In West Kerry this Christmas, weather systems succeeded each other with astounding rapidity. On Christmas Day, to facilitate visiting family and friends, we were spreading grit outside the old farmhouse to roughen the path over the compacted snow and treacherous ice left by the preceding weeks of Arctic conditions.
Not twenty four hours later, as the Wran Boys and Girls were assembling to carry on the tradition of St Stephen’s Day in these parts, south westerly winds from the Atlantic had reconquered their familiar routes, bringing rising temperatures, strong winds and heavy rain. Within a few hours only the bare tips of the surrounding Slieve Mish mountains had traces of white and these were disappearing fast.
It could have been a metaphor for the bewildering rapidity of economic and political changes in this State in the previous few short weeks. It is true that headlines on the ‘sudden’ loss of sovereignty were overdone, considering that a venal political establishment had long since handed so much of the fate of our people over to a tiny cabal of swashbuckling property buccaneers and faceless financiers driven by private greed and utterly oblivious to the social havoc they were wreaking. However, it is obvious to all that we leave this benighted year of 2010 as a vassal state to European and international finance capital, with the EU Commission and the IMF as their enforcers – shackled to the very same forces whose system has devastated economic life.
And so a new year beckons, and with it more stunning changes most especially in political life. These will first be registered in the General Election in March. A word of caution on that date, however, as no one should be fooled by the posturing of the Greens in late November when they demanded a rush to the polls in January. Party Leader John Gormley was bounced into this demand by those despairing remnants of the bedraggled Green Party membership who still nurture the delusion that their party stands for something. The truth is that Green ministers would happily remain conjoined with Fianna Fail until May 2013 if they could find a way of unwriggling off the hook they wriggled onto only a month ago.
In Dingle on the Wran’s Day, even normally sedate members of the local community throw caution to the winds and enter into the mood of the festivities with great zest. With spirits stirred by the rousing music of the local fife ‘n drum outfits, it is a good way to put aside for a little while the cares of the year gone by for a few hours of happy forgetfulness.
This year, however, there was no disguising the appreciation of all of the plight that the country faces. Many young people, having celebrated Christmas at home with family and friends, are now finalising plans to leave for far distant parts in the hope of finding means of making a living denied them here.
They and their anxious parents hope it will be for but a while, until the worst of the economic gale blows over. That, however, is contingent on a revolutionary change in policy from the ruinous dictats of the EU/IMF in backing up the national economic and political establishments’ insistence that the taxpayer, the pensioner and the poor must pay the billions in bad gambling debts of the speculator and the international financier.
However we face a parliamentary election where real choice is limited. The two biggest parties in opposition in the current Dail, Fine Gael and Labour, are pledged to continue the same policy of Fianna Fail and the Greens with some cosmetic changes. Much will be made of perceived policy differences between them but the reality is that these boil down to a billion and a half in taxes and cuts for next year – a mere trite between compromising politicians in search of political power.
Sinn Fein will go into the election adopting a posture of strong opposition to establishment policy. It has to be asked, however, whether this can be taken as good coin when that party is currently committed to implementing an array of savage cuts in the North dictated by the Tory/ Liberal government in Westminster and when, in this Republic, they were prepared only two and a half years ago to contemplate coalition government with Fianna Fail had the election results been fractionally different.
In the approaching General Election it is the United Left Alliance, composed of a number of left groups, which will ask the most searching questions and provide a principled, Left alternative to the capitalist consensus. It is crucial that it achieves significant representation in the next Dail to be a vibrant opposition both to a likely Fine Gael/ Labour coalition and whatever remnants remain of the present crew.
A Happy NewYear of the Left Alternative!