Back to the future with Michael D and Giovanni Trapattoni?

“We must seek to build together an active, inclusive citizenship; based on participation, equality, respect for all, and the flowering of creativity in all its forms. A confident people is our hope, a people at ease with itself, a people that grasps the deep meaning of the proverb; Ní neart go cur le chéile’ - our strength lies in our common weal - our social solidarity.”

So declared the ninth President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, during the course of his inauguration speech in Dublin Castle on Friday November 11 2011.

Insider would like to take you back to the 1980s and to 1987 in particular when Michael D was elected to Dáil Éireann for the second time, a seat which he would hold up to February 2011. He was first elected to the Dáil in 1981.

As November 11 2011 will forever be remembered as a very special day by the people of Galway for the inauguration of one of our own as President of Ireland, so too should November 11 1987 be remembered as another truly momentous occasion. On this historic morning the nation awoke to the news that Gary MacKay had scored a famous late goal for Scotland in Bulgaria on the previous evening which qualified the Republic of Ireland for the finals for Euro 88 in Germany.

Is the past a foreign country?

There are many similarities between then and now. Galway in the 1980s was a grim enough place. The political landscape was dominated by Fianna Fáil except for a short break from November 1982 to 1987 when Fine Gael had two of the five seats in Galway West.

The sight of distraught parents on the platform at Ceannt Station or the departure lounge in Shannon, bidding farewell to their offspring as they left for London, Birmingham, Coventry, Manchester, Boston, New York, or elsewhere, was a common sight. Up to recently our emigrants were about to leave from Galway Airport for world-wide connections.

Mortgage interest rates in the 1980s, for those lucky enough to be approved by the lenders, were in the high teens. Digital in Ballybrit, Crown Control and Thermo King in Mervue, were the main employers, along with the then Western Health Board, the Galway County Council, and the Galway Corporation.

Since 1981 Galway always had a couple of Government ministers who could attract investment and protect employment prospects - think of Bobby Molloy, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, John Donnellan, Mark Killilea, and Frank Fahey. None of them would have let the airport go!

In 1988 Jack Charlton was in charge of the Republic of Ireland team when Ray Houghton put the ball in the English net at the Neckarstadion in Stuttgart in the then West Germany on June 12. The State was then, as now, in the grip of a serious recession, but we had the credit unions. Those of us who were able to “follow our creative instincts in many forms”, such as the need to change the family car, convert the garage, or install central heating, convinced the manager in the credit union to advance the necessary loan and we headed for Germany. Christy Moore penned the ballad ‘Joxer’s Trip To Stuttgart’ and our confidence as a nation began to grow.

The German connection is ironic once again now that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Frankfurt are daily news, our sovereignty having been ceded to Germany by Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan.

Throughout the nineties and up to the mid-noughties we exuded confidence. Our economy appeared to be booming, we qualified for the 2002 World Cup, and Michael D set up TnaG (now TG4 ). Galway was a good place to be. O’Connells on a Friday evening with the champagne corks popping was better still. Eyre Square was bumper to bumper with new and top range Mercs. The bankers, developers, and the odd politician were holding court.

Loans for expensive houses, built on expensive lands ,were being shovelled out to unsuspecting borrowers - no need to have saved the deposit, no need to comply with the two and a half times earning capacity as was the norm in the 1970s and 1980s. Greed and arrogance set in, for a period we were “a people at ease with itself”, but only because property values were climbing.

Politicians - not worth the money

This arrogance still prevails, but to a much lesser degree and is confined to politicians and bankers. The developers have gone.

Former tánaiste and minister for health Mary Harney survives on an annual pension of €129,805 because “she is worth it”. Presumably the other 108 former taoisaigh and ministers, who among them pocket €8.67 million in annual pensions also feel they are worth it. These include Bobby Molloy (€113,667 ), Frank Fahey (€113,141 ), Noel Treacy (€83,609 ), Tom Hussey (€61,215 ), Paul Connaughton (€67,688 ), and John Donnellan (€40,798 ) - all way in excess of the wages earned by the new working poor on the average industrial wage or the 447,000 who are now unemployed and signing on.

Now we come to our Senators who occupy the biggest waffle shop in the State and trouser in excess of €110,000 a year between salary and expenses. They are not democratically elected and comprise mainly of ‘wannabes’ and ‘has beens’ who were rejected by the electorate. Senators, on average, spend two-and-a-half days per week tending the shop, talking to and at one another, replicating the work being undertaken in the Dáil.

The new Council of State, to be appointed by President Higgins, could do the work of the Seanad much more efficiently by meeting just once a month - Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin please note!

Indeed would we miss our senators if they disappeared next week? Insider thinks not.

Our 166 TDs earn an average of €135,000 a year. Add in the secretarial staff, parliamentary assistants, advisors, and a plethora of handlers, and the total bill to the taxpayer for running our bloated Oireachtas for 2012 will exceed €115 million, an increase of €3 million on the cost for 2011.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he would abolish the Seanad and reduce the number of TDs. Now is the time to start working on this given the snails pace at which the current Oireachtas functions. Just imagine what we could do with the financial savings - in a Galway context we could keep the St Francis Home in Newcastle open, we could fund the SNAs who are being let go, re-open the closed wards in UHG and Merlin Park, employ more nurses, etc, etc, etc.

Oh, and Insider nearly forget to mention the €14 million politicians voted through on September 27, after their eight weeks summer holidays, to offset the costs of the pension scheme for politicians, and redundancy payments for secretarial staff who had, in the main, worked for Fianna Fáil TDs and senators who were rejected by the electorate in February.

Insider is sure the beleaguered staff at Galway Airport, who are now being made redundant, would have a view of this increase.

As always it is one law for the political class, another for everyone else. Sheer arrogance!

Trap and Michael D - a winning team?

Enough of economics, let us get back to the football. We are on our way to Poland and the Ukraine for the Euro 2012 championships. Heineken Cup rugby has come to Galway. We have a football man as our president (Michael D Higgins is president of Galway United FC ) and just like the Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni, he is in his seventies.

Both are wily, experienced, campaigners who can kick-start our revival as a nation. Between them they can help us “to build together an active, inclusive citizenship based on participation, equality and respect for all”.

It took an Englishman to build our confidence in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Let our two septuagenarian leaders do likewise now, but this time without the greed and arrogance of the last decade. Olé.


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