THE Government is just as likely to take the wrong decisions on the economy now as to take the right ones.
Whatever the decisions, however, they are going to affect all our lives and the lives of our children and our grandchildren for many years to come.
So we’d better hope that the right decisions are taken now.
In my naivety, I had hoped that there might be some kind of national consensus about what to do. Before any of the party spokespersons went into the Department of Finance to see the books last week, it was quite obvious that this was going to be merely another exercise in pretence and posturing. That is what politicians do best. That is what they do every day the Dáil sits.
They were this week having what they call “a constructive debate” in the Dáil on the state of the economy. Before the debate had started at all, we all knew that this was going to be yet another exercise in political play-acting rather than a serious discussion on how to get out of the economic mess we are in.
Last week, one of the Opposition spokesmen – I cannot remember now who it was but that doesn’t matter because they are all saying the same thing – said they did not see why they should be helping the Government now in the present crisis.
“The Government got us into this mess,” he said, “and it is up to the Government to get us out of it again”.
That’s the kind of talk that made me so cynical about the so-called efforts to reach a national consensus. Sure, the Government – Fianna Fáil and the Greens – are in big trouble. Sure, you can blame Fianna Fáil if you like for getting us into it and blame both parties for failing to get us out of it before now.
The problem is that it is not just Fianna Fáil and the Greens who are in trouble. The whole country is up the creek. Every man, woman and child is feeling the pain and every man, woman and child is hoping to see light at the end of the tunnel and the only light they can see is the light of an oncoming train bearing down the tracks on them.
Refusing to help the Government to get us out of this hole is the same as a neighbour refusing to help me out of a ditch after driving my car into it and telling me that since I drove into the ditch, it is up to me to get out again.
Worse, it is like the conductor on a bus full of screaming passengers refusing to help the driver get out of a ditch.
We are all in this together – the Government, the Opposition and the people of this country. The blame game can start as soon as we get out of the hole we are in.
Of course while some in the Opposition are saying it is up to the Government to sort this problem out, others are saying that since the Government caused the crisis, they cannot be trusted to solve it.
They want it both ways. No wonder the idea of a national consensus was a dead duck before it was even conceived.
Of course, the Government itself is doing very little to promote the idea of a national consensus. How do they expect to get national consensus for an austerity package from people whose standard of living has already been cut to ribbons and is further threatened by the budget?
Especially when these people see ministers being driven in top-of-the range Mercedes to the palatial grandeur of Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park to decide the future of all of us. Are they so out of touch with reality that they fail to see how angry people are at such behaviour?
Then they had the cheek to tell us they had to meet at Farmleigh on the outskirts of Dublin rather than in Government Buildings in the heart of the city because of the Dublin City Marathon. Do they take us for complete idiots?
The marathon was held in the morning whereas the cabinet shindig took place after teatime, long after the slowest runners were at home and in bed.
Do they really have to be driven here, there and everywhere by state-sponsored chauffeurs in state-sponsored cars, all paid for by the hard-pressed taxpayer? They could have driven their own cars and claimed moderate expenses.
The Government still doesn’t seem to have got the message – people are extremely angry and this anger is fuelled at the sight of well-healed ministers, bankers and others who got us into this mess still living in the lap of luxury. If there is to be pain, let it be spread evenly.
Is it any wonder that Fianna Fáil are now down to a record low of 18% in the opinion polls when people see the likes of Junior Minister Dara Calleary taking a trip on one of the Government jets at a cost of €9,000 so he could vote in the Dáil against the holding of three by-elections. Then we had Transport Minister Noel Dempsey using a Government jet to attend the MacGill Summer School in Sligo at a cost of €13,000 to the taxpayer.
Brian Cowen defended those trips and those costs in the Dáil last week.
If this was happening in another country, the army would have marched to the Houses of Parliament and to Government Buildings and would be in command by now.