Opinion – Greece and the Curious Case of Disappearing Democracy

As it so often does, a recent Waterford Whispers News article made me laugh out loud: ‘Nation With 220,000 Children Living in Poverty Tells Greece Austerity Works.’ This got me thinking about the situation in Greece and here in Ireland. Article available here.

The international debate on Greece’s debt default is fast becoming a moralistic one on what Greece should do, rather than on addressing the potential faults that have emerged within the EU and the ECB and their wielding of power. This moralistic debate also has cultural undertones, however we need to dig deeper to look at the undemocratic nature of the EU and how under the guise of democracy we have been sold one of centralised power and bias policy making.

But what of Ireland, the good guys in this. For whom austerity was the proverbial hangover after the Celtic tiger party. Let’s face it, we all partied, we all had to knuckle down. Putting our shoulders to the wheel was the phrase bandied about at the time. Well done Enda on selling that to us, and also well done to the people who actually did party, sure you are out of bankruptcy now and buying up all that cheap land to develop for the people who can’t now get a mortgage… But those 220,000 children in the afore mentioned article, are the same 220,000 children who were living in poverty during the Celtic tiger years. Turns out that a rising tide lifts all boats, but only for those in the bigger boats and if we take action to build a harbour and some moorings. Whoops. Now we are facing a situation where lone parents are being encouraged to find work. Because raising children by yourself isn’t work enough. The proliferation of the Tory rhetoric of the undeserving poor has not only been adopted, it is now being implemented. But that’s austerity, we all have to do our bit to get the country back on its feet. No more lolly gagging around for parents living in low grade rented accommodation on a means tested payment. If you are renting haven’t lost your home already due to sky rocketing rents and a painfully slow policy response, you most certainly will now given the abundance of well-paid flexible part time jobs out there at the moment. But you won’t want to be going in at the top anyway after a break from the labour market, you will have to work your way up!

In direct line with the EU tendency to move power away from the people, so has the government moved it away from the people. With no social policy framework for engagement, absolute power has been presumed absolutely. Unimaginative, thoughtless and pointless policy decisions has abounded due to the government’s reluctance to engage with stakeholders in a meaningful way. In addition to this, cutting the budgets of NGO’s has severely limited their ability and confidence in representing their members. We are now seeing parents of seriously and terminally ill children taking to the national airwaves to maintain their medical cards. Serious signs that our social policy system works not for the people, but for the policy makers. There is now no system of checks and balances and no representation. Hegemony of a cultural sort, the culture of the best buddies. In this government’s quest for reform and the mandate that they were voted in on, they have established the best buddies as the last bastion of our political elite. They have increased the burden on working and low income families and are failing now to get any answers from the banking tribunal. We were promised a banking inquiry as part of political reform, but what is the point really, is we are failing to ask the right questions. Responsible economic management is characterised by removing fiscal privilege for construction and implementing regulation in the financial sector. We have seen no questions about these, only a stream of faces that are in denial about their role in building economic growth based on property. But these people who were at the helm, who still won’t admit their roles within the Celtic tiger are now on six figure pensions, some with years before retirement. No sign of these being means tested or targeted in a meaningful way as part of austerity measures. I am glad we are in this together lads, because through our narrative of austerity we have hit the poorest the hardest. And I say we, we are after all a democracy.

As for Greece, I hope that they vote for the best possible outcome for their country, signalling signs that it is not their failing as a country that has brought them into the position of default, but that of the EU and ECB as another model of hegemony in the name of democracy that doesn’t work for every country. And maybe that’s not the case, but we do need to do is to start opening the debate on the meaning of democracy and power and how it is manifested in our country, and our EU. The trend towards the centralisation of power can be reversed, but we have to become active citizens for this to happen.  

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