Our annus horribilis

2011 was a miserable year, and we face the prospect of more misery in 2012 and beyond. By Vincent Browne.

It was the Bryan Dobson interview with Seán Gallagher on the evening of Tuesday, 2 October, that scuttled Gallagher's presidential campaign, not so much the theatrics of the previous night on Frontline.

Under pressure from Dobson, Gallagher acknowledged that he had not fully revealed the depth of his involvement with Fianna Fáil. His claims to be a genuine independent collapsed, as did his prospects of being president. It was a transformative moment, and perhaps important also.

The election of Gallagher as president - someone so previously embedded in Fianna Fáil - would, to my mind anyway, have affirmed the misery of our condition.

For 2011 was a miserable year, made all the more miserable by the election of a new government with a huge majority, which proved to be an incarnation of the old government we thought we had rejected.

It showed the same deference to high finance, the same subservience to our EU masters, the same willingness to inflict on Irish society the gigantic losses of our financial institutions, to preserve the solvency of the financial institutions of other countries.

With even greater vehemence, it showed a determination to resolve our financial predicament at the expense of the old, the sick and the vulnerable, while protesting that the entire objective was to protect the old, the sick and the vulnerable.

And the promise of a new politics was followed by yet more of the old politics, with the familiar perks and cronyism for good measure.

And still there's the prospect of more misery in 2012, yet more in 2013, and more still in 2014 and beyond.

And what is even more depressing is that there isn't public anger about this. Private anger, yes, but no public anger. No demonstrations, no demands to change how we order this society, no insistence on a fairer sharing of our income, wealth and privileges.

Libya was bombed to bits in 2011, with thousands of people killed in bombings allegedly authorised by a UN resolution that ordained military action to stop people being killed.

I know of no expression of unease about this by our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore, who, in a previous incarnation, would have been at the barricades - even if alone.

Gilmore may have been troubled by the revelation on Wikileaks that, following the outcome of the first referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in May 2008, while he had publicly proclaimed that the wish of the people in rejecting the treaty had to be respected and there should be no second referendum, at the same time he was telling the US ambassador here that there would be a second referendum and that he would support the calling of same.

If he was troubled by the revelation, he never acknowledged it - and nobody else, in the Labour Party or otherwise, appeared in the least bit troubled.

During the year, I met a fellow whom I had not met since my childhood. I enquired what he had been doing and he said he had been a teacher, but had taken early retirement.

"There was no incentive in teaching," he said. "No bonuses. There are bonuses everywhere else, but no bonuses in teaching and you get fed up with it. There was no point to it."

I thought it might be ungracious to involve him in argument after all the years since we had last met. So I didn't ask what he meant by saying there was no point to teaching if there weren't bonuses.

Wasn't there a point in the communication of knowledge, of perspectives, of a sense of belonging to a wider society, giving young people a sense of their self-worth?

Couldn't that be done by teachers without bonuses? Isn't it obvious that that is what teaching is about? Why do teachers need an incentive to do the obvious for which they are paid?

The fellow was from rural Ireland, like myself, though now also living in Dublin. He has a brother, a priest, whom I have met over the years, and the priest brother is not interested in bonuses.

I met a sister of his several years ago in Belfast and she was then in one of the caring professions.

She wasn't into bonuses then and, I hope, not much interested in bonuses now, although she was a member of a profession that is now very interested indeed in bonuses and the like.

The hordes of public servants now taking early retirement, coinciding with an arrangement that maximises their pension entitlements - or rather pension payments - suggests perhaps that my bonus friend was not unique.

Certainly, hordes of our public representatives have been into the bonus culture for decades.

This is depressingly vivid in the recently published catalogue of pensions enjoyed by our departed public representatives and ministers, 28 of whom are on pensions of over €100,000 for the rest of their lives, irrespective of age.

Mary Harney, aged 58, is on a pension of €129,806 for the rest of her life, having been paid millions while in public life, aside from the lavish perks and expenses she enjoyed - and she thinks she is entitled to it.

It's the new spirit of Ireland.

Image top: An Honorable German.