Suck it up and shut up is the message to the taxpayer

I WONDER if you feel as sick as I do? And as scared?

And as helpless? I would like to add “and as angry?” but I have just learned that I must not give any more space to that unpatriotic emotion.

I listened to Brian Lenihan on Morning Ireland, and he told me I must stop feeling angry, because “anger is not a policy”. I – and every other taxpayer and social welfare recipient in this misfortunate country – must “stop blaming other people and take responsibility for ourselves as a nation”.

I must not blame the developers and the bankers, who take no responsibility for the fact that their buccaneering enterprise culture has left the nation floating belly up.

Above all, it seems, I must not blame the minister, or the bungling duffer who preceded him and now represents us to the world and Jay Leno. They have, apparently, been doing everything right, and everyone who criticises them is talking the country into bankruptcy.

Didn’t they tell us the exact same thing during the boom-and-borrow years (or is that a false memory implanted by fiendishly clever dissident economists?)

And weren’t they wrong then – and aren’t they wrong now? Lenihan had just been telling us that the black hole that is Anglo Irish Bank bad debt had expanded to €30 billion, 10 times more than he told us in January 2009. And he told us that AIB had been nationalised in all but name, not because nationalising the banks might be a very sound policy, but because we taxpayers have to help it pay debts that are, says Lenihan, our responsibility.

Not, you note, the responsibility of the financiers and developers who ran them up, or the Government that let them do it. Ours, and ours alone. Suck it up, and shut up.

You know all that. But did you catch what the minister was really saying? Ireland is no longer a sovereign nation. Our financiers and developers have sold us to the bond markets, and driven off in their spouses’ BMWs. We must sell our Puntos into scrappage to pay their tab.

And all this happened when the Republican Party was asleep at the wheel. Or drunk. Or in cahoots.

Actually, I don’t mind drunk. Drunk leaders have often made remarkable contributions. Think of Churchill, fending off the Nazi monster on a bottle of bubbly and half a bottle of brandy – before dinner. And at least a drinker can be a bit of craic.

The electorate prefers alcohol in the bloodstream to bloodless posturing. Brian Cowen may understand little else, indeed that appears to be the case, but heunderstands that.

But let’s get back to the serious stuff. I do mind that this crowd were asleep while the nation their grandfathers fought for was sold to Wall Street and Shanghai. And I mind a great deal more that they were huddled in the same tent as the snake-oil salesmen who did the deal, and defended them tooth and nail.

What has me sick and scared, however, is not the recollection of the follies of the recent past. It is the apparent fact that we seem to be stuck in a TINA situation. Almost the entire political spectrum seems to agree, no matter what rhetoric they ratchet up periodically, that There Is No Alternative.

I would like to imagine that, in a democracy, we always have choices. Fine Gael, so accurately described by one of its own TDs recently as ‘Fianna Fáil light’, hardly bears serious consideration for anyone who believes that our radical disease needs a radical cure.

But it would be nice to believe that the rising star of Irish politics, Eamon Gilmore, really does offer us a vision of how we might do things differently.

Interviewed on RTÉ last week, however, after the TV3 opinion poll showed him at double the rating of the other two leaders, he had a golden opportunity to stand up and tell us how he would do things differently.

Instead, he more or less accepted Sean O’Rourke’s pitch that he had signed up to most of the Government’s austerity package, and proceeded to waffle on about constituency election strategy.

I thought I might be unfair to hold up this interview as representative. So I went to the Labour Party website yesterday in search of something better. What did I find? That same interview was the lead item, 10 days after it took place.

I’m scared, as well as sick and angry. Our political leaders have ceded control of our societies to markets and their masters, and no one appears to be willing to shout stop.

Paddy Woodworth is an author and journalist

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