Stabilising an appalling situation: A reply to Stephen Collins

A reply to Stephen Collins’s article published Saturday 21 July, headed ‘Impossible to protect public pay and welfare budgets

I can only agree with Stephen Collins’ assertion that the Coalition parties can ‘take credit for stabilising an appalling situation’. Indeed, appalling is the new stable, with 15% unemployment and ever greater swathes of the population sinking into poverty and misery, whilst disposable income for the richest in society grows. What is more, it is hard to disagree with him pointing to ‘wasteful public spending programmes’.

However, he neglects to name the most wasteful public spending programme of them all: the constant flow of billions of euro in public money –which could be used for spending on education, health, social welfare, investment programmes and so on- into the coffers of private bondholders. Indeed, the Bondwatch site helpfully points out that for July alone, such payments will total €1.2 billion, which is roughly the same amount as what was paid out in June, allowing for a definition of ‘rough’ to encompass a hundred million euro of public money here or there.

How could a political correspondent concerned with wastefulness overlook such grave misuse of public funds –and the consequences for democratic politics in the State?

To compound things, Collins claims that the purpose of the IMF is to check up –in the manner of an avuncular medic, perhaps- on Ireland’s ‘progress towards economic health’. He seems to be unaware that the whole reason the IMF is exercising such a tight rein on Irish economic policy is on account of the tens of billions in public funds that the State channelled towards the wealthy owners of private banks.

In reality, the sole criterion that the IMF has for ‘economic health’ at the moment is whether or not Ireland will continue to pay back the money it got loaned. If this can be achieved by slashing social spending, so be it. Indeed, we can say that the IMF –and not just the IMF but any institution that prioritises the needs of finance capital over the needs of a population- sees a healthy population as a threat to the health of bank balance sheets.

But what about the health of journalism? Shouldn’t we be expecting a political correspondent to be telling us about what the political function of the IMF really is, instead of painting it as some kind of purveyor of impartial expertise?

Moreover, when Collins writes of ‘vested interest groups’ ‘wading in to defend the status quo’, how come he doesn’t appear to include banks and their bondholders –whose only trouble with the status quo is that they haven’t raided the public purse enough yet- or those employer groups who have a vested interest in seeing to it that growing numbers of the population are driven into greater precarity and misery?

And when you think about it, isn’t there something a bit odd about a political correspondent referring to the framing of next year’s budget as though political correspondents such as he did not play a significant role in how that framing takes place?

After all, politics in these articles is presented as an activity you have to be ‘inside’, as the name of these columns suggests. This implies the exclusion of the wider public from the political decision making process, confining the much ballyhooed ‘economic sovereignty’ mentioned here to the decisions taken by a professionalised political caste. And when such a presentation of politics also omits any consideration of how the interests of finance capital continue to take precedence over the interests over the population, well, when it comes to talking about the budget in these terms, isn’t that framing too?

In summary, whilst modesty might forbid him from doing so, I think Stephen Collins should take some of the credit for stabilising an appalling situation too.

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