“Solidarity with Greece comes at a price”.
Joan Burton’s remarks are very similar to the recent words of Spanish Prime Minster, and political descendent of dictator Francisco Franco, Mariano Rajoy. He said, on the matter of Greek debt:
“it is one thing to show solidarity, but it is quite another to show solidarity in exchange for nothing.”
On RTÉ radio with Sean O’Rourke the other morning, Joan Burton sought to draw a distinction between a debt write-off for Greece and the decision to write-off debt for Denis O’Brien.
She said –as O’Rourke asked her about a Dáil intervention from Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams- what hospital does Gerry Adams imagine we would take €350m or €1bn away from?
As Burton set about an incoherent lecture on international economics –some people are allowed to lecture, you see- O’Rourke asked:
“What hospital lost out when O’Brien got his €300m write-down?”
Well, I won’t go into that in detail…
In fact she didn’t go into it at all, and O’Rourke didn’t press her on it, for whatever reason. So let’s go into that detail.
To be honest, I’m finding it hard to work out whether Denis O’Brien got write-downs from the State-owned IBRC, for his business acquisitions, to the tune of €250m or €300m. Sure what’s €50m? But I am clear on the fact that Denis O’Brien purchased €100m of debt that was due to Ulster Bank for €35m. This gave him control over the Beacon Hospital in Dublin.
The Beacon Hospital is a private hospital. Once O’Brien took control of the hospital, former Taoiseach, Minister for Finance and Minister for Health Brian Cowen was appointed to the board. So the Irish State was effectively subsidising Denis O’Brien’s purchase of private hospitals and a former Taoiseach.
No hospital -no publicly-owned hospital, anyway- lost out, and Denis O’Brien’s new hospital won big.
No contradiction, then, between, on the one hand, the Irish State refusing to lend money to Greece unless it implements further austerity, and, on the other, the Irish State effectively subsidising someone who wants to own private hospitals.
But what’s interesting is that both of these things are seen as solidarity: For Burton, providing a loan conditional on robbing poor people of their means of survival is a form of solidarity. For O’Brien, making a profit out of the pain of others is an act of national solidarity.
As O’Brien wrote in the Irish Times:
‘When the foreign buying of Irish assets was at its height, I decided to buy a number of companies to keep some of them Irish, to preserve and grow employment and to seek opportunities for these businesses to develop in Ireland and overseas. These included Siteserv, Topaz, Beacon Hospital and others.’
In both cases, the solidarity, as we can see, is restricted to a caste that is already privileged: to bankers and European political elites in the case of Burton’s solidarity, and, in O’Brien’s, to himself, first of all, and then to people who view healthcare as a commodity and means to a profit.
It is wrong to say that what Burton and Rajoy describe as solidarity is no such thing. It’s more accurate to say that their declarations are an act of solidarity with the class they both serve under the guise of pretending to represent a nation.
It’s important to stress that Burton’s declarations on solidarity are not an aberration. They typify the party she leads. For example, when the Greek bailout was announced in 2010, Ruairi Quinn, a predecessor of hers as Labour Party leader, went on national radio to say:
“we’ll be borrowing it about 3 percent and we’ll be lending it on to the Greeks at 5pc. So in fact we’re going to make a bit of money out of this.”
According to such a conception of solidarity, payday loans are solidarity. Slumlords show solidarity with tenants facing homelessness unless they cough up to meet their exorbitant rent demands. Organ traffickers who pay cash for the kidneys of desperate individuals are, on this basis, Burton’s soulmates in kleptocracy, and Burton, with her enthusiastic support for policies designed to tear the collective solidarity of the poor and precarious to shreds, is but an upholder of the right of one nation to make a killing off another.