An Cailín Rua
WHILE Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was of its time, the moral of the story still rings true. 1843 is not today or yesterday, but you’d be forgiven for wondering recently whether the Ghost of Christmas Past, in search of mischief, has taken a notion to revisit us in 2016. A sense of déjà vu prevails every time we watch the news. Why does it feel like 2005 all over again?
Property is the hot topic of the month all over again as stuffed supplements burst out of the papers. Banks are throwing credit at the people (unless you actually need it, that is). Bertie Ahern re-joining Fianna Fail? I had to pinch myself. The good times are well and truly back.
But this so-called ‘recovery’ is the ultimate in fakery. Our leader’s insistence on portraying Ireland as an economic phoenix, rising defiantly from the ashes of the Celtic Tiger’s cremation, rings hollow and feels about as stable as a three-legged donkey with vertigo trying to balance on a basketball.
‘Keep the recovery going’, the mantra repeated at the last election, is questionable when you look at the alarming numbers of homeless on the streets of our capital city, rising weekly. It rings hollow when you read November saw the highest number of patients accommodated on trolleys in Irish hospitals since records began. It begins to sound almost comical when you see the numbers of human beings detained, cattle-like, in Direct Provision. And it rings pretty damn hollow when our most vulnerable, those in danger of taking their own lives, have nowhere to turn when they most need help. Despite big job announcements in the capital, rural Ireland is merely treading water. We’ve had plenty of proof of this fakery in Mayo in recent weeks, with the quiet demise of Mayo Renewable Power in Killala and Northgate in Castlebar; two much-vaunted projects, desperately needed in their areas.
Recently, it was noteworthy to see our own local Senator, Michelle Mulherin, heartily congratulate US President-elect and misogynist xenophobe Donald Trump on his election on twitter. Her defence – and it is a valid point – was that we depend so much on the goodwill of the US, that we have to be proactive (“get over ourselves”) and foster good working relationships from the outset. Hard as it might be to swallow, she is correct. Though the gushing #VoteTrump endorsement seemed unnecessary.
But just imagine if we concentrated our efforts on helping communities to develop sustainable economies, rather than relying so heavily on foreign direct investment that we have no choice but to brown-nose these people? Imagine if individuals were properly supported to develop small, sustainable enterprises, with safety nets to encourage entrepreneurship? Imagine if access to capital funding wasn’t denied to communities and placed almost solely in the control of local authorities?
The abolition of town councils in favour of a more centralised approach has stymied creativity and denied and disempowered certain areas, impeding communities’ access to funding. Rather than streamlining operations, it has to date frustrated progress; though it can be argued that we are still in a bedding-in phase. Getting stuff done is harder now than ever.
The worst thing about this is that we had such a great opportunity to put things right, yet we failed dismally. In the early part of this decade, ‘Troika’ became probably the most hated word in popular discourse, yet their sojourn here will go down in history as Ireland’s greatest missed opportunity of all time. We had a willing scapegoat, yet we still failed to implement meaningful reform in the public sector, failed to stamp out corruption, failed to re-organise our health system. Instead the stagnancy remains, the private sector is still allowed free reign in the housing market, and our hospitals have overspent by €36m this year. A mere illusion of recovery.
A recent survey carried out in Ireland by Kantar Millward Brown found that 51 percent of people agreed we will repeat the economic mistakes made during the Celtic Tiger era. Michéal Martin last week, was quoted as saying ‘nothing has changed’ since Bertie Ahern resigned from the party. He’s not wrong there. I bet even the ghost of Christmas past is spinning in his grave.