IN THE run up to the vote in the US on Tuesday I rang an old friend of mine in Boston. I was looking for re-assurance really on the presidential race. She gave it to me saying there was no way Donald Trump would win. “I was so worried myself,” she told me. “I visited my psychic, but she’s certain Trump won’t win. Plus she spoken to lots of other psychics too and they are all saying the same thing.”
Around 3am on Wednesday morning as I sat in my sitting room watching CNN, feeling increasingly stressed, I texted her to say big changes were on the way not least that she needed to find herself a new psychic. It was a much needed moment of levity as the horror unfolded.
So not even the psychics predicted it but the fact is the reign of Trump is here, and we have to face up to it. It has doubled our trouble. In the space of a short few months we have had the double blow of Trump and Brexit. The Americans are not the only ones that need to get used to this reality. So do we. If the increasing industrial unrest sweeping through the various ranks seemed a bad idea last week its utterly disastrous now.
How long are we going to keep operating to St Augustine’s motto of “God make me pure but just not yet” when it comes to long term financial sustainability. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that we are in the grip of a desire to return to the heady days of the Celtic Tiger. We see it as a reward for all the pain we were forced to endure during those dark years of economic pain. God damn it, we seem to think, aren’t we entitled after all we suffered when the bottom fell out of our financial world?
We want to swap the austerity cod liver oil with its wage cuts and universal social charges, for the champagne of the boom with the twice yearly foreign holidays and the brochures for apartments in minor European capital cities lying around on the coffee table. We deserve the freedom to hop on a plane at the last minute and witness Ireland’s historic win against the All Blacks in Chicago. There might even be a stop in New York on the way back for a little shopping. We deserve it all.
On the one hand the yearning to go back is perfectly human. Once you’ve had the vintage option it is awfully hard to go back to drinking the plonk. Not only did we suffer during the bad years but we also did it in relative silence. We were stoic to the point where those looking in from the outside wondered what was wrong with us. We took our medicine.
OK we rang Joe Duffy to complain daily and when it came to the 2011 election we gave that Fianna Fáil crowd a good kicking. But we weren’t like, for instance, the Greeks; we didn’t riot or upset our EU partners. Back then our memories of the madness that had engulfed us all, how insatiable we had become in terms of our rampant materialism, were fresher.
We felt a sense of shame. We remembered how we kept on electing the same people because they made us feel good in the same way, even though any rational thinking on the situation would have highlighted the utterly unhealthy co-dependency of the situation.
The rehabilitation of Fianna Fáil in the recent general election, but long before that in the opinion polls, so relatively soon after the crash, was a pretty good indicator of where we stood psychologically. That party might insist it has learned its lessons, and who knows, only time will tell if it has or not. But lots of ordinary citizens appear have the memory of gnats when it comes to the basic realities of how you can practically lose your national economic shirt overnight.
What is going on now in relation to public sector pay claims, and the queue that has formed behind the Gardaí, be it teachers, nurses, or senior civil servants, is utter madness.
We can dress it up in any way we want but the result ends up being the same — utter financial insanity. The Government will obviously now attempt to relock the stable door after it was so widely thrown open by the Labour Court last Thursday night in its ruling on the Gardaí. But the way the mood is now the task is Herculean.
I heard the magnificently tetchy SIPTU President Jack O’Connor say this week that as far back as the last week of September, ahead even of the Budget, that he had said on Radio One’s Late Debate programme that he believed the Lansdowne Road agreement needed to be renegotiated.
Under the Lansdowne Road Agreement, the Government has ring-fenced €267 million for pay restoration this year, €290m in 2017 and €287m in 2018. Those amounts already take a massive wallop out of what is available to run the rest of the country, not least our health services or providing housing. Now the garda deal alone is being estimated at costing an additional €50m.
It is not like we don’t all already know how this can end up. There was an absolute political failure on the part of Fine Gael in the last general election campaign to put in context the pain people had endured but to also caution against throwing our hard fought improvements to the wind.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his party did some awesome work to get this country back on track. But when the time came for some inspiring words and a sense of our future direction there was no “big picture” stuff that might have inspired people to remain a little patient and take it more handily.
So yes there was a lack of leadership but you can’t blame the politicians for everything. They are the ones currently trying to hold back the tide as the citizens gear up their demands.
As things stand we are facing risk and uncertainty. We’ve already heard a lot about how we might be affected by Brexit and now the largest source of inward investment into our economy, the US, is itself in a state of high uncertainty with a newly elected President who has said he wants US jobs brought home.
When it became clear early on Wednesday morning that Trump was going to be elected, up popped a piece on the New York Times website from US economist Paul Krugman warning of a “global recession with no end in sight”. We have to hope he’s wrong but we’d be utterly mad not to be in a state of readiness for such an event.