As in elections generally, throughout the so-called democratic world the Irish general elections offered the people only one choice; that choice was the continuation of the economic system that in its current mode was inflicting a more-than- usual burden of misery on the overwhelming majority of the people.
Anger was palpable throughout the nation. The frenzied activity of the Celtic Tiger years had ground to an abrupt halt, remembered now in the towns and cities only by the forests of angular cranes stagnating in the bankruptcy of speculators nourished in the belief that there was a God, an omnipresent, kindly banker. For some his munificence was boundless, a generosity demonstrated by a small-town shopkeeper from County Monahan who was given 32 million Euro by a Zurich bank to transform his shop into a shopping mall currently valued at one million euro.
Some of the native entrepreneurs became poor again overnight but many, like the late Chairman of one bank, had millionaire wives or healthy portfolios protected by the profane blessings of limited liability to comfort them and ensure the continuance of their dynastic class position, As elsewhere, throughout the world of capitalism, the government showed its class credentials by establishing a National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) a sort of state charity to resuscitate the fortunes of the bankers, speculators and assorted racketeers whose opulence is derived from the skills, energies and political ignorance of the working class.
NAMA’s, openly referred to as the ‘Bad Bank’ is a state agency that takes over the massive amounts of toxic debt acquired by banks under the mismanagement of directors who, we were told were such clever dicks in the area of financial management that their continued retention required that they be given multi-million euro bonuses to ensure their loyalty.
That, honestly, is not an Irish joke; rather is it an Irish imitation of what other national governments were doing as a kiss-of-life to a desperately ailing world capitalism. The absurdly funny bit is that as we write the national news is about millions of pounds sterling being paid to these ant-social elements by British banks to retain their services.
Unfortunately people are nurtured by all the agencies of our limping democracy to believe that capitalism is a controllable system that is managed by governments. Accordingly, politicians are made accountable for the sins of the system while the real culprits, the capitalists and their exorbitantly remunerated financial flunkies, escape public opprobrium.
As in Britain last year when an inept gang of Labour careerists were ousted in favour of an inept motley of Tories and Lib-Dems while the fatally flawed economic system was protected by anonymity, so in Ireland. Unlike Britain however, where politics had been sculpted by economic history, Irish politics largely reflected in its two main political parties the enmities of a bitter civil war that had attended on the birth of the state in 1922.
The Free State
Known as The Irish Free State, reflecting the British imposed ‘settlement’ of the ‘Irish Problem’, the birth of the new state was a difficult one. The IRA and its political arm Sinn Fein divided on the status of the new state and a bloody civil war ensued between those elements of the republican movement who accepted British hegemony and those who rejected it. The former, representing disparate interests from those simply wanting to see the end of violence to the Unionist or Protestant interest - standing in the new state at some 9 percent - established the governing political Party to be known as the Cuman Na N’Gaedheal. The Party reflected the Rightist politics of the founder of the Sinn Fein movement, Arthur Griffith who in Sinn Fein’s initial manifesto in 1905 promoted the notion of ‘Ireland as a separate kingdom hereditary to the [British] Crown‘.
The Cuman Na N’Gaedheal remained in government until 1933; troubled years of bitter economic pain for the working class. In the 1930s it had a dangerous flirtation with fascism when General Mulcahy, its ex-chief of the Garda (police) created the Blueshirts in imitation of the Nazi Brown shirts.
Ultimately its electoral fortunes badly depleted, Cuman Na N’Gaedheal disguised itself as Fine Gael and was succeeded in government by De Valera’s Fianna Fail which had been established in 1926 and represented those republicans who had been defeated in the civil war.
Fianna Fail changed the name of the state to Eire, giving a favoured place in a new Constitution to the Catholic Church. It ruled from 1933 until 1948 in which latter year it was distinguished by the odium of being one of four governments where the real wages of the working class were lower than in 1938 while taxable profits had risen by 400 percent! The other three countries were France, Czechoslovakia and Japan the latter three emerging from the Second World War in which Ireland had remained neutral.
The Republic of Ireland
In 1948 the Irish electorate, reacted to poverty, unemployment and mass emigration by dismissing Fianna Fail from government. In a manner not dissimilar to the latest election, the working class left the disease, capitalism, but elected a group of diverse political physicians to treat its symptoms. Fine Gael, Labour and a new leftist Party, The Clan Na Poblacta, became the main partners in a coalition government that broke the last tenuous links with the British Crown by making the state The Republic of Ireland.
Some attempt was made to free the country from the fetters of history. For example, the new Minister of Health, Dr Noel Browne, a member of the Clan Na Poblacta, proposed a new Health Service offering free medicare to children and expectant mothers. Dr John Charles Mc Quaid, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, instructed the Taoiseach that the Catholic Church would not tolerate this ‘socialism’. So the government’s health proposals were abandoned and the Health Minister replaced.
It is noteworthy that Archbishop Mc Quaid’s memory surfaced again in the Report of the Ryan enquiry into clerical abuse of children when it was revealed that he had been informed by the Catholic chaplain of the Artane Boy’s Home in Dublin about the rampant sexual, physical and emotional abuse of boys and had remained silent to protect the reputation of the Church.
In the intervening years government in the Republic has undergone many vicissitudes. ‘Cute Hurism’ - freely translated into English as ‘Cute Whore-ism’ - became a virtual political phenomenon, that earned some subsequent Taoiseachs an almost reluctant respect and, in the case of the political miscreant, Charles J Haughey, created the precedent of a state funeral.
Ireland was strategically placed for investment into the EC and Irish politicians made it clear that there was an abundance of well-priced and technically adaptable labour available for exploitation together with the lowest corporation tax in Europe. As far as the working class was concerned being exploited for wages was preferable to idleness on the dole and the kindly bankers were buying bungalows and shiny new cars for the masses - or enough of the masses to secure the belief that life was not too bad.
Almost suddenly we learnt that the new largesse was built on foundations of sand. The agencies of capitalism in the US, Europe and China and elsewhere throughout world capitalism who were lending the money to the banks were looking for repayment of capital and interest and the banks had long lists of corporate incompetence. Panic spread; the mystery element in wealth production, capital, had become paralysed and devastation was stalking the land. The venial prosperity of the years of the Celtic Tiger were gone; capitalism, following its awful and inevitable cyclic pattern, was in slump.
The recent elections reflected the anger of the people; sadly, as in Britain last year, it also demonstrated the success of the loathsome conditioning processes used to canalise anger away from real economic change in favour of a staff change in world capitalism’s Irish political office.