A STRANGE air of muted foreboding clung to the Dáil yesterday.
The feel was reminiscent of one of those black and white British imperial propaganda films of the 1950s when a stiff-upper-lip type would nervously announce: “It’s too damn quiet, Curruthers – those pesky Zulus are up to something, I can feel it!”
Brian Cowen wasn’t bothered about the Zulus per se, rather Johnny Foreigner generally, as he expressed coded fears the Germans were about to march in under the flag of the IMF and take control of his train set – the economy – or as it’s more accurately known, his train-wreck set.
Only home-grown tax rises and spending cuts will save us from EU/IMF-ordered tax rises and spending cuts was his message of doom.
And with Ireland the economic sick man Europe is now most concerned about, it was ironic Mr Cowen was delivering his diagnosis at a medical equipment convention.
As Mr Cowen ambled past the display stands and the open buffet groaning with greasy sausages on sticks and mini-pavlovas – a strangely heart attack-laden diet for a health fair, but a fitting metaphor for how we cannot shake-off the gluttony of the bubble boom which has come back to bite us all – he talked up the fact that the HSE budget was still more than €15bn, without mentioning this is far less than two years ago and not even half the amount the Government is currently flushing down the Anglo Irish toilet.
Strikingly, Mr Cowen actually used Real World words like “tax increases” and “cuts”, rather than the usual bizarre Biffo-speak of “revenue rise measures” and “corrections” – maybe the grim reality of the crisis has finally sunk in. Things must be worse than we thought.
The mood in the Dáil was equally downbeat and even the opposition appeared to be backing off as the pall of Black Thursday continued to cloak proceedings in gloom.
It was as if the current crisis was too much to deal with, the threat of outside intervention too real, so the opposition retreated to retro-world with Enda Kenny banging on about HSE waste, while Eamon Gilmore invoked the fabled spectre of the €50m wasted on e-voting machines. But with his breathless ability to apportion blame he made it sound like this was the reason the poor are now being forced to stump up €24m a year for medical card prescription in a piece of political gymnastics that was as brilliantly effective as it was brilliantly misleading.
The uneasy feel was no doubt fuelled by Fitch’s decision to cut the country’s credit rating again while warning of worse to come – and the fact Ireland’s had to duck out of the next two government bond sales and will return to the markets in the new year, thread-bare cap in hand, hoping the interest rates won’t be beyond our meagre reach. Because if they are, the money runs out in April and the EU Rescue Fund and the IMF then looms – at which point the Croke Park agreement and all the other paper promises will be as worthless as the Government’s insistence it would all just be a “soft landing” and we wouldn’t feel a thing.
Maybe, the opposition was so subdued because it knows it will soon be reaching for the steering wheel – if the IMF doesn’t get its hands on it first.
The mood could be summed up by a passage from the Prison Notebooks of Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appears.”
Beware – the Zulus are coming.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved