of the Greek working class.

Last week, thousands of ordinary people rallied in support of former billionaire, now bankrupt, Seán Quinn in county Cavan. A number of well-know GAA faces attended the event, including Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, former Armagh manager Joe Kernan and former Meath manager Seán Boylan. Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew described the treatment of Quinn as “disgraceful”, while, on the other side of the border, Mary-Lou McDonald was quick to distance the party from the disgraced businessman. The vile Michael O’Leary also voiced support for the convicted criminal.

Judging by the large crowd which had gathered in Ballyconnell, one would be forgiven for thinking that this was a man of upstanding character who had been gravely misunderstood. The facts, however, show an entirely different picture. The BBC’s Jim Fitzpatrick has detailed a considerable list of Quinn’s dubious actions, which is well worth looking at. Not only did he trade in “dangerous” derivatives to bet on the value of Anglo-Irish Bank, among other shady financial dealings, he borrowed money from Anglo-Irish Bank to buy shares in – you guessed it – Anglo-Irish Bank! Now, you don’t need to be a financial wizard to realise this is deeply corrupt.

Although he was already obscenely rich, Quinn had the sheer reckless greed to gamble billions in an attempt to make even more money, destroying his own empire in the process. His actions and the actions of his class of incompetent, selfish moneybags destroyed the Irish economy. Surely the people who attended this rally could muster up the wit to make the connection between the bitter austerity measures being imposed the most vulnerable people in Ireland and the activities of the likes of Mr Quinn?

The Ballyconnell rally reflects the rampant gombeenism and blind local loyalty that still infects Ireland. So long as one is seen to be a GAA fan, a mass goer or simply “one of our own”, serious misdemeanours, even crimes, are ignored. The significant minority in the country who have chosen to back Quinn should be reminded that, since Anglo-Irish has been nationalised (though it is now called IBRC), the debt he ran up is owed to the Irish taxpayer.

The spectacle of working people demonstrating in support of a billionaire whose class helped bankrupt a nation and force an entire generation to shoulder a colossal debt is not only puzzling but is, indeed, quite pathetic. “Bring back Quinn and let him create jobs”, read one ill-informed placard with the air of a grateful serf paying homage to his master. The working people who attended this rally would be better served demonstrating for the interests of their own class.

“Ireland is not Greece,” Finance Minister Michael Noonan once said. Indeed it’s not.

This article was published in The Morning Star

Ever since the bank guarantee of September 2008, there have been countless attempts to explain the implosion of the Irish economy. Most of these explanations have taken a moralistic attitude, laying the finger of blame at the greed and recklessness of those at the tops of the financial institutions which laid waste to a decade of prosperity. There may well be some merit in these views, but the roots of the current crisis run much deeper than a handful of people behaving badly.

This week I finished reading what was undoubtedly one of the best accounts of what happened to the Irish economy four years ago. Published last June, Conor McCabe’s Sins of the Father takes a thorough and serious look at the causes of the country’s economic collapse. Although I own a copy signed by the author himself, Sins of the Father had been sitting on my bookshelf for almost a year before I bothered digging into it. Upon finally reading it, I regretted putting it off for so long.

Sins of the Father is much more than a mere chronological description of how the Irish economy imploded; In the book, McCabe charts in an easily accessible manner the deeply flawed and deformed way in which the Irish economy developed since the partition of the country, taking the reader right up through the bank guarantee, the creation of NAMA and the humiliating EU-IMF bailout of November 2010. Although Fianna Fáil was politically butchered by voters in last February’s general election for their role in the crisis, this book shows how successive governments since the state’s foundation laid the foundation for Ireland’s catastrophic economic collapse.

The book, which is less than 300 pages long, is divided into five subject areas, all of equal importance; housing, agriculture, industry, finance and lastly, the Fianna Fáil/Green Party government’s response to the financial crisis.

The chapter on housing, I found, was a particularly fascinating one, which convincingly demolishes the myth of a ‘property-owning’ gene in Irish DNA. McCabe correctly points out that the high rates of private ownership was a direct result of the political decisions taken by successive governments which consistently prioritised private ownership over much-needed decent public housing schemes. The fundraising organisation Taca, set up by Fianna Fáil in the 1960s, brought into light the shameless cronyism that existed between the political class and property developers, speculators and landlords.

Also wonderfully detailed in Sins of the Father is how Irish governments helped to fuel the rampant property speculation and booming house prices which plagued the country for the last number of decades. High prices opened up a new debt market for banks, while Irish people were forced into taking on ruinous mortgages in order to secure a home. A booklet issued by the government in 1967 advising citizens on home ownership told readers that “the amount you borrow should not be more than the 2½ times your annual income”. By 1998, house prices were almost eight times higher than the average industrial wage. At the height of the boom, McCabe found, “Irish property prices were between eleven and fifteen times the median wage”.

Another aspect of the book which I found not only interesting but profoundly relevant is the author’s criticism of Irish governments’ obsession with foreign investment, to the detriment of the state’s own indigenous industry. He points out that the benefit of having multinational companies based in Ireland was much lower than is often portrayed, stating that the “profits are repatriated to their country of origin”. He continues: “Given such a modest effect on the Irish economy – 7% of total employment and approximately €2.8 billion in corporation tax – why is foreign direct investment constantly put forward as the prime objective of the State’s economic policies and strategies?”

Sins of the Father, McCabe’s first book (and hopefully not his last), admirably challenges many of the lazy myths which pass for economic discussion today and should be seen as a vital resource for those seeking to understand why the Great Recession has had such a profound effect on Ireland.

Conor blogs at www.dublinopinion.com/