The new Irish famine

November 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

“The Irish famine killed more than a million people, but it killed poor devils only. To the wealth of the country, it did not the slightest damage.” So wrote Karl Marx back in 1867. As 21st century Ireland peers out over the debt drop, beneath which lie the open jaws of an EU/IMF “bailout”, I’d like to make some outrageous parallels between then and now. 

Back then, Ireland’s colonial masters massively restructured the national economy, effectively turning the Irish countryside into one big pasture upon which livestock for export could feed. Right now, members of the European Commission sit at Merrion Square overseeing cuts to the Irish economy worth €15 billion over the next four years. If this were a country the size of the UK, George Osborne’s tastefully appellated “Spending Review” would be axing €207 billion instead of a mere €91 billion. Cleverly, the Irish government anticipates that such a society, with bits of its legs and arms amputated, won’t need much of population to live in it. That’s why it’s dropped a big hint that 40,000 will need to emigrate in order to maintain the unemployment level at its current 13.8 per cent. 13.8%? Hohoho.

By 1866, the result of the economic convulsions was “1,032,694 Irishmen replaced by 996,877 head of cattle, sheep and pigs.” 144 years later, the Irish government officialeses the medium term outlook for the exporting sector as “reasonably favourable given the adjustment in competitiveness”. But “the additional employment-content of growth will be limited to some degree by the export-led nature of the recovery.”

Translated into English, this means that while there won’t be much of an influx of new pigs, there will be, by some mystery process, a scenario where exports are “favourable” but “employment-content” won’t have, well, any content. In other words, a diminished country that works for diminished wages, on diminished expectations, but to the wealth of the country, not the slightest damage. Back in the days of the USSR, factories turned out saucepans with four-inch thick bases or shoes with the heel where the toe should be in order to satisfy the numbers of tons to be churned out according to the master plan laid out by Moscow, in kilos and not utility. In the stunted new world coming into being, “growth” is any quantity that a bureaucrat notes on a report, regardless of whether anything cooks or not.


Brian Cowen, no credit can he gain

September 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

Last night consternation hung like a dreadful cloud over the capitals of Europe and the world… if you follow the Irish media, that is. From Brussels to Bratislava, and along the ancient Silk Road via Kazakhstan to China, the alleged drunkeness of Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen on national radio was evoked in hundreds of exotic tongues.

According to the Irish Examiner, the story “hit the headlines around the world”, before citing such august institutions of report like, er, New York Daily News, and “Fox Business”. Ok, it got a wee link in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and was noted in the BBC, but let’s be honest, this is not a talking point amongst Berliners, Chinamen and Bolivians. This isn’t headline stuff.

But to the Irish media, the merest mention of our nation in the press of the Yanks and the Brits is sufficiently “around the world”. You can’t help but note in the midst of this spiteful glee and pseudo indignation about the global importance of the Taoiseach’s drinking habits, there lies beneath it all a provincial gratification that our betters are talking about us.

On RTE Pat Rabbitte of the Labour Party summed up the mood of the self-righteous middle classes conjuring up “the damage to the reputation of the country outside”. But what the “outside” thinks of it is one of the reasons Ireland is in such a state. Whether it’s the government’s desire to please the international markets to the ruin of the nation’s finances, or Brian Cowen’s stumbling delivery, the only concern amongst the elite is a slave-like addiction to what kind of bella figura Ireland has. Similarly, the myth of the Celtic Tiger made it easy to ignore the gulf between have and have nots that meant it rivalled Turkey and Brazil in the inequality league stakes during the boom years of the nineties.

As for Cowen’s intervention, you can listen to it at this link. Outside of the Irish media bubble, there is nothing particularly “hungover and drunk sounding” about it to this ear. Compared to the following extracts of France Minister’s of the Environment Jean-Louis Borloo at the Assemblé Nationale, and former Walloon Minister of Finance Michel Daerden totally off his skull, Cowen might sound a tad rusty, but coherent. True, he is spouting gibberish about the nation’s much abused finances, but he does this when he’s drinking water too.

To be honest, I find the fact that in the early hours of the fateful September 14 Cowen sang the Lakes of Pontchartain, as the Irish Independent reports, rather endearing, if only he had heeded to lines like “I cursed all foreign money, no credit could I gain”. It somehow makes this hitherto colourless man a lot more human, a reminder that Ireland remains – just about – a country where the ability to sing a song, or to tell a story, is something of a virtue, one that’s been lost in most European societies for three or four generations. His assertion that Irish politics has hit “a new low” are inaccurate though. Irish politics hit the bottom of the trough a long time ago, and is still gleefully snuffling inside it. The emergence of a tee-totalling non-entity in the ruling Fianna Fail party to rival the non-entities in opposition Fine Gael will have little or no remedial effect on a country that confuses appearances with reality.

