The peasants are revolting

Emperor's New Clothes

Media commentators in Ireland and overseas are collectively scratching their heads about why Irish people have peremptorily started protesting, at a time when austerity is almost at an end and the Irish economy is showing early signs of growth.

After all, over the past 4 years of austerity, we have dutifully swallowed onerous taxation hikes, meekly complied with punitive benefits cuts and gamely forked out for a myriad stealth taxes introduced by the government.  Not once did we mobilise en masse to voice our dissent.

And yet now, the past month has seen hundreds of thousands of citizens take to the streets, it has seen politicians heckled and harassed and it has seen support for the government parties crumble. All over the ostensibly reasonable notion that we should have to pay for a natural resource. Albeit one that we in Ireland possess an abundance of – water.

Why now? What has prompted this sea change?

Enda Kenny incisively noted “this isn’t about water charges”. And he is correct. But not for the right reasons.

He assumes people have developed recession fatigue, that this is the straw that broke the camel’s back. That the populace feel they have been bled dry and can’t or won’t pay more.

But that is not the case.

When it became apparent that the country was banjaxed. When the wolves were howling at the door and the state faced bankruptcy, Irish people accepted that we all had to pull together to effect its rescue.

We unceremoniously booted out the gangsters who had run the country into the ground and put our trust in the Fine Gael/Labour coalition.

The contract was simple. They promised to get us out of the mire and to do so with a new politics – one free from cronyism and corruption. We promised to take our share of the pain and to do so willingly.

The Irish people are generally a perceptive bunch and could see the extent of the damage, could see that it would require a collective Herculean effort to fix, that it would take sacrifice and determination to stay the course.

And they did so successfully, to the point that the country is on the ascendant. Enda Kenny is basking in the heady glow of international acclaim as the saviour of a doomed state and Ireland is the poster-child of European austerity.

But things are beginning to fall apart, the centre cannot hold, the country is poised on a precipice and the peasants are ready to revolt.

The reason for this is that the government has betrayed its contract with the Irish people.

Instead of shared pain, over the past year we have seen one instance after another of how certain sections of society were entirely insulated from the burden of austerity.

We have witnessed a government that continues to protect and reward the already privileged elite. We have discovered that cronyism is alive and prospering while the country suffers.

The vision of collective effort was a lie.

From the CRC, Rehab and IMMA scandals, to political appointments and tax evasion, the government has been exposed to be as venal and corrupt as their predecessors. And the establishment of the institution of Irish Water is the final nail in the coffin.

Irish citizens understood that we were fated to inherit an organisation that was inherently rotten at its inception. Dogged by the same inefficiencies, over-staffing, bonus culture and disregard for its customers as the universally reviled HSE and that we were going to be responsible for its ongoing enrichment and that of its cosseted senior management, board and consultants.

That was the red line for the Irish. That is why people are protesting so vociferously.

Because the contract we tacitly agreed to has been broken.

Because the trust that we placed in the coalition’s new politics has been betrayed.

Because our pain wasn’t shared equally.

And that is why even the so-called reasonable people of middle Ireland will not capitulate on this issue, despite the government’s sop of reduced and deferred water charges. Because this isn’t about water; not really. It’s about the Irish people losing faith in a political class that has betrayed us, about opening our eyes and seeing that the ruling elite have no clothes. And that trust, once lost, can never be regained.

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7 Responses to The peasants are revolting

  1. mememe2u says:

    Spot on! Great summing up of the nation’s collective state of mind.

  2. aj vosse says:

    Strong words!! Well thought out and to be honest, it’s put the whole issue in perspective for me! Thanks. I for one, coming from a semi-arid country, have always advocated paying for water. Water is a finite resource and should be nurtured!

    However, your slant on the politics proves that even a concept that is fundamentally correct can be banjaxed by the mere thoughts of corruption, again!

    Kick out the boards and the cronyism… legislate to protect the price of water and privatise so that we can have a sustainable water future where we all know what’s happening!! Or, am I living in a dream land… again?

  3. Yes, great post, and a spot-on analysis. I initially also was thought this was just a “final straw issue” and so, like those casual observers abroad, was slightly mystified by the utter public fury over the water charges, especially (since like your other commenter just above) I agree in principal with valueing and protecting and investing in water as a resource) Also mystified when the fury was so unabated when / once the Govt started making concession (delays, extensions, reductions etc) Think I was just so relieved to get rid of FF (who I regard as a semi-illegal organization, corrupt hypocrites and saboteurs of the idea of a just and moral modern Irish state) But you are right. FG have , incredibly, outrageously, and very, very stupidly, have proved to be more of the same. Small minded morons, they could have stayed in power for a generation, and maybe, (maybe) even done some good. But they were too greedy, small minded and pernicious, too instinctively wedded to cronyism and jobs for their mates and bonuses and the rest. I think the 3 main parties will all get hammered the next G.E. And good riddance. Instead in future, we’ll see tones of independents, (like happened in Italy a few years ago). It’s not particularly good for stable Govt.s, or a coherent politics, but it’s what they have pushed us too.

    • rjmackin says:

      Although the prospect of a government comprising of single issue candidates, Healy-Reas, socialists and general crackpots is a daunting one…

      • Yes, agreed. In fact I think it’s going to be a complete mess. It might be immensely satisfying, on an emotional level, to boot out dozens of FG and Lab (and hopefully FF) TDs, and also to watch a handful of ministers loose their seats as well. It’s probably necessary too, as they’ve all been so mendacious. Yet one of FF or FG will probably still head the next Govt., but not with their own majority, or even any stable majority, it’ll be cobbled together with support from (and concessions & promises to) dozens or scores of Independents. There’ll be no stability and a very impaired ability to Govern. As Fintan O’Toole predicted some weeks back, after decades of unlikely but durable stability, Ireland has probably just come ungovernable. It’s absolutely what the main parties deserve, But unfortunately it’ll make it impossible to push through the sort of strong decisive policies needed to address our long term problems at last.

      • rjmackin says:

        I’m thinking of Belgium who went was it almost 2 years without a government.. but it didn’t actually appear to have that big an impact on the day to day functioning of the country… I believe the only thing they couldn’t do was declare war!!! Although in Ireland pragmatism has always prevailed in politics so I imagine we will end up stitching together some kind of workable government…. it’s all ultimately the consequence of parish pump politics, PR and voting for personalities rather than policies…

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