"The country is broke"

Everybody knows that Ireland is broke. So many important people have told us this so many times that it simply must be true. The story is so familiar at this stage that it almost writes itself. The good times are over and we will have to stop living beyond our means. Even the risk takers and thrill seekers who made the desert bloom in the first place are on their uppers. We will all have to tighten our belts. But at least we're all in this together...By Colin Coulter


The story has been retold so many times that it has assumed the status of fact. In reality, however, it is not a fact but a convenient myth. It's not hard to see why people would believe that the country is broke. This myth spun by politicians and the corporate media accords after all with most Irish people's experience of the crash. With most people worried about keeping their jobs and their houses, it really does feel as if the country is bankrupt. But it's not.

In spite of the traumas of the last couple of years, Ireland continues to generate more wealth than almost any other country on the face of the planet. The problem is that so much of the money that we create ends up in the hands of people who already have more cash than they know what to do with.

So much of the propaganda that passes for dispassionate analysis during this crisis centres upon what Richard Sennett has called the 'dangerous pronoun'. There can never have been a time in the history of the state when the word 'we' has been bandied about with such carefree disregard for its actual meaning. We lost the run of ourselves. We will have to take our medicine. We will all have to stop whinging and act in the national interest. And on and on. The reality is though that there is no 'we'. There is only a 'them' and an 'us'. So 'we' simply cannot all be in this together.

The last couple of years have been a time of anxiety and insecurity for the vast majority of Irish people. But not everybody is having a bad recession. The multinational corporations still employ creative accountancy to produce grotesquely inflated profits. Most of those who amassed personal fortunes during the boom have managed to hold on to them. That is why the luxury car trade still thrives, why the most exclusive restaurants in South Dublin are turning away customers and why a certain retailer on Grafton Street continues to part the foolish and the rich from their not terribly hard earned cash.

As for those heroes of the boom who, we are told, flew too close to the sun and melted their wings, they seem to be doing alright for themselves. The visionaries that brought us the hordes of rabbit hutches that blight the skyline of every Irish city and even village have seemingly lost the lot but somehow still manage to be living the dream. It's almost enough to make you think that perhaps they're not that broke after all.

So maybe we shouldn't believe everything we hear on the radio and see on the telly. The country may well be broken but it certainly isn't broke. There is plenty of money being created in Ireland. The problem is that too much of it is in too few hands. Until we change that, we really are in big trouble. Until they start sharing the wealth, why would we even consider sharing the pain?