It’s an old song made famous by Nana Mouskouri, but it could well be the theme for the members of the Republic of Ireland’s parliament, Dáil Éireann, which adjourned yesterday for its Summer recess and is not due to sit again until Wednesday, 16th September – some nine weeks from now.
This annual break is taking at a time of unprecedented economic crisis and with it the social crisis of mass unemployment and falling living standards and the prospect of industrial unrest as employers seek to cut wages.
The TDs and Senators are already defending themselves, pointing out that committees will continue to meet for a while and constituency work is an unending task (although not actualy part of the job descritpion as a legislator).
Political activity will also continue with the second referendum on the EU Reform Treaty (aka the Lisbon Treaty) which will be held on October 2nd. The fact that the people already voted to reject the exact same treaty seems to count for little in this á la carte democracy of ours.
There are now over 410,000 people unemployed in the Republic (12%) with forcasts of it to rise to 15% or more. Unemployment has almost doubled in a twelve month period, with 197, 781 people added to the total in the year to June 2009. That is a shocking statistic in a country with a total population of just over four and a quarter million.
Parliaments which take 9 week long holidays during periods of crisis are like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand. To some extent it is a relief for the government that they don’t have to face a rowdy opposition in the daily circus that is the floor of Leinster House, even if the overwhelming majority of opposition deputies are welded to much the same policies as the parties in government – i.e. the market economy as king, profit before people, etc.
A disastrous performance for Fianna Fáil, the extinction of the Progressive Democrats and near electoral wipeout for the Green Party should set alarm bells ringing in the heads of every member of the government from the Taoiseach down but they don’t want to hear the bells. They are sick of the cacophony which their clumsy, inept and downright corrupt policies have brought upon them so they are taking a break, heading for the sea or the mountains and taking out Nero’s fiddle to drown out the din. It won’t work.
In fairness to Nero he took his own life. Now I’m not advocating that Brian Cowen and his ministers should do that but it is high time they smelled the coffee and fell on their proverbial swords. For the country’s sakes if not to end their own misery.
Not that I expect too much from the opposition. The blundering Enda Kenny who is even more welded to right wing economics and determined to work for his masters in IBEC, ISME and the World Bank to slash workers wages, sack thousands of state workers and slash even more public services such as hospitals, schools and local authorities.
It also seems unlikely that Enda will be able to form a government on his own so he will need a coalition partner. The Labour Party has had a long love / hate relationship with Fine Gael, it’s middle of the road social democratic policies usually get ditched when Labour and FG get hitched. Eamon Gilmore sounds good in opposition but his party’s track record in government is anything but good.
His speech to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions conference in Tralee earlier this week set the tone for Labour in govenment. Labour would protect workers rights and wages and introduce legislation to halt the “race to the bottom” and will fight for the Charter of Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty – Labour supports the Lisbon Treaty which will actually weaken workers rights but reinforcing court rulings which prote the freedom of circulation of capital and labour throughout the EU and mean that foreign workers in Ireland can be paid the national minimum wage which applies in their country of origin rather than the country in which they are resident and working – the same goes for working conditions and terms of employment. In effect Labour are making promises to the trade union movement which their own policies will not allow them to deliver because if Lisbon is passed in the second referendum there will be more deregulation and more anti-worker legislation forced upon this country by the EU.
Labour are talking the talk on issues like employment and there is merit in their proposals on housing construction and school building or refurbishment schemes – but Labour are also promising to give more money to the private sector for job retention and have little to say about a state job creation initiative.