Ireland’s Problem: Getting and spending, we laid waste our powers…

Anglo Unfinished - Gavin SheridanI was struck by Chris Caldwell’s clever (if predictable) play on the second word in the title of Ireland’s traditional party of government in his article on how Fianna Fail is finished [just like the Canadian Tories, peut-être? – ed]. Not a bad summary of the electoral reality confronting many working class Fianna Fail voters:

In the grand old days before the Irish real estate boom collapsed, the ruling Fianna Fáil party used to campaign the fun way. Infamously, the party held blowout fundraisers every year in a tent at the Galway races. Bankers and property magnates would show up, caked in bling, surrounded by attractive young women and occasionally even their wives, and get drunk with their elected representatives and regulators.

Fianna Fáil held the enviable position which, in the United States, the Republican party has occupied for most of the last few decades. It was the party of the working and the middle classes, and even of about half of Ireland’s rich people​—​a natural ruling party of the godly, the nationalistic, and the “normal.” Its main opposition, Fine Gael, guarded the habits of the snobby “Ascendancy” that had ruled Ireland before its independence. Fine Gael was more like the Brahmin wing of the Democratic party: sissified, intellectual, irreligious, relativistic, technocratic, and called in only when the populist juggernaut of Fianna Fáil got out of control and did something spectacularly idiotic or corrupt, as it did with some regularity.

However the Fáil in question roughly equates to ‘get’ in Irish. Ar fáil, for instance, means “for hire”. Getting and spending… put me in mind of William Wordsworth’s 1807 classic:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Despite the full propaganda of the election campaign, it was hardly the sole fault on Fianna Fáil. The subdued nature of public anger in the Republic may be a ginger testimony to that.

But the old man’s words are perhaps a fitting epilogue for the late, now unlamented, Celtic Tiger.

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  • wild turkey

    “it was hardly the sole fault on Fianna Fáil. The subdued nature of public anger in the Republic may be a ginger testimony to that.”

    Mick, have u seen this article in Vanity Fair?

    “The Irish nouveau riche may have created a Ponzi scheme, but it was a Ponzi scheme in which they themselves believed. So too for that matter did some large number of ordinary Irish citizens, who bought houses for fantastic sums. Ireland’s 87 percent rate of home-ownership is among the highest in the world. There’s no such thing as a non-recourse home mortgage in Ireland. The guy who pays too much for his house is not allowed to simply hand the keys to the bank and walk away. He’s on the hook, personally, for whatever he borrowed. Across Ireland, people are unable to extract themselves from their houses or their bank loans. Irish people will tell you that, because of their sad history of dispossession, owning a home is not just a way to avoid paying rent but a mark of freedom. In their rush to freedom, the Irish built their own prisons. And their leaders helped them to do it.”

  • Mick Fealty

    The top two stories on this site search WT:

  • Zig70

    I personally don’t think the politicians are completely to blame. People made their own decisions to buy big houses and all of them should have known the previous caveats on how to calculate what you can afford and factor in the risk of interest rates going up. The signs were there a year before in the US that the bubble was about to pop, but it’s like drink, seems a great idea till the morning. The people were sucked in and now blame politicians for their naivety.
    The wage increases in the public sector esp their own, then I’d definitely say they pushed it too far.
    Nice poem, but I reckon the Tiger is just lickings its wounds and there is a hunger for the high life in Ireland which will spawn a nice boom and bust merrygoround for the next few decades.

  • Harry Flashman

    Fianna Fail is far from finished, they will undoubtedly do badly at this election but they will recover within a decade, that’s how political cycles work.

    It worked for the Canadian Tories, it worked for the British Tories, it worked for the US Republicans (despite the ludicrous predictions by many posters here after Barack Obama’s election, an election he won with the same percentage of the vote as George Bush four years earlier) and it is already working for the British Labour Party.

    The dust will settle, memories will fade, the Fine Gael/Labour government will stuff up and a Fianna Fail coalition government will be in power again around about 2020.

    To paraphrase Conor Cruise O’Brien about a particular Fianna Fail leader, not until you see them buried at a crossroads at midnight with a stake through their hearts should you ever believe that Fiann Fail are dead and gone.

  • Whatever happened to concerns about the balance of exports and imports? The people of NI, the RoI and the British Isles in general all face the same problem: we need to import much of our food and most of our energy. That is an unavoidable necessity. We are also importing a lot of goods, some of which used to be manufactured somewhere on these islands: electrical appliances, computers, cars, carpets, etc. To pay for all those imports we have to export something that those countries want from us. It used to be manufactured goods and agricultural produce, but more recently we have come to rely on EU subsidies, followed now by IMF loans, and the UK has come to rely on its financial services sector, now in disrepute. We no longer generate the income needed to pay for the imports that we have come to rely on.

    The phoney boom of the past two decades and more did not produce more export capacity. Instead, money was squandered on a property and construction bonanza which made multi-millionaires of bankers, builders and developers, but did nothing to address the problem of our shrinking export production. People in distant lands who want to sell us oil or cotton or bananas, for example, are not going to be interested in having a big house in the British or Irish countryside. They want products that we can export to them. There is more than a grain of truth in the slogan “Export or die” and it is time that the political leaders in NI, RoI and the UK faced up to it. In fact, it is time that we all faced up to it.