Fintan O’Toole sounds great but he’s got it wrong

The Republic supports two latter day raging Jonathan Swifts, Vincent Browne who  had the plug pulled on him by RTE and Fintan O’Toole. To be sure, there’s a horrible banality as well as tragedy about being in hock to bankers just as it was to 19th landlords or ironclad industrial capitalists. Fintan  comes close to recommending revolt, surely a risky approach at this time of high anxiety and volatility. And where is the real strategy in this howl of protest?

The primary goal of the IMF-EU package to which any new government will be committed is not to stop Ireland spiralling downwards into economic depression. It is to ensure that Irish citizens cough up yet more money for the banks…. We need a non-party technical administration to hold the fort while the people have their say on the four-year plan and on radical reform of our political system.

Who are these ” non-political people of integrity and competence” (or does he mean technicians such as civil servants)? How would  they emerge? After mass sit-downs in Merrion Square?  And what else would that ” non-technical administration” do except beg the Dail to pass the budget to stem more capital flight? The panacea of the disinterested statesman is as old as Plato and as disastrous as the Blueshirts.

It’s also easy to forget the foundations of previously undreamt of Irish prosperity was delivered by those self same banks and that Ireland will be rebuilt by FDI and more sustainable credit. Ireland could do with a good deal less self-flagellation and more calm consideration of an alternative strategy. A Euro-crisis cannot have a purely national solution. Try Martin Wolff’s in the FT. “Ireland should convert unsecured debt into equity rather than force its citizens to bail out its s improvident lenders.” So roll up to buy the Irish debt and her banks. Bank nationalisation can only be short lived.
Regarding the politics and the national mood, Burke got it right. “When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment, we have no compass to govern us, nor can we know distinctly to what port to steer.”

In other words, there is no single rational alternative plan divorced from people’s good sense and the habit of democracy. Fintan is right that a new departure is needed to steer Ireland away from the deceptive comfort of cronyism and localism that was as much agin the government as for it. The answers lie somewhere closer to Burke’s ideal of the TD as representative of the national interest rather than the blind mouth of local interests.

“Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests … you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.”

Irish politicians are not uniquely awful. In common with their peers elsewhere they can learn the new lessons of economic and fiscal literacy. Fintan’s voters’ boycott of the Donegal by-election has troubling echoes of ancient revolt while his next move contains overtones of 1968.

Hundreds of thousands of people have to get out on the streets for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions demonstration on Saturday. Before an election, a civic movement has to create a critical mass around the idea of radical political reform.

When in history was a stable reform ever created in the moment of crisis? Political change will take time. The lessons of a decade of tribunals and this financial crisis will take another decade at least to absorb.

The only beneficiaries of mass action will be the jackals of protest like Sinn Fein who haven’t got a constructive idea in their heads about what to do next.

Without  risk of contagion, it is entirely democratic for mass protest to put pressure on the Dail to reject the budget although in my view that would be disastrous. Adjustment can be made in later years. The famous four year plan is not holy writ under any government. In the convulsions of its birth, the old free State chose wisely to adopt parliamentary government with a written constitution. This is no time to give it up  for the incoherence and dangerous unpredictability of what Aneurin Bevan called ” an emotional spasm.”

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