From Socialist Voice, June 2011

Garret Fitzgerald: a bankrupt legacy

Garret Fitzgerald’s death came at the worst time for his political legacy to be subjected to any sort of serious scrutiny. True, he had lived to see Fine Gael emerge as the largest party in the Dáil, while the once-dominant Fianna Fáil of his old sparring-partner Charles Haughey was relegated to a humiliating third position. But his satisfaction must have been tempered by the electoral successes of Sinn Féin, the United Left Alliance, and a solid number of radical independent TDs.
     Now that the Irish state is in such deep economic crisis, the “Europeanism” or, more correctly, the Eurofanaticism that Fitzgerald championed stands exposed as never before. More and more people are correctly making the connection between our present plight and the policies impelled by that same Eurofanaticism.
     Take, for example, the blanket bank guarantee.
     If we had not been in the euro zone, while there certainly would have been calls to “save the banks,” and we would have been fed the same line from Irish financial interests that this course was essential “to protect the savers and depositors in the Irish banks,” the European Central Bank would not have been able to exert the same degree of pressure to ensure that the French, German and British banks from which the Irish banks had borrowed would be paid back.
     Joining the euro zone led us to adopt negative real interest rates at the height of the “Celtic Tiger” boom and thereby inflated the property bubble that, when it burst, left us insolvent.
     An independent state is impossible without its own currency and control either of its interest rate or its exchange rate policy. Those who today seem to derive some sort of masochistic pleasure from reminding us that the country is no longer independent since the EU-IMF “support programme” ignore this fact.
     And we have Garret Fitzgerald and the Eurofanatics to thank for the fact that these fundamental economic instruments for advancing a people’s welfare have not been available to this country since the state joined the euro zone in 1999.
     From the late 1950s, Irish national capitalism has given up the ghost as regards struggling for real independent statehood, preferring instead to become branch managers for the transnational firms and to run the Irish state in the interests of the transnational corporations and local high finance—all this within the context of “Europeanism” and EU integration.
     Mass emigration and unemployment facilitated this set-up. An opportunist and compromised trade union leadership and a Labour Party with no reason for existence beyond an appetite for the occasional perks of Government office helped to prevent the development of a mass politics and economic programme that could challenge the rule of transnational capital and the domestic and international political forces that serve it.
     The rule of transnational capital requires a hollowing out of Europe’s nation-states and the continuous transfer of more and more powers to the supranational level. The ideology driving this project forward is the complete opposite of the values of national democracy and national independence. It is an ideology that would allow the Irish people and other peoples to be sacrificed if it was considered necessary.
     Garret Fitzgerald was a central figure in providing the ideological cement for the Fine Gael-Labour-Fianna Fáil anti-people pro-EEC/EC/ EU consensus through organisations such as the Institute of International and European Affairs, of which he was president up to the time of his death.
     We are now in a European Union in which the interests of the peoples of Ireland, Greece, Portugal and other countries are very obviously being sacrificed in the interests of the euro zone.
     The ECB lent the Irish banks some €150 billion. From the ECB’s point of view its best plan for recovering the money it advanced to cover the reckless lending of the banks is to shift the burden of repayment onto the Irish taxpayers.
     The central issue at present is the ECB’s demand that the Irish state and taxpayers take on the burden of paying this €150 billion back to the ECB as rapidly as possible, so that, instead of the Irish banks owing the ECB this vast sum of money, the Irish state and taxpayers will do so, and will pay it back over years by flogging off the banks themselves to foreign owners, selling off the NAMA loans at knock-down prices, privatising state assets systematically, and screwing Irish taxpayers for this purpose.
     Where an individual, a party or a social movement stands in relation to this onslaught is the crucial democratic test at this moment in our history. Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil, large swathes of the media and the apostles of “Europeanism” are in one camp; an increasingly aware majority of the population are in the other.
     The threat of repudiating the private bank debt to the ECB and re-establishing the Irish pound must be the central demand of Irish democracy in the face of the euro-zone onslaught At present Ireland cannot restore its economic competitiveness by devaluing its currency. It can only become more competitive by “devaluing”—that is, by cutting—people’s pay, profits and pensions instead for years to come.
     Leaving the euro zone and rejoining the EU member-states outside it would enable the Irish state to resume control of its money supply and credit and thereby stimulate domestic demand and employment, while simultaneously it could boost Ireland’s economic competitiveness by devaluing the exchange rate.
     On the other hand, the Garret Fitzgerald-European Movement style of political legacy demands a knock-down bargain disposal of the recapitalised Irish banks, state assets and natural resources, so that we can pay back the ECB in order to ensure that private banks in Germany, France and Britain do not suffer losses on their Irish operations.
     It is a politically bankrupt legacy, which, at least in the case of Garret Fitzgerald, proves the truth of the old adage that political careers end in failure.

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