Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why I Voted YES

After going from yes to no to maybe and back a few times I voted “Yes” in the Fiscal Compact referendum today. You see, it’s like everything, nothing is ever pure and there will always be a part of it that you do or don’t like with particular gusto, but at some stage you have to weigh the options and then decide, because not voting also influences the result and there is nothing worse than people whining about the state of the country if they don’t vote at all So being a Yes voter doesn’t mean I agree with everything in there, it just means I think it’s the better choice. And as I don’t see myself as a preacher woman, I decided to write this blog after I voted, and not as treaty thumping canvasser.

So what do I not like? Nearly everything. I suppose a lot of people have their issues with article 3. That’s the one that says there are deficit rules for all countries who go with the treaty. It means that Ireland can only have a structural deficit of max 3% of the GDP. Given that last year our deficit was 11% it seems obvious that we won’t be able to manage to get it down to the 3% which will mean breaking the rules and then being liable to pay fines, which are explained in article 8. Thing is though, the rules would be introduced gradually, and I feel more comfortable being part of those rules than part of the system that brought us to where we are now. Also, many countries will struggle with these rules, and there are exceptions available for some circumstances, so who knows where it will all end. Possibly in tears, but aren’t we on our knees as it is?

But do we need the fiscal clause at all? Does the EU need to create and enforce rules like this? Surely if we agree with the whole idea of the deficit structure we can just make our own rules around it, the same rules even, but just for ourselves. Surely we could change and amend it if we felt like it, instead of having big bad Europeans trying to control our lovely little self sufficient independent island that has no need to interact with the rest of the world? Besides, what about all the ‘austerity’ talk? Does it mean that we have to live within our means forever and ever? Does that mean more and more cuts and no spending even during good times? Well not really. We may be on our knees, but we won’t be on them forever. And that is where I wonder about our long term perspective when it comes to the treaty. Does it mean our future economic policies will be choked by what we agree to now?

On top of that the terms of the treaty are not good for the lefties. Now despite being left handed and outspoken, I wouldn’t be a huge leftie myself, but keeping tabs on the future spend of a government is the polar opposite of Keynesian economics. So is this a power grab by the conservative Europeans governments in order to put down left wing politics? Surely it would mean that if a future elected government is left-wing those wings will already be clipped when it comes to creating new economic policies? And even if ultimately, I see the treaty being altered in the future, you have to assume that it is what it is, and that the vote you cast is looking at both short and long term. A bit like signing up for a mortgage I guess.

So what are the other options? Reject, default, leave the Euro, devalue, and move from there. Painful choices, but they have their points too. We like to see Iceland as our model student in doing something like this. Only thing is though, Iceland was not part of the Euro. Because we chose to join the euro our economy is tied in to other ones in a way that Iceland isn’t. More importantly, we need to remember that we have gone beyond the Icelandic solution anyway, due to the bank guarantee, and like it or not, it’s something we cannot just ditch at this stage.

But let’s just say we were to take the Icelandic route anyway, we might be looking at functioning better in the longer term, but what the hell do we do in the meantime? What would happen when there is no money in the ATM? No social welfare payments? No police, school teachers or hospital services? And even scarier and more irresponsible is that it may not even work for us. Treating our economic crisis as if it were a simple graze on the knee is a nice thought, but one that is about as connected to reality as thinking that the Fiscal Compact will also be the answer to the maiden’s prayer.

So why am I voting yes?

This is all about being practical and real above having an idealistic notion of how things should be in a perfect world. How we got to where we are has to be put aside for a moment, in favour of looking at reality, and fact is, that the harm it could cause for hospitals, all of the public services, peoples lives, etc… would be too horrendous. And although I’m leaving the country in a few weeks to go live in Germany (I’ll tell them to go easy on us), I still couldn’t do that given that I care about the people who I’m leaving behind. So despite my moral issues with all of this, I cannot, hand on heart agree to Ireland taking on the risk of financial uncertainty in the form it could come if we don’t vote yes. And I hate all of this, because I feel I’m being bullied to a degree, but it’s where we are, we need to be real. Without a shadow of a doubt, we are going to need a bailout a bit further up the road, and for that, we need the ESM, which we cannot access without saying ‘Yes’ to the treaty. So even if the treaty itself seems filled with pitfalls, we are going to need access to the ECM.

