Sunday, September 27, 2015

So we were fools ...

So we were fools, were we?

According to an opinion piece I read in a national newspaper at the weekend, the hollowness of the “anti-austerity” campaign was exposed by the failure of the Greeks to overturn the harsh measures which were imposed upon their country.

The Greeks were fools for voting for Syriza, it seems, and we were fools for supporting them in their hopes that a democratically elected Government might just stand up for ordinary people.

But the newspaper columnist, who might as well be paid by the Irish Government to spout pro-Government propaganda every week, believes that we fell for the “seductive slogans” of populist politicians.

He didn’t write a word about the injustice of ordinary, poor people in Greece, Ireland, or Spain “bailing out” a tiny elite of bankers, politicians, and developers who plunged their countries into a mess which was not of their doing.

Instead, he almost revelled in the failure of Syriza to take on the powers that be in the European Union.

So the Irish politicians who flew out to Greece to campaign for Syriza last January should now be eating humble pie.

Those of us who thought there might be another, better way have been forced to concede that austerity is the only option for societies which were riddled with debt by bad right-wing Governments and tiny, smug elites. Or so it seems.

Yes, we’re fools. Fools to think there might be an alternative. Fools to think that people who are struggling to put food on the table should not have to pay for the crimes of the few.

Fools to think that elderly patients should not be lying on hospital trolleys, while our Government slashes and burns – implementing a harsh ‘bailout’ programme – with such a relish.

Or that we shouldn’t have to pay twice for our water while lucrative contracts are handed out to the cronies of the people who happen to be in power.

A street meeting to oppose the installation of Irish Water meters in Galway

The same columnist warns us that our choice is between “stability” and “chaos” in the next election.

In a country in which 54% of the wealth is in the hands of 10% of the population, it could be argued that what he means by stability is really maintaining the inequality of the status quo.

The views of the jobless, the homeless, the patients on trolleys or the couples struggling in negative equity are not taken into account, just as Stephen Collins' cynical dismissal of Syriza's "populism" fails to acknowledge the fact that ordinary Greeks have suffered considerably under austerity in recent years.

His nightmare scenario is that a host of Independents and left wing types will be returned to the next Dail, as opposed to the wonderful people who have led us out of the chaos over the past four years.

When commentators view Irish political life through the exact same prism as our leaders, you wonder about the future of Irish journalism. Surely we need people to question the cozy consensus, to show that there are thousands upon thousands who are still struggling to survive in the Emerald Isle.

When people keep telling you that the Government is doing a mighty job, that the “recovery” is well under way, you wonder if you are even living in the same country.

This remarkable recovery is not evident in the thousands who are still choosing to emigrate, to seek new lives in Canada, Austraila, or Britain.

It’s not evident in the protests against Irish Water which were evident in housing estates all across Galway City over the past few weeks. People in the Westside, Shantalla, and Mervue demonstrated in numbers because they knew they were being asked to pay for a scam.

Who owns the meters? How much are the people at the top getting paid? Is the plan to privatise?

The recovery is not evident in the overcrowded Accident and Emergency Department where I’ve witnessed dozens of people lying on trolleys overnight in recent weeks.

It’s not evident in the Department of Social Protection Office, where people are being constantly urged to join JobBridge schemes – to get their social welfare plus €50 – in order to “massage” the true jobless figures.
Hell, someone was even looking for an experienced solicitor to undertake one of these nine month internships a few weeks ago.

It’s not evident in the homelessness crisis across our cities, or the way in which students are finding it impossible to find affordable places to live.

Homelessness only became an issue last winter when a poor man from Co Kilkenny died within metres of the Dail. Yet charities like the Peter McVerry Trust tell us that we are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis.

It's not evident in the thousands of people with crippling mortgages, legacies from the "boom" days. People who work hard all week but can barely afford a night out on the town because they've been trapped into crippling property debts.
But, according to the newspaper article I read on Saturday, the “recovery” is well underway and the only alternative to the “stability” of our current Government is “chaos”.

It must be great for the Government to know they have such well-paid cheerleaders, urging them on with scare stories about the lack of alternatives every week.

Even if it leaves you feeling that some people inhabit a parallel universe, a long way from the working class housing estates where people have maintained a four week vigil to ensure the Irish Water meters have not been installed.

The article on Saturday might just leave you with a feeling of dread, that we don’t really live in a democracy; and that efforts by parties like Syriza are futile – because the interests of big business and a small elite take precedence over the rights of ordinary people all the time. 

Syriza’s failure to get better terms for the Greek people did not expose the party as “populists” with seductive slogans, it rather underlined the futility of seeking democratic change within the confines of a far from democratic European Union.

But, of course, we are fools for believing that any alternative is possible.


  1. Nice piece Ciaran. I'd like to say "Good Luck" finding a reputable job in which a good journalist can write what they think instead of writing what the majority shareholder wants to portray but sadly, the same seems to apply everywhere.The global rise of 'Official Extremism' where truth is systemically denied is nothing less than alarming.

  2. Thanks Denis. "Alarming" is a strong word, but when journalists are cheerleaders or mouthpieces for the Government, it truly is scary. People are given only one version of "reality" when many are crying out for new alternatives.

    The smugness among some commentators regarding Syriza's failure to reduce austerity is nauseating.