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Ireland: The challenge of failure. Fintan O’Toole

Fintan O’Toole, over at Open Democracy, telling it how it is and how it might be.

The Irish government’s request to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for a financial bailout to rescue its broken economy reflects a far deeper decay in the country’s political culture and institutions. This is the very moment to begin to transform them, says Fintan O’Toole.

The long-threatened arrival of the IMF bogeymen was a major loss for Ireland as a proud, independent nation. But this should not blind us to the opportunity to reinvent and restore our sovereignty.

On the News at One on 18 November, the RTÉ reporter Brian Dowling mentioned that one of his colleagues had called the department of finance that morning to ask where the talks between Irish officials and representatives of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund were taking place and who exactly was attending. He was told: “You really have to ring the IMF.” The international bankers, it seems, were already in charge – even of the job of telling the Irish people who is in charge.

The arrival of the IMF was a case of long threatening come at last. Those three letters have been the secular equivalent of the fires of hell: the ultimate warning against resistance to the government’s strategy of making the rescue of the banks the overwhelming national priority.

The bogeymen are now in the building, but their coming has been foreshown so often that it seems both inevitable and anti-climactic. Watching the furtive shots of the disappointingly avuncular-looking Ajai Chopra, whose IMF team had come to scrutinise our books and negotiate our fate, it was hard not to think of TS Eliot’s line from The Hollow Men: “This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang but a whimper.”

Or, in our case, with a drone. Instead of drums and trumpets, our little apocalypsewas played out against the background noise of the taoiseach and the minister for finance murmuring evasive and mechanical denials. When the world’s media tuned to a Dáil speech by Brian Cowen on 16 November that was expected to address the crisis, they heard only robotic assurances that there was no “impending sense of crisis” and impenetrable Cowenspeak about the “front-loading of consolidation”.

If anything, indeed, the only thing the government managed to communicate in the course of the week was its own terrifying irrelevance. With Brian Cowen assuring us that Ireland is “fully funded” and Brian Lenihan claiming as late as 17 November that the Irish banks had “no funding difficulties”, the effect was merely to present Irish self- government to the world as a comic distraction from the real business at hand.

The two Brians painted themselves as the most deluded optimists since Comical Alistood before the cameras in Baghdad and insisted with a straight face that the Iraqi army was crushing the Americans, even as the latter’s tanks appeared on the horizon.

The new motto of the state seemed to be drawn from the Roman satirist Juvenal’s summation of autocratic folly: Hoc volo, sic jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas. Or: This is what I want, I insist on it. Let my will stand as a reason.

(this part republished under Creative Commons licence)



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