And That Completes The Set

The Way We Were

And that completes the set. Now there are no honest politicians left at all.

Maybe I exaggerate a trifle, but Garret Fitzgerald did seem different. Even though he led a right-of-centre party, even though he could give the impression of being confused and ineffectual, even though he didn’t achieve much of what he set out to, he was the greatest leader that Ireland has had in my memory. There was never any doubt that Garret’s motivation was not personal power, status or wealth. He wasn’t there to be liked by his coterie or cheered by the the masses. He was there to do something about the mess the country was in.

He did that, and he was still liked anyway. Though the sobriquet ‘Garret The Good’ was intended to lampoon his earnestness, no one doubted that it was true. This was a good man in politics. A man who did more than anyone to free Ireland from religious domination, who first dared to attempt what finally bore fruit as the Peace Process. That rarest of things, an intellectual in a leadership role.

And in 1987, the voters of Ireland decided that they would actually prefer to be ruled by Charles Haughey. So perhaps we deserve all that has come since.

Libyan Rebels ‘Undemocratic’

History of Fine Gael

Mayo Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin thinks that the rebels in Libya should not be supported because, as quoted in the Times, they “did not follow democratic means. They took up arms against their leader.”

I will allow you a moment to take that in.

The rebels against Gaddafi should not be supported because they… are rebels.

Fine Gael, the party of obedience.

I wonder what democratic means she supposes are open to the inhabitants of a dictatorship – other than the one of mass protest, which I think we can safely say was exhausted when he started shooting them.

There are many clear reasons to be against intervention in the Libyan uprising, and they must be weighed against the good it might possibly do. I outlined what I think is the most important one days ago. There are even reasons why it might be wrong to rise up against Gaddafi. But his being the legally constituted dictator for life according to the constitution which he wrote personally, that is not one of them.

You idiot.

Michael Lowry Is A Corrupt Politician

Esat Digifone logo
"Jesus But Didn't We Make Some Money"

There, it felt good to say that. Of course he is far from alone, it almost seems unfair to single him out, but because of our wealth-favouring libel laws it’s not often you can actually come out and name one of the bastards.

Today I can, because a judicial body, the Moriarty Tribunal, says it is beyond doubt that Michael Lowry, when Fine Gael minister for transport, energy and communications, gave “substantive information to Denis O’Brien, of significant value and assistance to him in securing the licence”.

The licence they speak of was for the country’s second GSM mobile phone network in 1996, the biggest contract ever awarded by the State to a private company. Denis O’Brien’s Esat consortium won, even though by proper procedures their bid would have come third. In a transaction which the Tribunal concludes was not unrelated, Minister Lowry was given a huge wad of cash. And when that licence was later sold to British multinational BT, Denis O’Brien made more money than you will ever even be shown a picture of.

Lowry CartoonInterestingly, while the Tribunal’s report calls this “a cynical and venal abuse of office”, it doesn’t actually call the act corrupt. I refuse to be so mealy-mouthed. If he cynically and venally abused office, if he received money in consideration for bending the rules to favour the giver, then Michael Lowry is as crooked as a snake with stomach cramps.

Moriarty does use the word corrupt with reference to an unrelated deal between Lowry and another tycoon, Ben Dunne (most famous for giving an unexplained million or two to former Taoiseach C. J. Haughey). Dunne reacted with outrage, saying that if they wanted to call him corrupt then they should put him in jail.

Denis O’Brien likes to emphasise how much money the State has wasted on trying to catch him. The Irish Times puts the final costs of the Moriarty Tribunal at over €100,000,000, though O’Brien has set up his own site to lie about and exaggerate the figure. It’s even got a picture of the gates of Dublin Castle on it, so it gives the impression of being official. That’s how crap the man is.

He is right though. As is Ben Dunne. The money spent on the Tribunal has been wasted. It will remain wasted until he and his fellow corrupt and corrupting businessmen are safely behind bars, along with the politicians they paid for.

