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11 January 2001 Edition

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2000 and 2001 - The best and worst of times


Wealth and poverty, boom and bust, crime and punishment, superhighways and gridlock, corruption and denial, new technologies and old inequities. - This was the Ireland of the millennium year and will probably be the Ireland of the new 21st century.

This coming year has all the potential needed to fulfill the opening lines of Dickens' Tale of Two Cities, where he writes that ``It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us''.

Never before in the history of modern Ireland has a government stood with so much potential to redress inequalities, to promote education, to develop the economy equitably and sensitively to the needs of protecting and enhancing our environment, to rebuild our health service, to remove the causes of poverty and deprivation.

Never before has there been a government so unwilling to take up these tasks. It is this that contributes to the feeling that this is the best and worst of times. Add to this an economy thriving with a false hue. Yes, tax returns are at higher levels, and yes exports are at record levels. Car sales surpassed previous records, Dublin had 100,000 new registrations. Yes, there are more people working than ever before and yes, the 26 Counties has become the world's largest exporter of software products. Applause now please.

However, it is these records that could bring about the worst of times. On a simple level it is apparent to anyone working in the `Tiger' economy just what some of the downsides are. For hundreds of thousands of people it means spending up to two hours and more a day just sitting in a car or bus traveling to and from work.

It means earning more money but also spending it on more expensive houses and then watching over the last year interest payments go up month on month adding to the cost of an already overpriced good.

In the last weeks there have been a growing number of scare stories about the possible bottoming out of the US economy. For our export orientated economy, this could mean disaster. The USA has over the last year surpassed Britain as the largest single market for Irish exports.

A recession in the USA means that they will buy less computers, that means much less Intel chips being sold and much less Hewlett Packard printer ink cartridges, less Xerox photocopiers, less Microsoft and IBM software products and ultimately back in Ireland much less people working.

For now, this is a big if. It is unclear as to what really is a happening in the US economy. Wall Street scaremongers have been predicting a faltering US economy throughout the Clinton presidency.

The real negative implications of any downturn in the US are not just in how it would affect our economy north and south; it is also in the need to recognise that when it comes to economic policy the Dublin government do not have a Plan B. For the past 20 years it has been the economic equivalent of route one football. Pick some winner areas, bring in the transnationals and export. Many of the indigenous Irish companies that have developed are selling services to international companies sited here. If there is a downturn internationally these companies will suffer also.

The narrow parameters within which the Dublin government is operating when it comes to economic policy were so apparent in the year just past. The inability of the coalition to effectively tackle inflation or currency issues is a prime example. In fact, Bertie Ahern and Charlie McCreevy spend the first half of 2000 denying there was even a problem with inflation. In December, the Dublin government, after years of ceding away control of economic policy mounted a late rearguard action to save domestic control of tax policies.

Now in 2001, they will try and sell us the Nice Treaty in a referendum and it will be just one of the things that will create a feeling of De Ja Vous in the coming year.

For example, last January we saw the takeover of Esat by British Telecom. Now this year is set to start with Eircom selling their mobile phone subsidiary Eircell to British Vodfone company.

In February, the social partners agreed the terms of the Partnership for Prosperity and Fairness. (PPF). The paper was barely dry and the agreement was in trouble. Though the PPF was shored up in December and it will still cause dissent in 2001.

Globalisation protestors were present throughout 2000 in Davos, Washington, London, Melbourne, Prague and Nice. This year the globalisation campaigns will be still be worth watching.

On the domestic front, the two tribunals will no doubt trundle on with the public wondering when will anyone go to jail, directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200.

10 resolutions for the Dublin government

1 Start a real campaign for the shutdown of not just Sellafield with its Thorp and MOX fuel reprocessing plants but the entire British nuclear industry

2 Name the Ansbacher account holders and make clear what punishments they will face. This is the year to name, shame and jail them

3 Pay proper childcare costs to all families, not just tax breaks for the high income earners

4 Bring back the 20% of hospital beds taken out of the public health care system in the 1987 to `89 period. This means increasing the number of nurses and doctors also and while your at it make the funding and reorganization necessary to finally tackle hospital waiting lists

5 Declare Ireland a GM-free zone. This would mean not only banning the growing or experimentation with GM foods in Ireland, it would also mean stopping the import, distribution and sales of products with GM foods in them

6 Have a truly fair and open referendum on the Nice Treaty. This means giving the No campaign the funds to run a proper campaign in the media rather than the piecemeal efforts that have been the norm since the McKenna judgment

7 Stop the incinerator proposals and implement a real waste management strategy

8 End the Flood and Moriarty tribunals with some prosecutions and imprisonments

9 Stop giving your friends cushy jobs in the EU

10 Build more quality housing and stop the profiteering in the private sector by developers and speculators

An Phoblacht, public person of the year 2000 - Liam Lawlor.

Lawlor played a blinder in the last months of the year, coming out of the fog of who got what in the Flood Tribunal to become not only Mr Big, but also Mr ``What was the question again?''

Even though monetarily Haughey's £8.5 million in backhanders, sorry, in presents from well meaning people who recognised the great job he was doing ruining, sorry, running our nation, sorry statele,t and how underpaid he was at the same time, is almost double the £4 million Lawlor clocked up, Liam is still our public person of the year.

Not as verbally deft as Haughey, Lawlor still has qualities of obstinacy and an ability to turn even the simplest of questions into an apparent persecution complex. Lawlor's determination in ignoring not only the Flood Tribunal requests but also a succession of High Court rulings also helped his nomination.

However, it was also his singular unshakeable belief that nobody will get past our Liam and that everyone else has got it wrong that made his nomination inevitable. Add to this his maze of bank accounts and consultancy companies and you have the complete man.

Liam also managed to stretch public incredulity to new lengths last year and with two impressively combative High Court appearances already this month, he seems set to go from strength this year.

With Haughey about to exit stage left, Liam Lawlor could be our man for the best GUBU exponent over the coming year. Go boy go, go directly to...

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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