Tough Times in the Irish Republic

I keep hearing wrenching human stories about just how tough things have got in Ireland. The Republic is the one country hit even worse than Britain by the latest world crash, in part because it held the poisoned causes of the troubles closer to itself even than England did. I went frequently to Dublin in that time. One look at the landscape of euro-city, and you knew you were at the Dodge county line, or maybe Vegas. Unlike Vegas, however, it was obvious that what happened in Dublin wasn't staying there.

For instance, one legacy of the Irish revolution all those years ago, aided in the west by the tendency of communities to cause real trouble to people who tried to interfere, was that when owned, land seemed yours. In England, all sorts of restrictions could be applied to it; in the booming Ireland to which the children of emigrants were returning ten years ago, one could build whatever one liked, paint it whatever colour, and sell it to just about anyone. Anyone who saw what Austro-Hungarian colours looked like on the Atlantic coast (and it wasn't that pretty) could tell the tale.

The Irish fell for the idea that, when a bank loans you money to buy a house, or land for a house, you own it. No one, as here, wanted to know about the idea of equity, or foreclosure. Jobs seemed plentiful, there was always a lot of construction around, and, anyway, the New Ireland had banished poverty. Fianna Fail said so. For a time, the Celtic Tiger even considered tarmacking Tara.

And then, the crash. Irish national debt is through the roof. Unemployment, and the fear of banking collapse, are now regular storylines in local newspapers, and not just because of conditions on that side of the water.

The government is attempting, as a McCain presidency would have, to create one 'toxic' bank to take over bad assets. Unlike a McCain presidency would have done, it has paid advisors fifteen million euros to tell them how to do it. If you think I'm misleading, have a look at this quote from the summer of last year--and compare and contrast the McCain 'harsh capitalism' with our oft-lauded Celtic version of the social market and national development that the soldiers of destiny traded upon;
—"Americans should be outraged at the latest sweetheart deal in Washington. Congress will put us taxpayers on the hook for potentially hundreds of billions of dollars…. If a dime of taxpayer dollars ends up being directly invested, the management and the board should immediately be replaced, multimillion-dollar salaries should be cut, and bonuses and other compensation should be eliminated. They should cease all lobbying activities and stop payment to outside lobbyists. And taxpayers should be first in line for any repayment."

What happens when everything is a toxic asset?

A country that built, and sold, now can't lower its currency and its spending is being cut to the bone. A political class clinging to the wreckage of the Lisbon treaty is finding itself ever more adrift. I mean, Ireland's been through some very difficult times before, but as many soldiers the world over will attest, debt and the threat of debt enforcement or bankruptcy has an affect on the mind worse than some of the toughest battles. It chills, and creeps, and speeds up false and vistaed hopes, and crashes. People get desperate.

So it was interesting to me to read of the emergence of improvised explosive devices in Donegal Town the other day. I've been hearing stories from the land of the mountains for some time, of how 'vigilantes' are now essentially redistributing money and food from some of the small shops in that county. They are anecdotal, and officially unreported. They've also been pipe-bombing alleged 'drugsters', attempting as in Derry to put their particular skills set to use garnering community support. It hasn't really been forthcoming.

Following the discovery of a very large bomb in Armagh a few days ago, people as uninformed as I have been suggesting that an 'uptick' in 'dissident republicanism' may have been registered.

I find myself wondering something different. There are limits to how far people can be pushed, and one doesn't have to be a mad 'leftie' to know of them. Gary Nash, for instance, has made a whole career out of identifying the real American revolutionaries, the ordinary people whose reaction to land-grabs, economic turbulence, and the delegitimisation of a ruling class was to burn things down or tear things up.

What happened in the twentieth century was that the state became powerful enough to suppress all of this. Some people forgot that it could even happen. Mobs may be a match for policemen, a dozen to one; they generally are not a match for 'kettling', tasers, riot control, water cannons, and the whole panopoly of suppression now available to the average carabinieri. The only way to make a point now, generally, is through politics, or the courts.

What happens when politicians or the courts can't deal with financial collapse and hunger and desperation, though?. Does the ice break, and do we get to glimpse some of the things beneath?

IEDs are not primitive technology, and their construction requires goods in sufficient quantity that a reasonably rich state can keep an eye on purchases. However, when items are lying about; when there are people around who know how to make them, or whose relatives--either in real armies across the world or clandestine ones now disbanded--can tell them; when virtually everyone has internet access; when a cancer of lawlessness meets with the minds of determined men, and when every institution that might have held them back has been undermined; what happens?

That bomb in Donegal was found outside a building society. As we head into what, by some accounts, may be a long, cold winter, it made me think. I wish the stupid money-times were around again.


Mary said…
Martin, I'm up very early this morning (it's 5-40am) because it is too hot to sleep. The forecast for today in Sydney is 31C which is ten degrees above the norm. Considering that spring has only just sprung, I'm a little worried. Global warming is happening here.

Don't worry about the Irish. They'll survive. In fact, a lot of them are here. My eldest son,
Dan, is a quantity surveyer here in Sydney. His boss is Irish and he has hired no less than five new Irish people in the last six months. (There were already a fair few.) They went out on Friday night. So there they all were..Sean, Shane, Russell,Paddy et al....looking out over the water when Russell declared:"Sweet Jesus, I'd cut my own throat before I'd go back to Dublin" Honestly, this is true. The Irish are alive and well, and most of them are coming in this direction.
Martin Meenagh said…
It's interesting--the southern hemisphere seems, over the past few years, to be much warmer than the northern one. People have less of a clue about climate than they do about economics, so confident predictions should always be taken with a pinch of salt.

That's grand news about the Irish going over to Sydney. Frankly, I wish I could join them! You're very lucky down there. All those commodities and all those hard working decent people. And don't get me started on the anthem....

seriously. You know what happens.

My grandad couldn't stick Dublin. Loads of people talking English and Irish in ways he couldn't understand into their drink. Not like Las Vegas, which of course, is in the hills of Donegal....
Mary said…
You'd get a job teaching in one of the universities here in five seconds flat. I have no doubt of that.
Martin Meenagh said…
I'm flattered that you think so. Seriously, I'd be out of here and in Asia or Australia in a new york minute if I had the money. You need, ultimately, to be in a country with a future....
Martin Meenagh said…
By the way, Mary and Martin--I hope that you have a nice time with the family next week!
Mary said…
Thanks Martin. Get yourself down to the Australian High Commission. It used to be right opposite LSE. (The Strand.) It may have moved though.

I don't know how easy it is to get citizenship or residency rights, but for you, I imagine not too difficult. All the Irish folk, I mentioned earlier, are on visas. Unfortunately that means their status is rather perillous.Dan tells me that if his boss were to lose his job he would have 48 hours to leave the country. Seeing as the guy has a wife and six young daughters I don't see how they could enforce this. What has happened here is that these people have been staying here on 147 visas. Essentially all their rent gets paid and there are a lot of financial incentives. On the downside there is no security, even for those who have been here for many years, and renewed their visas multiple times. Now there is sheer panic, as a lot of people are applying for residency all at once. This country is not immune from the downturn and the screws are tightening.

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