Posted By: November 22, 2014

Patrick Murphy.Irish News (Belfast).Saturday, November 22, 2014

OH dear, it looks like the revolution may have started in the south, while we in the
north have reared a new generation which does not even know how to build a
barricade. Dublin has recently witnessed the Tánaiste trapped in her car for two
hours by protesters. The Taoiseach attracts demonstrations wherever he goes and,
most revolutionary of all, Sinn Féin occupied the Dáil for an afternoon last week. 

Meanwhile, the north slumbers on in a Stormont-induced coma, blissfully immune from
the distractions of politics and economics. 

So why are there anti-austerity protests in Dublin, but not in Belfast? What
electoral impact will the protesters have and might the political outcomes of their
unruly behaviour somehow seep across the border? 

Although ostensibly against water charges, the southern protests have been triggered
by two main factors, one better known than the other. The first was the European
Union's (EU) German-led response to the global banking collapse of 2007: the demand
for government spending cuts to balance national budgets. 

Since the Irish government abandoned independence by joining the EU (a concept
supported by all Irish political parties, except the unionists) it must implement
Angela Merkel's futile economic policies, which even the Financial Times now regards
as discredited. 

The biggest threat to the global economy right now is the Eurozone, which is about
to enter its third recession in six years. Irish water charges are simply the latest
manifestation of the EU's flawed economic reasoning. (The US opted for economic
growth and job promotion.) 

In terms of economic policy, the Dublin government cannot behave differently. It is
in office, but not in power. As a result, the government (Fine Gael and Labour) and
the main opposition (Fianna Fáil) now barely manage 50 per cent support between

Sinn Féin's popularity has risen because support for traditional parties has fallen.
This collapse of the old political order can also be seen in Spain, where Podemos
("We can") a left-wing party founded just this year, now tops the opinion polls. In
Greece, Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) which became a single party only last
year, is now the most popular party. 

To enter government in Dublin, Sinn Féin just has to exist. The collapse of the old
political order in many EU states is unlikely to be reversed in the absence of new
economic policies - which brings us to the second trigger for anti-austerity
protests. Even if Ireland, Spain and Greece ended austerity tomorrow, it would not
address a less understood theme in European protest: inequality. It has increased
significantly since Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan introduced a new phase of
capitalism 25 years ago. (You may have missed it. We were busy killing each other at
the time.) 

It was driven not by manufacturing, but by a loosely regulated industry, known as
financial services (pension funds, hedge funds, equity funds.) It changed society. 

Instead of governments borrowing to fund equal access to housing, for example,
individuals were allowed (or even forced) to take out loans/mortgages at their own

Private debt replaced public debt and a new industry was created to service it,
organised by those receiving hefty fees and bankers' bonuses. Their sole aim was
short-term profit, which subverted traditional economic planning.
Policy-making-moved from government to the financial sector, away from electoral

When seeking loans or investment from the new financial services sector, businesses
were required to deliver higher profits - usually by cutting wages and thereby
increasing inequality. Meanwhile, people now on lower (or no) wages survive on
credit from those same financial institutions, for everything from payday loans to
mobile phones. 

So Ireland, like all EU governments, no longer has the power to address inequality. 

For example, the proposed new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)
between the EU and the US will grant private companies the right to sue governments
for passing laws which might affect their profits. 

So when Sinn Féin enters the Dublin cabinet, it will make little difference. (Irish
political upheaval rarely does.) Inequality is unlikely to be resolved without
placing economic planning back in government control - which would hardly be popular
with diners in New York's Sheraton Hotel. 

So as the world teeters on the brink of economic collapse, where is the one
political institution in Europe which will remain immune from social and economic
upheaval? You've guessed it - slumbering Stormont, which attracts no protest
whatever its behaviour. 

Which is one reason why Britain and the US are so keen to preserve it. They might
even hope that its model of electoral immunity could seep southwards. Now, there's a
reason for cross-border bodies.