MICHAEL CLIFFORD: Back to the future as troika exit Ireland

Minister Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan share a joke at a press conference to mark Ireland's bailout exit this week. Picture: PA

LADS, for the love of God, is there any chance at all that you might come back to us? We’ve been on our own now for a week, and things have been going steadily downhill.

As the initial hours after your departure turned into days, it quickly became obvious that, like irresponsible children, we can’t be let out in the big, bad world without some supervision.

First off, though, on behalf of the Irish people, I’d like to apologise for the manner in which your departure was handled. While Michael Noonan and his officials broke out the champers last weekend, word was transmitted to Brussels and Frankfurt that no invitations to the party would be forthcoming. This was in keeping with the theme that we’re glad to see the back of you, and that you are to blame for the austere budgets of the last three years.

Everybody knows that the austerity would have been imposed anyway, and that your presence just gave the Government good cover to dish out the pain wherever they deemed it necessary.

Anyway, back to the days since your departure. On Sunday evening the great leader addressed the nation. The streets were emptied. A hush fell over all hostelries.

Families put down their iPads and Wiis to gather round the traditional box in the corner.

Mr Kenny was in patronising form in his Nation In A State address. He told us all how great we were to endure the sacrifices — inferring that this was down to you, lads — and assured us that better days were around the corner. As a party political broadcast it had everything, including the fake sincerity, half truths and the fawning.

The speech sent ripples around the world. In China, it made the evening news. That event was recorded on Twitter by Des Bishop, exiled over there now, and how appropriate that a comedian was on hand to do his bit for the historic occasion.

Now, men and women of the troika, it may strike you as strange, but an address to the nation in this country is not complete until all the political parties get their spake in. It’s a variant on the theme that we don’t really have a nation at all, but a network of fiefdoms, where special interest will always trump any notion of the public good.

To be fair to RTÉ, the national broadcaster realised that more than one of these addresses on a single night was likely to prompt a mass exodus of viewers, so, like the best of muck spreaders, they kept some of the foul stuff for the following two evenings.

Monday dawned bright, but then the headlines threw up dark portents. The coalition parties are already bickering over who gets to pick and choose their own pet tax cuts.

Fine Gael was reported to be in favour of cutting the upper income tax rate, while Labour wants a child tax credit. The country’s finances are still perilous, services which, by and large, disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, are still being slashed, yet, one day after the troika’s departure, these people want to get back on the road to nowhere.

Dear troika people, that wasn’t the worst that Monday had to offer. In the evening, Micheál Martin stepped up to the microphone. He kept a straight face as he berated the Government for continuing with the very plan that the previous government initiated. Looking at him it occurred that he bore a striking resemblance to one of the ministers who had sat at the cabinet table through the worst years of the excess, but that must have been a trick of the studio lighting. This guy worrying about a “two-track” recovery came across like a fresh-faced politician intent on breathing new life into a moribund political culture.

Also on Monday, the technical group in the Dáil was given airtime. This involved Shane Ross giving a State Of Shane Ross Address. He managed to get a word in about the Central Remedial Clinic story, on which he himself had done some sterling work. That yarn was indeed shocking, but its relevance to the marco-economic outlook going forward was lost on me, and, I’m sure, lads, on you too.

Then we had Gerry Adams, fresh off the plane from Mandela’s funeral. Thankfully, he didn’t stoop to mentioning the recently departed, but he did deliver a prognosis of doom and gloom that should have been enough on its own to merit an instant recall of you troika boys.

By the end of all the addresses, the country was exhausted. This was no way to begin a new dispensation, no way for a nation to gather itself up and begin marching towards its destiny.

Lads, two plans were launched since ye took the high road. The economic plan looked to be a little thin on top, not to mention all round. Big numbers were rolled out to show how Ireland would be the best little country in the world by the time 2016 rolls around.

Much of the analysis was based on growth rates that haven’t been seen this side of the recession, and are unlikely to ever be met. And that, dear troika, is at the heart of this plea to return. When left to our own devices this country has a recurring capacity to sink into a fog of fantasy, where everything will alright on the night, as long as you kick the can down the road into infinity.

By Wednesday, the lawyers knew it was safe to come out. Now that the bailout boys had departed, the lawyers moved to ensure that any proposed reforms to their business would head west. Their champion at the cabinet table this time was Eamon Gilmore, who told Minister for Justice Alan Shatter to back off with his proposals to drag the business into the 21st century.

The Health Service plan came the same day. Lads, the best thing to say about that thing, is: let’s not go there.

There was worse to come. It was bad enough that national bad habits, old failings and naked opportunism all surfaced in the last few days, but then the weather turned.

Under your protection, we had a great summer, which led into a largely benign winter.

But by yesterday, it was like old times, our benighted isle being lashed by high winds and torrential downpours. In keeping with the emerging two-track economic recovery, it was the west that got the worst of it, while the east of the country was relatively sheltered.

What was that about, lads? Have the gods signalled their concern that we’ve now been left to our own devises? Were the elements used to send us a message to get back into a programme, any programme, that doesn’t leave us at the mercy of ourselves? Any chance, good people of the troika? Please come home before things get out of hand. Don’t leave us this way.

In the meantime, Happy Christmas to one and all.

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