EU treaty vote - Justified anger clouds the issues

“Anger is not a policy” — along with the abject “this is where we are” — was a catchall that enjoyed currency at an earlier point in our economic collapse.

It may not be a policy but it is a motivator and looks like having a considerable influence in next Thursday’s referendum.

Anger spiced with the fear provoked by uncertainty around issues as basic as maintaining mortgage repayments. Anger spiced with the fear provoked by record unemployment figures and ever-more widespread job insecurity. Cuts in once-decent incomes that might make another 75,000 people drop private health insurance before the end of the year conspire to create an atmosphere of disappointment and aggression.

Add water charges, septic tank charges and even turf cutting — each as much about belated environmental responsibility as tax collecting — and household charges and you have a potent mix. For good measure consider the implications of the warning from the Higher Education Authority — that we have a funding crisis in third-level education — on the family budget and you can almost hear the time bomb ticking.

But there’s much, much more. Add to that the entirely justifiable sense of injustice, outrage and offended morality provoked by the fact that billions are being sucked from this society to repay banks’ private debts. This feeling is exacerbated by the outrage that four years after the collapse not one person has been charged with anything connected with that collapse. It seems we have abandoned the idea of accountability altogether.

Of course all of this, and much more, is true and anyone with blood coursing through their veins would be angry with what has been a huge social betrayal. This mood can be seen in its darkest, most virulent form in some online commentaries on Government, government policies, arguments and personalities. In far too many instances it has reached an unhealthy degree of unreality and hostility. The masked hurler on the ditch has often become a hateful and unrealistic crank undermining our democratic due process.

Yet, in a very real way, none of this really matters next Thursday if we focus on the simple issue at hand. It may be more than difficult, and it is very understandable why that is the case, to look beyondtoday’s difficulties to tomorrow’s needs and challenges.

Experts tell us that we have less than a 1,000 days’ funding left to run the country. We are still borrowing around €40m a day despite the fact that the crisis is rooted in excessive debt. Plainly this is unsustainable and we need to move to a position where we can be certain of support if the worst comes to the worst. Despite all of the side issues — the wrongs of the past, the hardships of today — it really is that simple even if it is unpalatable.

In this context it is disappointing that Taoiseach Enda Kenny has not played more of a leader’s role in the television debates. He may not be the most effective public speaker ever to occupy his office but his absences from these decisive set pieces might be misconstrued. In what promises to be a very tight finish we cannot afford that.


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