They’re off! (and a good question answered)

Friday, May 18th, 2007 by Kevin Teljeur

David remarked on how it took too long for me to write posts, and he’s right. I do. I was a little surprised that he noticed, in a way, because a part of me always had this idea that David was really emoting with the sound made by the shapes of the letters in the text of my post, rather than reading all that shite and actually taking it in. Anyway, he let me know in his ‘I’m a fucktard’ manner but I like him so I figured I’d give it a go and start posting slightly more often. I need to edit before I start writing, that’s really the big problem at the moment. And have more time. I’m posting this from Romania, and there’s a kind of ban on me mucking about on the Interwebs after office hours.

Anyway, and so the race started weeks ago. I’ve never paid a lot of attention to elections before, because I had a vague idea of who to vote for even though it never had much apparent effect before, but now I really feel like I’m what is known as a stakeholder; someone with a vested interest in the outcome of the election. I’ve been born and raised in this country, and my taxes get paid here, which makes me a contributor to whatever direction this country takes in the future.

I had an idea for a brief ‘Kev’s take on the Irish political scene’ but instead I came up with an analogy which I like (always a bad sign, and taken in less civilised countries as a portent of doom) and which will maybe make it easier for people who aren’t in Ireland to follow, and I will post this as a follow on to this post. For those of you in Ireland, then you’ll almost certainly have your own opinion about the situation, and you’ll disagree with at least some of what I say.

In the comments for my last post, Tadhg asked me “so why do you think this election is particularly important? Do you think there’s any chance that it won’t be FF in charge again after it?” and although I had a somewhat whimsical answer, they are very good questions. I think that the forthcoming election is a big deal for several reasons. These reasons are less than scientifically arrived at, and are purely personal opinion.

First off, since the last election the country has changed enormously; to the point that on paper it is almost a different country altogether. And it keeps changing, the rate of change hasn’t levelled off yet. I don’t just mean wealth, but the demographics, the culture, everything. It’s a lot to take in for the indigenous population, it creates massive stresses and strains on society, and when the time comes to make some choices on the direction of all of this, then people will take this more seriously than when there isn’t so much at stake (at the time of the last election, the country was still in a fairly linear wealth-creation process, so there wasn’t a great deal of interest in ‘rocking the boat’; after all, if you’re making more money than ever before, why take risk with that?). People can now see the effect of all of these changes, and I believe that there is now more interest in deciding some of the issues that these changes have created with housing, education, transport (both public and private) and taxation. And let’s not forget immigration, now that ten percent of people in the Republic of Ireland are not natively Irish. That’s a huge population shift in a short space of time. A welcome one, I believe, but one that has been badly handled at a local government level in terms of integration of cultures and adaptation of policies.

Secondly the public’s satisfaction with the current government is relatively low. It’s a combination of a number of things, from the publication of reports in corruption of past (and occasionally current) members of the current governing party, to unpopular decisions by those in power, to pressures in people’s lives caused by the factors described above. For example, while life is generally good here for most people, and earnings are for most people higher than ever before, life doesn’t seem so good when you’re commuting for four hours a day to a job which you maybe not be enjoying a great deal which in turn pays for an ever-increasing mortgage on a house which you rarely do more with than sleep in, in between commuting to and from work. When you then hear that the members of the current government have possibly been lining their own pockets with public finances, or at least have been trading favours, your tolerance is a lot lower. After all, you’ll be much more acutely aware of how much tax you’re paying which is going to those same politicians. Throw in creeping privatisation of the health service and a general lag in the perceived quality of public services behind your expectations, and you’re already thinking that you might want someone else to have a shot at running the show.

Maybe you can add to that the perceived rise in violent crime. It doesn’t necessarily directly affect most people, but they feel that it does. That perception makes people feel less safe, and they start worrying about their safety and why no-one has done anything about it.

And next, there is at some level a feeling that this current prosperity won’t last forever. That’s the nature of these situations, they come and they go, the economy rises and it falls. This is something that most people accept, and indeed we’ve seen it here before in smaller degrees. But all the same, the current incumbents have been saying again and again that this will keep going, because they know what they’re doing, they’ve got control of the economy, and have such a good understanding of the economy that not only did they create this prosperity, they will also sustain it indefinitely. Provided that they get re-elected, of course. I don’t think that this washes with most people. I think people either can see through this, or have it in their nature not to trust such a self-belief. I think they’re right. There have been a number of crucial factors in Ireland’s surging economic growth, but a couple of factors that are going to cause for a problem are that Ireland partly has a circular economy (where, for example, growth in the building industry has fuelled employment, which has fuelled home buying, which has pushed growth in the building industry, which has… You get the idea.) and partly has an economy which was originally built on the premise of Ireland being the cheap location for a skilled workforce, with money coming into the country from the United States, for example, and which it definitely isn’t any more. It is not a cheap place to do business any more. There’s also the matter of massive European Union subsidies, and the Irish state subsidising foreign investment. As you can see at the following link, Ireland hasn’t done too badly from joining the EU. I believe that the free handouts stop this year, and will be directed instead to the twelve countries that recently joined the EU (which is only fair). So, these factors which make it seem like Ireland has a powerful modern economy and infrastructure are actually external factors; when they go, Ireland is better off than it was, but not nearly as wealthy as it appears, and a lot of people stand to lose out.

I have to point out that property is possibly the biggest issue at stake here. If the economy goes down hard, people can’t repay mortgages, people who bought additional property as investments will lose staggering amounts of money, and there will be a national collective trauma as a result. That really will be a bad situation to be in.

I believe that people are aware of these factors and that they’re concerned about what their lives will be like in five year’s time. Will life be as good as it is now, or better? Will it be even more of a rat-race, or will it all have been lost, and Ireland will be starting a humiliating and painful descent back to where it was in the nineteen eighties, with high unemployment and low wages… I don’t think it will be so dramatic of course, but the stakes are high, and whoever gets into government will be in a position to keep things going, prepare for the future or fuck it all up spectacularly. And they know that whoever fucks it up will never, ever be forgiven.

So to Tadhg’s second question, which was about Fianna Fail’s chances for re-election, another post.

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