The Last Paper Column

This will read a little strangely. It’s unedited from the version as it appears in the paper.

Alas This is Fake
The Paper Gives Me A Decent Send-Off

This is the last Micro Cosmopolitan in the City Tribune. I’m leaving the paper. After sixteen years – can you believe it? So much has changed over that time. Why back then there was a Fine Gael/Labour government.

I’m going to miss it badly; in particular, being able to say “I write for a paper”. There was something grand about that. But the world is changing, rapidly. Instead of being a columnist, I’ll be a blogger. Instead of it appearing once a week it will be several times a day. Instead of writing on Wednesday for you to read on Friday, it’ll be instant comment on events as they happen. There will be cartoons too, and you’ll be able to have your own say.

I gave you the address before, but now there’s a new and much shorter one – “I doubt it”. Simply type and you go straight there. Neat, no? Just dots between the words, no W’s or nothin’. And if you don’t like going to websites you can receive it by email for free. Those of you without computers may find that you can read it perfectly well on your phone.

Otherwise though, you’re stuck. This is the sad fact about the way things are going. You won’t have to buy a daily paper, but you’ll need a machine. In the time I’ve been at the Tribune, the publishing industry has changed out of all recognition. I am fortunate perhaps to have started back when we were still something you might recognise as a “classic” newspaper. I actually brought my column in on a piece of paper, held in my fist. Someone had to type it out again. That almost seems crazy now.

1995 wasn’t quite back in the age of typewriters though. The paper had Macs, and I had a primitive sort of word processor you would point and laugh at now. There was just no way these two computers could communicate with each other. Two years later, while doing volunteer work in South Africa, I started e-mailing my stories. I soon had a computer of my own, and though I couldn’t yet afford an Internet connection – and certainly, not a Mac – I was bringing my stories in on floppy disk. And now… Well, we’ve cut out the paper altogether.

I mean, the whole newspaper.

The business is going through a crisis. On one hand it’s being squeezed by new media; I get a large proportion of my news from blogs, from upstart online-only papers, even from Twitter. Now it’s the papers that can’t afford to buy Macs. The oldest mass medium can and will adapt, they have the core skills that are essential for gathering and recounting the news. But they have to find new ways to make it pay, and they need to do that now – right in the middle of the worst recession since the war.

You support those skills when you read the print version of the Tribune, so I hope you will continue to get it – even without me. And do tell all your friends who stopped buying it while I was here. – Think of me whenever you hear a politician speak.

Love and out,

Richard Chapman

Here Comes A Government, Just Like The Other One

It seems the election was just some sort of weird dream we had.

Ireland’s new government will stick to the fiscal targets laid down in an EU/IMF rescue package, a source familiar with the coalition deal agreed between the two main political parties said on Sunday. ~ Reuters

Taoiseach-in-waiting Enda Kenny has conceded that his government is unlikely to burn senior bondholders in the banks, despite Fine Gael’s pre-election promises. ~ Irish Examiner

So the parties decide to drop what most would consider the central planks of their campaigns, not only backing away from making the senior bondholders pay for their mistakes but agreeing to the original timetable rather than Labour’s (minor) blow-softening of an extra year. Two thirds of the fiscal adjustment will still come from cutbacks, rather than the 50/50 split with tax increases Labour wanted. Essentially, Labour are adopting FG’s manifesto – and Fine Gael are adopting Fianna Fáil’s.

Why, when it cannot work?

Because no plan can work – none at least that requires the exchequer to miraculously break even in just a few years. The only way we could make our income balance our expenditure that soon is by burning down the country for the insurance.

“the coalition agreement, clinched after midnight, seems designed to curry favor with the fiscally conservative Germans” ~ Reuters again

Ah. I get it. The CDU won our election.

So it’s a sort of masochism tactic. Look, we’re taking our medicine. Watch us whip ourselves bloody. They hope that by showing a snivelling level of victimhood they will eventually elicit the pity – and the funds – we need to stop the economy smashing into the landscape.

