“The best under the circumstances”, says Cowen or “almost unaffordable” according to Noonan? The battle lines for the general election are drawn up immediately. But the contest won’t be about real alternatives. It’ll be about how the Irish people respond to a settlement they have to work through whoever is in power, give or take a tweak or two. This poses a big challenge for Michael Noonan, Joan Bruton and the rest of the government in waiting. They have to change tack fast or consign the people to gloom and negavatism for a decade, aggravated by the distrust and suspicion on the part of Ireland’s international bank managers.
The main oppostion parties must switch soon from the rhetoric of opposition to the language of government. New politics is needed indeed. It would be the worst sort of old politics for Fine Gael and Labour to present the electorate with a wholly bogus choice.
If one long howl of protest is what you’re looking for why not go straight for the real fruit of the vine and opt for Sinn Fein? The real choice between grim realism and despair is better expressed by Stephen Collins and Fintan O’Toole. One of the long term outcomes of this crisis may be a new European stability mechanism that reduces the cost to the indigent at the price of fiscal harmonisation, but that time has not arrived. More immediately, the prediction business is a mug’s game but on the level of psychology, it’s a no brainer. People need hope to get out of bed in the morning.
Ultimately, it will all depend on whether the doom merchants are proved right and the European Union lurches into a crisis from which it will never recover or whether normal economic and political conditions are gradually restored.
Back in 1987, few people believed the Bruton/MacSharry budget introduced at one of the lowest points in Irish history would within a few years have led to the Celtic Tiger economy. Good luck as well as courageous political decision-making underpinned that transformation and both elements will be required if the programme is to work as planned.
Sinn Féin will have no inhibitions about promising to reverse them all but the party has the luxury of knowing that it will not be in power to implement its policies. If by any chance it is, the reality of the EU/IMF supervision will soon put paid to the rhetoric. In Northern Ireland, the party has managed to adapt very quickly to the constraints of office and it would probably be no different on the southern side of the Border.
This is not a rescue plan. It is the longest ransom note in history: do what we tell you and you may, in time, get your country back.
One of the worst aspects of this dreadful deal is that legitimate anger at the EU and the IMF will distract attention from the heart of our problems: our own elites and our own institutions. It opens up the possibility that, as things spiral downwards, Irish politics could revert to the xenophobic victim culture that is dormant but by no means extinguished
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London