From top: Ivan Yates and Dr Rory Hearne on last night’s Tonight Show on TV3; Eamonn Kelly
I caught some of the Tonight Show on TV3 last night, hosted by Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates in a discussion with Brendan Ogle, Rory Hearne, Sabina Brennan and Ursula Tipp, which asked, Is Ireland still an unequal society?
Without getting into the nitty-gritty of this or that debating point, what I was left with was a sense that the “experts”, including the hosts, were essentially using ridicule to defuse the leftist arguments put forward by Rory Hearne and Brendan Ogle; throwing their hands in the air and asking how such unpragmatic arguments might perform in government and, as Ivan Yates even stated, labeling Left views as “idealism”.
Figures were thrown around, argued about, fogged and fudged, but all in all the general view appeared to be that the Left were always arguing and that if the wealthy were not given tax-breaks they would not be here, and so on; the idea being that the current game plan is the correct one. But all this seemed to me to be missing the point, so I might as well make the point since it is clear that it is not being seen.
It’s a question of priorities. For instance, if preventing homelessness were a priority there would be no homelessness. But it’s not a priority. The Taoiseach’s salary raise comes from the same pool that might have gone towards putting a roof over someone’s head. But he has chosen to give himself the raise. That’s priorities in action. It’s very simple.
It has been agreed by government and by the majority of people in Ireland that we can “live” with a bit of homelessness in the name of recovery. Similarly, we can “live” with trolleys in hospital corridors, with rolling back worker’s rights, with escalating emigration and so on, in the hope that these sacrifices will eventually bring about the recovery.
The consensus being that the weak and the poor must carry the burden of sacrifice in austerity, while the powerful and the wealthy must get first dibs at the trough, because they have the expertise to bring us into recovery, a view that many people doubt since it was them and their ilk that brought the country to its knees in the first place.
And we can see that the way they are choosing to sow recovery is by sacrificing the poor to the various schemes they dream up.
What the Left were being jostled into accepting is that they should just shut up and get with the programme. But too many people are hurting and there comes a time when all that you have left to refuse is your silence. That is the position of many people at the moment.
Refusing to be silent about the injustices being perpetrated in the name of austerity, while those at the top enjoy “recovery” in the form of raises and tax-breaks even before any form of recovery has been ensured.
There are almost no sacrifices being made at the top. Corporations have more rights than citizens, the banks are fiddling the books again, and the Taoiseach has very kindly given himself a generous raise starting in January,
in contrast to the miserly raise for pensioners starting in the summer which will be next to useless after inflation. Landlords are enjoying a goldrush, and it seems that the priority of the state is to facilitate the profits of the top 10% who have 50% of the wealth, while making those at the bottom carry the burden of the sacrifice.
Ivan Yates produced the old prejudice that the workers are supporting the pensioners, and had to be reminded that VAT plays a huge part in the tax take, much of it coming from fags and booze, a fact he must be aware of.
But the broader point he was making was that the continued existence of welfare support disproves any argument that Ireland is unequal. He didn’t respond when it was pointed out that removal of welfare support would immediately plunge 50% of the Irish population into total poverty.
Equality, in Ivan Yates view, appears to be, choosing not to condemn half the population to starvation.
Matt Cooper’s proposition of how politics works is that people get a chance to vote and their representatives play it all out in the Dáil, seems to be accepting of a democracy of no public engagement between elections.
That casting a vote is the only democratic engagement made by the public and anything else is just getting in the way.
The impression given – now admittedly maybe he was asking “dumb” questions on behalf of some imagined “dumb” viewer – but the impression given was that he appeared to believe that casting a vote is and should be the only political engagement by “ordinary” people on the grounds, I guess, that their “masters” know better.
This is where expressing a counter view is vital. Whatever about arguments concerning pragmatism and what would you do if you were in government and so on, the role for anyone of a Left persuasion is simply to question the cosy consensus.
Not to present a counter view is to be complicit in the silence that supports the self-serving machinations of the elites.
Eamonn Kelly is a freelance writer.
Watch last night’s Tonight Show here