Bjørn Sigurdsøn, SCANPIX
Angela Merkel discusses Enda Kenny's Fiscal Rectitude with her girlfriends

TAOISEACH-in-waiting Enda Kenny has conceded that his government is unlikely to burn senior bondholders in the banks, despite Fine Gael’s pre-election promises.

Parties Appeal For Food Aid From China

OK, they ordered takeout. Things aren’t quite that bad, yet. Fine Gael and Labour have been shut in negotiations all day. Outside meanwhile, look what happened to Pat Rabitte’s car. A rich vein there from which to dig metaphor and prognostication. Let’s just say that if Labour go into government, they’re liable to find themselves clamped firmly by the round bits.

I think I would prefer if they did however. Though in all probability it will be bad for them, without them on board it will be worse for humans.

But I want to lay down a marker here, otherwise in five years (or sooner), Fianna Fáil will be saying “Look, this government did even worse than we did.” In five years time we will be worse off than we are now – no matter who is in government. Though the foundations of the house-of-cards economy have been kicked out, it has yet to finish falling down.

Of course things are going to get worse. Right now nobody has any idea for a solution that won’t actually exacerbate the situation. Raise taxes, cut public spending, borrow at ruinous interest rates – these will all further depress the economy an already ravaged economy. That will accelerate emigration, further shrinking the tax base. And as fewer people want to live here, house values will fall further and mass mortgage default become more likely, destroying the value of assets that the public now hold. What they’re arguing over, right now, is exactly which combination of these ‘solutions’ will be least disastrous.

If in five years the place is not actually a burning wasteland patrolled by packs of feral horses, the next government won’t have done too badly.

The 360° Revolution

360 CartoonIt is finally, officially, over. And no more damning political verdict has ever been rendered in the history of this or many another country. Even the pro-union vote in 1918 was larger. It’s shocking that they got seventeen percent, that thousands were still ready to put their party before their country. This kind of unthinking loyalty is like a set of shackles on Irish politics. But perhaps it is broken now.

So I am torn between expressing relief at having thrown off the worse government we have ever had, and lamenting the fact that we have given a mandate to a party whose ideology and economic approach are so similar that it takes at least an hour to explain to interested foreigners why they are separate parties at all. It is a hell of an anticlimax, and frankly I am a little depressed. (Though the fact that I got about one night’s worth of sleep during the whole count probably isn’t helping there.) Was all that anger just for this, all that upheaval to deliver no change? Have we had a 360 degree revolution?

There is only one real advantage. The new administration will not have been busy sharing the good times with the rich and the powerful – well, not for fourteen years anyway. This will make them somewhat more disinterested and honest. But it’s not as if they’re chosen from a whole other class of innocent outsiders. Their interests are not the interests of the average person, and certainly not the interests of the poorer person. For Christ’s sake, the chairman of Anglo Irish is a former leader of Fine Gael. Didn’t anybody think that might be a bit of a bad sign?

But Kenny must get his one hundred days or whatever is the suitably polite interval, his chance to come up with a brilliant solution to escape the chains the last government left us in. Can he?

No. Sure he’s going to renegotiate the bailout deal. But by that he means begging for a slightly lower interest rate. That is not a negotiating position. A slightly lower interest rate on a debt we will never be able to pay back anyway, that is going to crush our economy back to 1940s levels? That is not an improvement of the situation. It’s an avoidance of reality.

What would I say to a meeting of Eurozone heads of state? What would you say?

“We cannot afford to borrow money to pay debts unjustly created for us by a previous, corrupt government. Indeed we cannot afford to borrow enough money for even the minimum necessary level of public expenditure, at this or any interest rate. Therefore we will pay ourselves in our own currency. In other words, we’re leaving the euro. This will be painful for us, what with soaring import prices, but the euro will almost certainly collapse so it will be even more painful for you. Sorry, but it’s that or we sacrifice the health, future, lives of our people in order to reward the selfish and greedy actions of a ludicrously wealthy banking industry.”

That is a negotiating position.