Tentative economic progress was made in the past year.
No more. No less. The Economic War dominated 2013. And it will dominate the coming year. Most other issues were and are largely peripheral. The economy covers a broad landscape. Jobs, mortgages, economic challenges of varying degrees confronting people, education, health are the issues which surface again and again.
Economically, the exit from the bailout and the growth in jobs were encouraging signs. Unemployment remains corrosively high. Emigration is rampant. People are struggling with huge mortgages, as a consequence of the hideous property bubble, and the cost of health and education is a major burden for many.
In this past year, radio programmes carried reports of children literally going to school hungry. It was a savage illustration of our grotesque failure as a State. For some, these are uncomfortable realities. Former Progressive Democrats’ leader Michael McDowell has spoken about self-loathing on the part of those who recognise the appalling state of the Irish Republic, as we move closer to the centenary of the 1916 Rising. The noble aspirations of the Rising’s Proclamation included the treating of all the children of the nation as equals.That rings pretty hollow against the backdrop of the shocking revelation that children are entering classrooms of a morning with literally not enough to eat. There are those who contributed to our downfall, but escaped themselves with handsome remuneration and pensions, who accuse those who call it as it is of being negative and doing the country down.
It is a view which suits them, because it takes from their utter failure. Mr McDowell, who led a party which contributed in power to the State’s economic downfall, has a handsome pension to draw down and a lucrative legal career. e were told by Europe, by the way, to get our house in order on legal fees. But the Government has so far failed to get around to doing anything about it.
So, as we look back on the past year, and think about the coming year, we should be clear about where we are. The Economic War continues with its devastating impact on the Irish people. Indeed, we should shout this reality from the rooftops. Repeating it might help speed our recovery. And the constant reminder might just be enough to ensure that it never happens again.
For, lest we forget, many of our politicians who served in high office totally ignored the economic mistakes of the past as they led us into economic ruin. The Government did well exiting the bailout. And it deserves credit for that. But, in retrospect, did it make a serious error in not fully recognising the role that Europe played ?
It is known that the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, and the Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn, were anxious to come to Dublin to participate in the ceremonies to mark the bailout exit. The Government’s view was that they should stay away.
It is difficult not to conclude that the Government wanted to keep whatever kudos were going for themselves. It was a mistake.Europe, in some respects, has been good to Ireland. Although we have exited the bailout, and can return to the markets, our budget will still be policed by Europe. The vast majority of Irish people will see that as a good thing. Indeed the shame is that there was not some kind of curbing by Europe of our excesses when the Celtic Tiger raged.
Was Mr Barroso venting his anger at the snub when he threw cold water on Ireland’s campaign for more bank debt relief just before Christmas?
His tone was disconcertingly blunt. Asked at the conclusion of an EU summit about Ireland’s claim for compensation for historic banking debt, he said that decisions on that front were not retroactive. It was all about the future, he added.
In the past, the Commission was perceived to be behind the Irish campaign for assistance with our appalling legacy bank debts. The Government has insisted that the issue remains on the agenda. Such was the level of concern in Government circles, that the Commission moved to clarify the issue. It stated that Mr Barroso was referring to another issue entirely, namely the agreement for a new Single Restoration Mechanism (SRM) in which funds built up from a future levy on all banks would be used to solve future banking crises. This mechanism was different to the powers given to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) bailout fund to provide capital for banks in difficulty. The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, was adamant that there are two separate processes.
Meanwhile, Mr Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore should put on their New Year’s resolution list a note to express public gratitude to Europe for help received when it is deserved.