Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

This looks like a deal between those in power and those who managed our banking system

It seemed excessive, Eamon Gilmore accusing the Taoiseach of 'economic treason' in the Dail. Yet whether you call it treason, treachery or betrayal, it is how a majority of people regard Fianna Fail and its leaders, notably Brian Cowen.

Treason? Did Eamon Gilmore choose the best word to express his evident -- and in my view justified -- fury at what is being done to this country's economy? Treason is an old-fashioned concept, no longer a crime in Ireland. You cannot be indicted for treason though its meaning lives on. Treason is 'the violation by a citizen of his allegiance to the authority of the State'. You may not be charged with it. You can be guilty of it. I believe Eamon Gilmore judged correctly in his accusation.

A further definition is required as to what 'the authority of the State' may be. In our democratic Constitution, in which we have no figure to whom we express allegiance, that ultimate sovereign power is the people. This power expresses itself in democratic elections, which normally suffice.

Circumstances are far from normal now, facing the worst economic crisis in our history, and the conditions under which it is being handled are controversial, contentious and based on foolish acts, in particular the blanket bank guarantee.

In such circumstances, checking out the sovereign will of the people is an essential prerequisite to going forward in what may prove -- and indeed seems already to be proving -- potentially catastrophic actions. An unequal and huge burden is being placed on innocent taxpayers in order to salvage the wellbeing of an elite group of people and institutions that do not merit such salvage.

At the very least, this has the appearance of a 'deal' or 'conspiracy' of limited and circumscribed, yet hugely expensive, character undertaken without public approval of any kind from those who are being forced to pay for it. It is hard to think of a more apt definition of 'the violation by a citizen of his allegiance to the authority of the State'. Brian Cowen is there by virtue of the electorate. They put his party in power, or almost did. Another group, the Greens, then went totally against everything it had promised, completing the scramble for power. They then elected Cowen to succeed Ahern; Cowen, with Brian Lenihan, did the rest.

We are asked to believe a duly formed 'Cabinet' carried out the violation I write about. Yet this is certainly not the case with the blanket bank guarantee of September 2008, the single most treasonable action of any administration in the State's history, an act which fully justifies Gilmore's judgment. What has followed is economic devastation for the whole country.

It is close to nauseating when Brian Lenihan has the insulting contempt to tell us we are capable of weathering this storm and paying back the massive debt his stupidity has brought down upon our heads.

I would like to think this represented one terrible mistake, understandable in the circumstances. Yet that is not easy. More than anything else, this looks like a conspiracy between those in power and those who so badly managed our banking system that they brought down upon us, through greed, dishonesty and the manipulation of figures and cash, a catastrophe for which we had no adequate legal or official restraints. It makes one wonder: who really advised Brian Lenihan?

It was retrograde, attempting retrieval of a spent and worn-out set of economic structures, based on bad banking practice, bad planning practice, too close a relationship between an extravagantly expensive property development industry, and the politicians who made the whole thing possible. This approach, unfortunately for Ireland, is not limited to the economy. The Fianna Fail party, in government for too long and governing badly for much of the past decade, follows the same principle of bypassing the people in respect of at least the following key issues, and there may be more.

Firstly, over the power and misbehaviour of the church, the misjudged and misguided investigation of child sexual abuse in the industrial schools, and for providing inadequate legislation or backing for the investigation of diocesan abuse.

Secondly, over Europe, where Cowen went against the elective will of the people (in June 2008 in the first Lisbon Referendum) using misrepresentations to reverse that vote.

Thirdly, over health, which has been removed from Oireachtas supervision, together with a multitude of other public responsibilities now administered by directorates not properly answerable to those who pay for them.

Fourthly, the ongoing attempt to construct a pay deal with the unions outside the necessary monitoring by the Oireachtas and to the disadvantage of a large part of the population. The fourth re-opens an issue between government, unions and management that should have been sorted out last year but came to grief and collapsed.

I regard it as justified, though not right, for the unions to turn down the pay deal, in part because it is the wrong way round: the pay freeze is now, the promises, to be fulfilled later, may not then make sense and why should anyone trust the Government to keep its word?

Additionally, the contract is based on a past fiction. This was that the Government sought industrial peace, as did management, buying it at a high price and basing the deal, to make it more attractive to the general public, on a fictitious notion of productivity and competitiveness set against the real delivery of cash to the unions.

The competitiveness, in any real sense, was never delivered. We are hopelessly uncompetitive -- a situation that can only be remedied if we leave the euro. So what the unions are really weighing up is whether or not they want to be part of this unattractive, ungainly liaison with a discredited government or whether that is now all over.