As Time Goes By - October 1983
Do we really need Leitrim? It's not an easy question to ask. People's feelings can be hurt. The issue may prove divisive. Nevertheless, the Spontaneous Aggravation Party (SAP) has earned its reputation of grasping the nettle by the horns of the dilemma. And last month's Execuutive meeting of SAP did that very thing - and in the process forged a new economic concept.
Do we really need Leitrirn?
No offence, mind you. No one is putting Leitrim down. No one is denyying that county's harsh beauty, the mind-expanding calmness of Lough Allen, the sorrowful mysteries of Kiltyclogher and stuff like that. Drummshanbo, home of the Mayflower Balllroom, has a special place in my own heart. No one can doubt that Leitrim is a unique and pleasing stitch in the fabric of our society, or that the loss of that county would leave a small hollow in the soul of the nation.
That is not the point. Of course we want Leitrim. The question is: do we need Leitrim?
Some background. SAP has in recent months been accused of being merely destructive. "Knock, knock, knock", say our critics. "Why can't you be constructive? Why can't you build up instead of always tearing down? Our poor nation needs all the constructive suggestions it can get in this, its hour of need." That's the kind of thing people say to us.
Okay. Do we really need Leitrirn? Things are bad. Week after week jobs are melting away. A number of foreign banks have had to build new vaults to hold our IODs. Irish capital is on strike. Two hundred thousand workers are locked out. The economy is in crapsville and the New Economic Order has taken over the government. The word is out - get your finger out and pull up your socks; roll up your sleeves and tighten your belt; then lean over and put your nose to the grinddstone. It's an uncomfortable position, but just close your eyes and think of Ireland.
Stern measures, we are told, are in order. In January 1982 Garret FitzGerald sat down with John Bruton and they asked each other: do kids really need shoes? They decided the kids didn't and put 18% V AT on their footwear. Since then the New Econoomic Order has asked itself if kids really need free school transport. Answer - no. Hop it, kid.
John Kelly, God bless him, has wondered if we really need all these young people hanging around street corners. He decided we don't and encouraged them to bugger off out of it and give the rest of us a chance to make a few bob.
So, you can see that SAP's new economic policy is in this tight-belts tradition. Leitrim, we love you - but sacrifices must be made for the commmon good. We must liquidate some of our assets.
The thing about Leitrim is that it doesn't have any big cities or towns, it doesn't have any centres of industry. It just kind of sits there, getting on with its life. In short, we don't really need it.
How do we go about turning this prime piece of real estate into cash on the barrelhead? We could raffle it. A limited draw. "Own your own county".
Or we could cut it up into 12" by 12" pieces and flog it to the Yanks. "Wanna peeca de oul sod, yer honour?"
But SAP policy is more imaginative.
We believe that Leitrim should be disposed of in such a way as to create downstream industries.
Sell it to the Russians.
Don't bother yourself with all that nonsense about spies. What in the name of jazus kind of secrets have we got that the Russians would want, apart from our methods of turf prooduction and the technique of getting the figs into the figrolls? The Russians would clear our national debt overrnight and leave us with enough folding green to build an airport beside every holy statue in the country. It's a natural.
Okay, so they'd build a wall around Leitrim and put up a few mental hosspitals to stash their cranks and dissiidents. Sure, wouldn't that do wonders for the building industry?
I've just had a phone call to say that surely this would make the Yanks angry with us. Indeed it would. And for that reason, and in order to assert our neutrality, it would be incumbent upon us to sell Westmeath to the Yanks.
There would be some problems, of course. Some of the Irish citizens in these counties are quite attached to them, for some reason or other. Howwever, each sales contract would have a clause guaranteeing the right of those born there to live out their days in what was their county. Another clause would guarantee that the essence of their Irishness was respected - i.e. all official letters sent to them would begin, "A Chara".
The spinoffs would be enormous.
Longford, slap bang between New Russia and New America, would beecome known as The Peace County. It would get great write-ups in Time and Newsweek, not to mention Pravda, and so many tourists would flood in that everyone in the county would be as rich as Albert Reynolds.
All of the counties surrounding New Russia and New America would prosper, building large hotels to house the spies and journalists who would come to get a peek. We could arrange regular international incidents if the flood of visitors slowed down. Rosscommon would become the natural venue for international summits.
We've got 26 counties, we wouldn't miss two. In fact, we could probably squeeze enough cash out of the Russians and Yanks to buy back the other six. (This has now become SAP's Northern policy - it's as realistic as anything coming out of Dublin, Lonndon or Belfast these days.)
There are some people who would quibble, some who would have doubts about the morality of this plan. Well, anyone who believes that current economic policy is based on any kind of morality, rather than political and economic expediency, please raise one hand. See? Case closed.