I didn’t have time on Saturday to compose a proper justification for going on the protest march, but I feel one is necessary, because such things are liable to be assigned to just one set of (usually simple and selfish) motives and I think our motives were more complicated.
The premise from which a proper understanding of this all proceeds is, as I said in the post on Saturday, that the Irish people (and recent immigrants like Dot and I) is appallingly badly served by the men in charge –I think I can say ‘men’ on this occasion. I mean people in leadership positions like managing directors and executives of the big companies, local and national politicians, high level administrators of the health service and so on.
i. Private sector corruption: The scandal of Anglo-Irish bank. The chief executive was loaned something like 350 million euros by the bank, which he carefully concealed at the end of each tax year by moving it to a different institution (and then back again). An understanding existed with another bank, Irish Life and Permanent, whereby they would deposit 3 billion for the last day of the financial year to help balance the books and make the capital ratio appear more favourable. Anglo Irish bank lent money to a group of 10 investors buy 10% of the company. The loans were secured against the shares themselves. The banks top fifteen clients owe it in excess of 500 million euros each.
This is an illustration of cowboy practice in the banking sector. The other major banks have required 7 billion euros in recapitalisation and a blanket deposit guarantee to stay afloat. It’s still not clear whether it will succeed. The irish banks are apparently not involved in the US sub-prime problem and this unsoundness was due to the collapse of the Irish property market. The property market itself is another illustration.
ii. bad public leadership. Bertie Aherne has not been able to explain payments to him while he was minister of finance. The payments look like bribes, but the Mahon tribunal investigation is not complete. Irish politicians are extremely well paid (the Taoiseach reportedly earns more than either the US president or the UK Prime Minister), and they can top this up with generous allowances for which they do not need to provide receipts. The allowances are tax free. They are only in session for about 90 days a year. A state body Fás, charged with promoting Irish business overseas, blew more than half its budget on first class flights, food and accommodation. At the same time the Government is closing hospitals and won’t pay for the cervical cancer vaccine. There is a widespread suspicion that the governing Fianna Fail party worked unhealthily closely with major property developers and exacerbated the property bubble.
(really, I don’t think I can properly convey the thousands of alarming little pieces of news, gleaned from the newspapers and the radio, that have so thoroughly disillusioned me of these leaders).
Anyway, so why march? It isn’t about any specific proposal like the pension levy, as far as we’re concerned. It is important to march to convey a sense of the depth of public indignation. The march should be seen as advance manoeuvring, so that when the time comes to plan a way out of the current crisis the Government will recognise the need for genuine change. The Government are too compromised to effect any genuine change off their own initiative. The main opposition party, Fine Gael, if anything, have even fewer ideas and direction than Fianna Fail. The third largest party in the Dáil, Labour, is too small to govern.
In terms of waste and profligacy, the Irish economy is apple-shaped, in wage terms it’s pyramid shaped. That means there’s more waste and fat in the system at the higher wage levels, i.e. the middle and upper management. That is the rotten squishy part of modern Ireland and when it comes to setting Ireland on course for economic recovery that is the bit that needs to be hacked out. The band of men between 50-70 needs to be sacked (rather than made redundant –we do need people in those roles, just not them because they are not competent) and let them spend the rest of their days on the dole. (Not everyone in this band needs to be sacked, obviously!)
OK. Maybe, I’m being a bit immoderate here, but there’s dry and sober fact underneath. And we have to protest if we want to effect any real change of that system, because there’s no way the politicians are going to put their old school friends out of a job unless they fear for their own futures.