Comment | Ireland: From capitalist binge to ‘austerity’ hangover

Earlier this month, the Irish government announced a new set of harsh austerity plans as part of its 2012 budget. Lily Murphy argues that the country's current woes, and gloomy-looking future, can be traced directly to the folly of its 'boom years'.

New in Ceasefire, Special Reports - Posted on Thursday, December 22, 2011 12:00 - 0 Comments

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In the early 1990s things started to look up for Ireland. The bleak and backward economy which had stained the state since its foundation in 1921 was beginning to thrive and, by the early 2000s, we had a booming and promising economy. However, all of that had disappeared by 2010 when the International Monetary Fund came in and took control of our financial affairs.

Three weeks ago, on December 6th 2011, the Irish government announced new and harsh austerity plans as part of a tight budget. The annual budget was once something the public waited for in great anticipation as it usually brought a rise in social welfare payments and a slash in taxes. This year, however, as happened in the preceding one, it became a dreaded aspect of living in 21st century Ireland, a country plagued by a seemingly incurable economic depression.

Cuts were made to transport, agriculture, education and health. The cost of college registration fees rose along with the gradual phasing out of maintenance grants for less well-off students. Taxes were introduced for almost everything and anything, including a water tax and a house tax. (The only tax not to be introduced was a ‘scratch your ass’ tax). VAT and car tax were also raised significantly.

Savage cuts were made to allowances for the disabled and lone parents; fuel allowance for pensioners weren’t spared either. The 2012 budget ensured one thing and one thing only: In Ireland the poor get poorer. For its part, the government declared the budget aimed to rebuild the Irish economy and strengthen a suffering society, but the truth is that this vicious programme of deep cuts and high taxes will only serve to weaken society even more.

The Irish government stated that it could get the country back on track over a four year period during which severe austerity measures will be carried out. As Ireland is officially a ‘programme country’ we must answer to others, our own domestic dealings are not entirely ours to decide upon any more. In order to meet the financial targets imposed by the IMF-EU-ECB troika, the government set out plans to raise 1.6 billion Euros through taxes while making savings of 2.2 billion through spending cuts.

The sectors most affected by these cuts included health and education. While suicide rates in Ireland are soaring, mental health projects have been cut; no longer can we claim to be the island of saints and scholars, as our education system is ultimately crumbling under harsh austerity measures.

Before being delivered to the Irish public, the 2012 budget was firstly given a look over by the Bundestag. Our economic sovereignty is gone and so too it seems is our general dignity. This did cause an uproar across the country, but only a slight one, because the Irish people were not surprised that the likes of Germany had to look at our domestic financial issues and decide what is best for us: we are essentially part of their economic empire.

While Ireland can try and battle with domestic issues such as the collapse in social morale, we can only bow and answer to Europe as serfs, the real winner in this economic crises is Germany, which is emerging out of the crisis with the most dynamic economy in Europe, slowly consolidating its position as an international power. Germany cannot be blamed for the collapse of the Irish economy, we did that ourselves through capitalist-driven greed and corruption, but Germany is certainly gaining from misfortunes such as ours. 

While bailouts are being pushed upon countries such as Spain, and while Ireland and Greece have already had to swallow their bitter pills, Germans aren’t too unhappy about reaping the benefits of securing cheap outlets for their goods. As Germany grows, countries such as Ireland shrink back into pre-modern economic conditions. As Germany’s economic empire expands across Europe, hollow talks continue of European re-unification attempts; we are living in ironic times indeed.

As it happens, the unveiling of the 2012 budget coincided with the ninetieth anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish treaty, a document that brought about the end of the war of independence and the setting-up of a semi-independent Irish free state. Ninety years on, and although we are no longer under the rule of the British, we now find ourselves under the no-less-iron-fisted rule of the IMF. It makes one think blasphemous thoughts: that we Irish are not happy unless we are under the rule of others, that it is in the Irish psyche that we be miserable, beaten down and ruled by anyone except ourselves.

The Irish government under Taoiseach Enda Kenny is following the orders of the EU and IMF by splitting Irish society in two, a society of the haves and the have nots, the latter being the much more common element in Ireland these days. There is a sense permeating Irish society today that we have been dragged up and drawn out and are no longer any good. That sense of worthlessness hangs heavy over Irish society, a society with no anticipation of hope.

The cry from the Occupy movement is that if you won’t stand for something, you will fall for everything, the truth of the matter is that we Irish fell when the banks crashed in 2008 and were already on our knees by the time the IMF arrived on our door step in 2010.

When the Celtic tiger days evaporated, Irish society came crashing back down to earth with an unmerciful bang. However, it’s worth pointing out that although great wealth was created during the fat years, it was not distributed equally. A two-tier society was already emerging out of the capitalistic excesses of the boom times, those who had it and those who had too much of it. Now we bear witness to the rotten aftermath of such excess as the upper class now finds itself merely a middle class, while the pre-crash middle class have joined the ranks of the working class. Needless to say, the working class, who had been struggling all along, now must struggle even harder.

As we end the year 2011, we see the poor get poorer and the rich run away. The bankers who helped us get into this mess, along with the corrupt politicians, are all gone now but, unfortunately, not to jail. They have left a society which created greed, thrived on greed and now has been utterly and completely consumed by greed. If only we had taken control of ourselves and managed our wealth properly all those years ago, if we had shared it equally, then maybe we might not be in this mess right now.

Instead, those who had control of our purse-strings during the boom years got completely drunk on money and wasted it on meaningless, lavish follies: for example roads that went nowhere, a useless tram system in Dublin city and an even more useless spire in the middle of O’Connell street. All this while school children in some counties waited for classrooms to be upgraded from cabins to buildings; prospective rural transport projects were left ignored and hospitals succumbed to overcrowding leading to almost third-world conditions.

The 2012 budget dished out high taxes and mean cuts and even more excuses for this generation to emigrate. And who can blame them? Whatever you do in this country, don’t get sick, don’t get old and don’t be young because these austerity measures have made it impossible to lead a decent life on the emerald isle.

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Lily Murphy

Lily Murphy is a graduate of University College Cork from where she achieved a B.A in history and politics. These days she falls into the category of Ireland’s lost generation.

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