Meet Europe’s highest paid politician

July 19, 2010 § Leave a comment has just posted a list of the world’s highest paid politicans, four of whom are European. Confining ourselves to the Eurololly-list only, we get Angela Merkel in fourth place, David Cameron third, second spot for Nicolas Sarkozy and taking the gold medal is…is…is… Monsieur Brian Cowen of the Irish Republic…

Who with his cool €263,000 can have a right laugh and say a Peuh to Sarkozy’s piffling €247,000, whose football team cheated Ireland of a World Cup, after all. And he can even toot a diamond encrusted vuvuzela of historical tables turned at David Cameron, whose ancestors cheated the great Irish people of nationhood and potatoes for seven thousand years at least. Having grown up in eighties Ireland, I know what a “boost” victories at the Eurovision were for our downtrodden race, so at least on the day that Moody’s gave it another downgrade and big life-loving Brian’s government just after sitting down thinking up another €3bn in cuts, we have this to sing about. Right?

P.S. One thing the post overlooked was the salaries of the two colossi locked in dreadful combat for supremacy at the head of the Union. Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy earn +500K apiece. With their healthier “continental” European lifestyles, they look a lot better than Brian though. Sort of.

Europhrenia – If Ireland is sovereign, then this duck will ride bicycles again

May 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

It’s a long time since we last heard from Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Ireland’s equivalent of Gordon Brown, but whose political career is unlikely to survive beyond the opening minutes of the next general election, let alone a week like Brown’s. Cowen is quoted today in Cork’s Examiner addressing the Dail, Ireland’s parliament, telling it that – “The strategy that the Government has been pursuing since July 2008 has been vindicated”. By recent events in Greece. At least, he offered, Ireland is “credible” on international markets and “we have not lost our economic sovereignty”.

It’s become a sport in Ireland these last few months to be uppity with the Greeks. Comparison is odious, n’est ce pas? But let’s look at Ireland’s credibility and its assumed sovereignty. Its banks are in hock to the banks of Italy, France and Germany to a post-modern aphonic tune of €12billion, €41.8billion, and a blood-freezing €127.4 billion respectively. According to the obscurantist genius of the times we live in, Ireland’s zombie banks have been bailed out a so far disclosed sum of €100billion, which “assets” are then shifted to the risk and the indulgence of the Irish nation and its institutions. In the midst of such gigantic cascades of money, it might just be simpler to conceive of what for an individual a massive burden of debt is, and then argue your way through to a glittering vision of his or her alleged sovereignity, autonomy, freedom. Let alone thinking that all risks traditionally assumed by banks confided to Paddy, PJ and Aishling, but think of how your own mood is affected as a new month begins by the number at the bottom right-hand corner of the bank statement that is now coming through your letter box? Free,  or magret of duck?

More Europhrenia blogs at…

The other side of Lisbon

October 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

The other side of Lisbon

My latest blog at
In Catholic societies, bible study is discouraged as a species of Protestant intellectualism. It’s almost inevitable therefore that in holy Ireland the government of Brian Cowen and associated “business leaders” with their “assertive” campaign have not promoted any close readings of the Lisbon Treaty lest the electorate be led astray by their own minds. Failure to say yes shall lead the EU to break off into two lumps one faster than the other and the ECB shall rethink of financial aid to the struggling Irish economy. This is like unto the priests threatening perpetual darkness if the faith is not properly embraced.

Even when they tire of dark prophecies as how we shall be written out of the book of the EU, Lisbonites on a less apocalyptic note assert that 35 years of membership have been good for us. A fair point, but by doing so they are suggesting that on Friday we are being asked to accept or decline membership of the union. This either reflects that they have so internalised the systematic bullying and isolating manoeuvres enacted against Ireland, and now on the Czech Republic, that they believe this to be the case. Else they are just being manipulative. The vote, it must be remembered, is on the Treaty alone. To suggest otherwise, as a priest might say, is immoral.

The soberest defenders of the Lisbon faith say that it streamlines EU institutions, gives some powers to the Strasbourg parliament in exchange for concessions on national sovereignty, creates a single five year EU president and High Representative on Foreign Affairs. But it seems amazing to this ardent Euro-federalist that 269 pages of post-modern meta-text on a far longer EU constitution, are necessary to frame such simple and agreeable notions. Read full article…

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