So, there you go, voting yes does not mean I am all gung ho about the fiscal treaty; I won’t even be excited about what way the voting goes. Just don’t see any other way around it, given that we have come so far, and when you are trapped on a ravine stuck between a rock and a hard place, do you tell the helicopter hovering overhead, that yes, you’ll pay back whatever it costs for the rest of your life if they come save you, or do you tell them to stop bullying you with their terms and conditions and that you’ll try to save yourself on your own as you don’t like the way they operate. And then what? Would you try to save yourself through the power of prayer and positive thinking? I think I’d chose the bully…

Monday, May 28, 2012

Galway NIght Life

Tuesday isn't a night that I'd usually venture further than the fridge, but last week was an exception. I found myself with a young woman and a bottle out on the tiles. Thing is though, the young woman was my daughter, the bottle was water and the tiles were the green 1950's floor of the A&E department at university hospital Galway. For some reason, the word Beirut started going around my head once we entered. That, and the smell of stale alcohol mixed with hand sanitiser. There's a queue to sign in and I'm already ranking people in order of who should or should not be here. The young mother's with toddlers who they think might have bruised their hand or arm or something ridiculously minor should be sent home, along with the people who seem to be serial visitors of this place, greeting the security man on the door by his first name. But I decide that once they see my feverish daughter they will tell us to bypass the queue and take a look at her straight away. Due to some sort of misunderstanding though, we are sent to take a seat along with the other dozens of miserable looking people cramming the place.
The triage nurse calls us in after a bit and does the usual blood pressure stuff. She doesn't wear a name tag and I guess that this is for her own protection. There are massive signs everywhere warning you not to give out to the staff, which suggests that it may be a common occurance. I wonder what terrible things the staff do to provoke the public into such behaviour, or is it just that hospitals attract the aggressive types?
Above. A&E Galway last Tuesday night. We've come a long way...
'When did she last take paracetemol?' The Gaiety school of acting could not train a person to speak with such monotonous nonchalance. If her voice were the heart monitor it would have been a flat line.
 'About an hour ago', I reply.
'Did you bring any more with you?'
'No, you can only take them every four hours.'
'She'll need to take some then in three hours.'
'So you mean we'll be waiting longer than that to see a doctor?'
'Oh God, yeah.' (She actually uses intonation for this one).
I am afraid to point out that this is ridiculous, given that I only need someone to take a look down her throat, but I am afraid that having an opinion may result in a longer wait, or even being escorted off the premises by the very important looking security man.
We are sent back outside to wait for the 3 hours or more until a doctor eventually will have time to tell me whether she should discontinue the antibiotics, is it meningitis, is it quinsy, or could it be glandular fever?
It's 8pm and the waiting room is chokablock. There are a number of over protective mothers with children who do not look sick, and although I am one of them myself, I still think we should be seen first because my daughter is on fire and has already fainted today. Well maybe the baby whose cough sounds more like a rabid dog should be seen first, but we should definitely be seen second. A stream of people from the travelling community are going up and down the corridor. Their loved one must have been admitted, and they are all there to offer support. I feel a twinge of envy at their close knit family and the effort they are making to be supportive. I know if it were me who'd been admitted my family and friends would just not have the time to come see me, especially at this time of the evening when it clashes with Coronation Street. A youngish woman in pyjama bottoms and a winter coat arrives in and sits beside me. She is carrying a pot which she proceeds to get sick into. I can't help seeing it, it's green bilous dangerous looking stuff. It's disgusting. I want to move beside someone with something uncomplicated like an ulcerated leg, but my daughter wants to give the woman her water. I have an aha moment where I realise that myself and the daughter are both quite different in nature.
Then there's the 'there's always someone worst than you' moment when an elderly lady is discharged from the golden gates of inner casualty. She stumbles as far as the waiting area. Black eye, arm in plaster, bandaged gash on head. She flops into one of the seats and even my hardened self begins to feel the tears well up. Her injuries would take down a boxer, but she is already old and feeble. I decide that it's ok to wait the three hours if there are people like her being seen to.
