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Sunday, 7 March 2010

Times Are Tough...

"Citizens at the frontline are way down the list: the priority remains sorting out the banks to the best satisfaction of the banks"...


When times are tough, choices must be made, priorities laid out. Last week, a film screened at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival showed what happens when such priorities pay scant attention to lives lived at the frontline of recession.

Meeting Room is a documentary charting the rise and fall of the Concerned Parents Against Drugs (CPAD) movement. CPAD was formed in 1982 to tackle the problem of drugs in inner city Dublin, where dealing and injecting were as common as little boys kicking football on the street.

CPAD began with a meeting in Hardwicke Street, attended by, among others, Jesuit priest Jim Smyth. Pretty soon a plan of action was devised. Dealers would be asked to attend meetings of residents where they would be told to desist or leave the area immediately. If the dealers didn't show, the assembled marched on the offending abodes from which the drugs were being dealt.

Some violence was inevitable, as was the spectre of the odd innocent party getting caught up in the determined march towards a safe environment for child rearing. There was also the targeting of some junkies, pathetic creatures beyond redemption who were living through rather than living off addiction.

It was a summary approach to justice, but desperate times called for desperate measures. Those who lived beyond the confines of state-created ghettos in the inner city could afford to equivocate on the morality of what was afoot. Those whose children were being exposed to shooting up heroin as today's are to Dora the Explorer had no such luxury. They had to intervene because the straitened times led to the state abdicating its responsibilities to a large tract of its citizens.

We are once again in straitened times and the issue of priorities is coming into sharper focus by the day. Again, large tracts of citizens at the frontline are way down the list of things that matter. There is little focus on the growing, and predominantly young, constituency of the unemployed. Those running small businesses continue to struggle for air in a stifling atmosphere of dry credit.

Meanwhile, the government's priority remains sorting out the banks to the best satisfaction of the banks, on the presumed basis that recovery will trickle down into the economy.

Those at the top of the list of priorities include the shareholders and bondholders in banks and the presumed perceptions of foreign investors. While these people matter in terms of sorting out the banks, all indications are that the government believes little else matters right now.

Last week, we were treated to the latest chapter in this terrifying narrative. When the government injected €3.5bn into Bank of Ireland last March, we were told by Brian Lenihan we would receive a tidy 8% annual dividend from the investment. The first payment fell due last week. Instead of getting our money, we received a stake in a bank that is worth diddly squat.

This would be bad enough if it were an isolated case. In the next few weeks, a similar scenario is scheduled to be played out with AIB. And worst of all, the economic boffins are estimating another €6bn will be required for Anglo Irish Bank, an entity which is en route to the knacker's yard.

Elsewhere, the great white hope, Nama, trundles on towards the nightmares of citizens not yet born.

Last week, the EU gave it the thumbs up. The pace of Nama's workings was highlighted with the news that lenders must provide over 1,000 pieces of data on each loan being transferred. The banks, whose reckless behaviour required the establishment of Nama, are to get €230m per annum in fees for managing the loans they recklessly created.

We already know from the IMF that Nama is unlikely to free up credit, which effectively discredits the premise for setting it up. Ideology, and the terror of state control of the banks, led the government into Nama, and now we are left with a beast that could run amok.

But the priorities as laid out by the government demanded no less. In this scheme of things, the immediate plight of the unemployed and those who struggle with small businesses are way down the list of priorities.

Meeting Room was a blast from the past, a reminder of where fate can lead people when the state relegates their problems to the bottom of the queue. Ignoring the disenfranchised is something any government does at its peril.

So far, today's disenfranchised have endured silently in quiet desperation. The hope in government most likely mirrors that of their predecessors in the 1980s. With a bit of luck, the youngest and most able of the unemployed will up sticks and leave. Already immigration has picked up and is likely to increase further once other economies begin recovering.

But the scale of youth unemployment among the low-skilled is particularly acute, with one in three men under 25 now out of work. Little priority has been given to creating an environment where people can invest hope in a jobs market.

Equally, the future for small businesses continues to darken as banks revert to the most cautious approach to offering credit. The government has paid scant attention to rescuing a sector which would be vital to recovery.

Priorities have been laid out. In the banks the government continue to trust exclusively. Everybody else must stand and wait, whatever the accumulating cost of that strategy.


Report Michael Clifford - Sunday Tribune

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