A bizarre game of political chicken

€5,357,142.86 – the amount of money we had to borrow to keep the hospitals, schools and Garda stations open during the two-hour 15-minute political charade that was the “consensus” talks.

The process was never anything more than a bizarre game of political chicken and has done its participants – and the country – few favours.

“Strong and vigorous exchanges” across a round table in the Taoiseach’s office resulted in the four main party leaders getting absolutely nowhere.

Brian Cowen was left clutching at straws, declaring the meeting worthwhile because the four leaders agreed to cut the deficit to 3% of GDP by 2014 – completely ignoring the fact that was already the only thing that had previously united them.

John Gormley was sombre looking, the whole spectacle had been his idea and even his row back position that it was just “talks about talks” looked wildly optimistic as it emerged the process was now stone dead.

Opposition parties revelled in the Taoiseach’s initial tepidity to Gormley’s talks suggestion, but were soon thrown onto the back foot themselves when Mr Cowen finally fell into line with the Greens, and FG and Labour had to figure out how to respond to an unwanted position they had been manoeuvred into.

The situation dove-tailed with the already arranged official Finance Department briefings for the opposition parties which saw Labour and Fine Gael effectively doing the Government’s dirty work for it by appearing shell-shocked at the scale of the cashflow crisis and in so doing, unwillingly softening-up the public for an austerity budget of eye-watering pain.

Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore needed an exit strategy to try and de-couple themselves from being linked-in to the Government and so went through the motions of the consensus meeting knowing neither side would give ground.

The whole experience has been an exercise in pretence and posturing as the Government sought some kind of cover for the next bout of financial thuggery it must unleash in order to try and steer the country out of the mess it bears much of the responsibility for.

At the same time the opposition pretended it was genuinely interested in being brought into the process of helping draw-up the next budget while knowing Fianna Fáil would never allow that – and that if they did FG and Labour would then share the public blame for the ensuing front-loading of the four-year misery-fest to come.

All the while the public was once again kept in the dark about what was really coming down the track at them.

Opposition spokespersons were only allowed to see government projections if they kept them secret – so the rest of us who will bear the cuts and tax rises still do not know how much higher than the previously stated €7.5bn horror package between now and 2014 is on the way. It will probably be something like €15bn, but this government doesn’t like letting “the little people” know the true state of the crisis

We do know the growth predictions of about 4% forecast for the next four years are probably twice as high as in reality, and we face the real prospect of being sucked into a vicious deflationary cycle of low growth leading to more cuts/tax rises leading to economic contraction leading to further low growth.

Many economists also view the idea of getting the deficit down to the EU limit of 3% of GDP by 2014 as another unrealistic target pumped out to try and steady nerves rather than represent reality.

If the cornerstone of the one agreed economic anchor of this government and the likely next Labour/Fine Gael one is unobtainable then that is the biggest political charade of all.

And all the time the dead weight of our annual €20bn debt grows heavier – we had to borrow another €396,835.39 to stay afloat in just the 10 minutes it took to read this article.


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