When do things start to fall apart? This last few years, the Republic of Ireland has felt like the land of the dogs that did not bark. Let’s recall Brian Lenihan’s remark that there would have been riots in France had the government there embarked on the series of measures that his government had inflicted on the people.
How could it be that an austerity programme of such unrelenting intensity, such blatant injustice, has been heaped on the population and met with so little resistance and so much apparent consent for so long? Does the Irish State enjoy some sort of elusive power borne of an essence no-one can name that instils obedience more effectively than other States? Where do we seek out this essence? In the State’s laws? Its police force? Its judges? The church? The media? The education system? Class relationships?
So much has been said about this that there seems to be little point in teasing out the finer details, at least here. What interests me are the prospects for democracy in Ireland the near future. Bondholders in Irish banks probably view democracy in Ireland as a resounding success.
The elections back in February, described as a democratic revolution by victorious politicians, were a way of consecrating the State’s commitment to robbing the people to line the pockets of the wealthy. As Paul Krugman notes in a recent blog post, the debts that the people are saddled with here were not even racked up in order to finance Irish investment, but overseas investment. Did the people vote for this at the last election? If you were to go with the flow generated by the Irish media and political establishment, then yes, indeed they did.
Well, the first budget is fast approaching, and the Fine Gael and Labour parties are about to demonstrate their fidelity to the commitments given to Dominique Strauss-Kahn before the last election, when they assured him, in his capacity as IMF head, that they would honour the conditions of the bailout.
Up until now the cutbacks could be laid at the door of Fianna Fáil on account of their corruption, links to construction magnates and bankers, and so on. Indeed, the days leading up to the budget will see renewed attacks on Fianna Fáil, as the ones that presented the current government with this legacy, as the grotesque figures who landed the country in a situation where, once again, sadly for all concerned, there is no alternative. Our hands are tied. We would love to magic money out of thin air, but we can’t. That is why we are revising our growth forecast downwards. We are in the business of government. Therefore we must cut your child benefit. Well, what is your solution? I don’t see why you’re protesting now – you did vote for us after all!
The moment is fast approaching when the faith of even the most unquestioning devotees of representative democracy will begin to crumble. The austerity lockdown, designed to bring about an even more unequal society, is going to mean lower wages, lower living standards and desperation for ever growing swathes of the population. That hitherto fully functional social routine, of going to vote once every four years, like going to Mass every Sunday or attending GAA matches, will appear to many as largely useless in retrospect. How on earth will people occupying positions of political power and those who identify with them –those who struggle against those who struggle- be able to say with a straight face that what needs to be done now is to shut up, put one’s shoulder to the wheel and wait another three years for another vote?
How, come this point, will this agency in power be able to call itself a government when it brazenly implements a series of measures it promised it never would, and goes as far as saying that it is out of their hands because Ireland has lost its economic sovereignty? Well then, if Ireland has lost its economic sovereignty, how can its government legitimately call itself a government? And if these TDs making ministerial decisions are not carrying out the will of the people, just whose will are they obeying?
As popular consciousness becomes increasingly saturated with images of protest everywhere else but here, it will take a lot of concerted effort to keep these questions under wraps. Are they up to it? Up until now, Enda Kenny has benefitted from uncritical media support in conducting the agenda of oligarchs and plutocrats, and moreover –if I might veer slightly in the direction of aqueous Irish Times columnists- a willingness on the part of many voters to restore the office of Taoiseach to that of the paternal figure of tradition whose relative power would address their own feelings of powerlessness. Come the budget, however, what fleetingly came across as a statesmanlike demeanour will start to appear more and more like the frantic footerings of a sad clown.There is no communications clinic out there with the wherewithal to manage the forthcoming crisis for Irish political representatives. What bought time for so long, the hopeful robo-speak exemplified almost to the point of parody by failed presidential hopeful Sean Gallagher, will sound like the gargling of sawdust. Some appearances will no longer deceive. Political correspondents will appear as mere court scribes. Economists as priests spouting incantations. We are left with the question: what, if anything, can take the place of all this to cement consent? And if the answer is ‘nothing’, well..