April 2009: Erin go Broke

What an exciting week we had. First we were lambasted in the New York Times for no apparent reason, then we had a world-beating rallying statement from the Tánaiste, and finally? Finally, we got an inkling of Fianna Fail’s future election strategy.

To start us off, how about this for a headline?- Erin go Broke. You don’t need to be a genius to work out that this was coined by an American newspaper, the New York Times, over a piece by a dastardly chap called Paul Krugman. And you don’t need a degree in Economics to figure out that it is a ‘bad news’ story about our poor little depressed country.  The first paragraph of this article bluntly asks ‘what is the worst-case outlook for the world economy?’ Krugman’s answer to this question is that America could turn Irish.

And there was myself thinking that America was indeed Irish all along, even before Brian (the Cowen one) recently invited 40 million of them to join us in our misery. If this new American fear of being Irish is true, then it is a very worrying thing. Perhaps, even more worrying is that the article hints that Americans are afraid that they will be made to emigrate over here, despite The Cowen One’s best efforts.
You see, on Paddy’s Day, he told the Yanks that ‘the connections between Ireland and America remain strong, but we cannot take them for granted.’ So, in a move to woo Irish-Americans, Mr. Cowen proposed measures to make it easier for Americans to claim Irish citizenship, reversing a course the Irish government took in 2005 when we thought we wouldn’t ever need their money again. Up to that, you had to have as close a tie as a grandparent to claim Irish citizenship. Now, you can go back another generation, Brian told them. It’s a pity that they aren’t any good at soccer or rugby over there, really.

But before the Americans could rush, Homer Simpson-like, to buy an airplane ticket ‘home’ to the Old Sod, along comes Paul Krugman to spill the remaining beans and upset the rotten applecart. Needless to say, many people got their dander up at this latest ‘insult’, for some bizarre reason. Our very own Tánaiste,- Mary from Donegal- became indignant about this Nobel prize-winning columnist’s comments on the homeland but the facts of the matter are that he was not saying anything that really isn’t true. Which of the following statements are suitably suing material for indignant Irish ministers?

‘The Irish Government now predicts that this year GDP will fall more than 10 per cent from its peak, crossing the line that is sometimes used to distinguish between a recession and a depression,’ he writes. So true, so true, we think. He talks about satisfying ‘nervous lenders’, Ireland being ‘forced to raise taxes and slash Government spending in the face of an economic slump – policies that will further deepen the slump.’ This is exactly what certain economists here are telling the government anyway.

And finally, he comments that ‘on the eve of the crisis, Ireland seemed to be in good shape, fiscally speaking, with a balanced budget and a low level of public debt. But the Government’s revenue – which had become strongly dependent on the housing boom – collapsed along with the bubble’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

And what was Mary’s reaction, on our behalf, to all this? Speaking in Washington, ahead of an important meeting with US Treasury secretaries and the like, she babbled: ‘There has been comment which has been neither helpful nor, in my view, appropriate, and I would like to move on from that and give the view that we have collectively as a Government have, yes, difficult times, but we have the capacity to deal with these issues and we would like to revert back to the international reputation we had and continue to have’.

Read that last sentence again, if you have the wherewithal to do so. Put on your glasses if you like. It won’t get any clearer. She wants to ‘revert back’ to the reputation that we in Ireland ‘continue to have’. Where would we be without her to fight our corner with such devastating words? The poor woman doesn’t know whether we’re coming or going, it would seem. Now, I know that she was speaking off the cuff but, really, I cringe when I read muddled quotes such as this. This is not the first time it has happened. She is not a social worker anymore or even an ordinary TD. She is being paid good money to represent our interests as deputy Prime Minister and to show that she is fully in charge of our industrial and trade policies when abroad by speaking properly.

It does not help our confidence in her ability to control the tailspin of our highflying economy as it nosedives when she comes out with gobbledegook like this. The fact of the matter is that Ireland is in deep trouble. Slamming the Paul Krugmans of the world for pointing out this unassailable fact is futile, made worse when done in such inept double-speak.

In typical fashion, we also read this week that the main government party are not allowing any sitting Fianna Fail TDs to be nominated for MEP elections. The reason? Not because they are too talented to leave the Dáil in these crises times. No, it is because they know that the party that has in government for all of the boom years would not have a pup’s chance of winning a by-election in these terrible times. Once again, we see evidence that this government is not really capable of getting us out of this mess and is really only interested in survival. They are like the band playing ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ on the Titanic. And out of tune, at that. They might as well stick to rearranging the deckchairs on that same ship for all the good it will do us.

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