But then the ambulance men wheel in a drunk on a stretcher. I recognise the guy as one of the local hobos. There's blood pouring from his head and I tell myself that one must be politically correct and remember that a head injury is a head injury, even if self inflicted with tax payers money on dole day. This will probably cost us another hour in the queue.
A woman who seems to be one of the serial visitors here, because what else would you be doing on a Tuesday night, decides to play the good samaritan and hands me a magazine. It is one of those sensational sob story rags, and I'm not sure why it is needed in a room like this. I browse through it in order to feign appreciation. There are stories about children being murdered, children dying of rare diseases and children being neglected by junkie parents.
The people from the traveller community are growing in numbers and leaving in tears. An older woman comes in accompanied by some younger ones. She stops on her way in and sits on one of the chairs in casualty, hands in her face, she is crying, and it is a rare moment where a light shines into somebody elses pain. It goes through me as if it were my own. Somebody must be very ill, a loved one. Maybe there is someone fighting for their life tonight, so I decide not to bang on the golden doors of the inner circle to complain about the wait.
The triage nurse, let's just call her 'old misery pants' seeing as we don't know her name, comes out and calls someone's name. One of the young guys from the traveller community spontaneously shouts out
'he died'! I can't help laughing out loud so we both get daggers looks from old misery pants whilst the guy whose name she called out comes limping towards her.
'Ah sorry love, I'm only messing.' The traveller dude sounds like he's used to saying sorry. I like the thought that this place is so bizarrely dysfunctional and warzone-like, that you really could have a corpse slouched on one of the chairs, and who the hell would notice?
My daughter's health is rapidly deteriorating and it's now midnight. Old misery pants calls us back in to administer paracetemol and to tell us that despite being there for four hours already that we will have a further four hour wait as we are number 12 on the list. The ex husband has been on the phone earlier in the evening to tell me that in Germany we would have gone to a ENT emergency room and waited max an hour to be seen.
'So you're telling me that she won't be looked at until 4am?'
'That's right, unless an emergency comes in, then it'll be longer.'
I work out in my non-medical head that it would be better to give up at this stage and go home. We can see a doctor at 9am, which is only a few hours more than the wait but which will mean sleeping in the meantime.
I tell the nice lady at reception, the one sitting under the giant sign that says: 'abusive behaviour and use of bad language to staff will not be tolerated' that we are actually going to head off now and thank you very much anyway, but we have decided not to watch the sun coming up over Galway tonight. Not with a sick child.
We go home and sleep what's left of the night. The sun comes up over Galway anyway, and next morning the doctor diagnoses glandular fever. A traveller boy who my daughter knows tells her via facebook that it was his grandfather who was in the hospital. He passed away that night. I can't help thinking of the older lady now, maybe his wife, or sister.
I'm exhausted from the whole experience. I sure won't miss nights like this when I leave Ireland, and hopefully I won't need nights like this to remind me that when you use a community service, you meet the community too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What I Won't Miss About Ireland

I believe that there's no such thing as emigration - it's dead. Years ago, moving country was such a final and desperate thing for people to do. First of all it meant breaking your ties with people and a landscape, and secondly, it meant embracing a massive culture disconnect, and for you young ones reading this, I don't mean having to go without your Tayto Crisps or dating someone who's never heard of the Saw Doctors. No, it was all about survival and renewel and it was total change. Even when I lived in Germany in the 80's and 90's, there was no live stream TV, or online Irish Times or Facebook or all the other things that make the world more generic and accessible.
Still though, my imminent move to Germany has been the cause of a few restless nights and one major panic attack. There are things you can't bring with you, like the Saturday morning walk on the Prom at Salthill, the light that makes the little stone walls on the N17 look black in the mornings and  pale grey on the way home. Neachtain's pub (the whole world is full of Irish pubs, but in Neachtain's the memorabilia is actually real and not a clatter of mass produced tacky and twee signs). And there's the madness of Ireland. It's a place where you can not only have four seasons in one day, but you can encounter four or five decades of mindsets in a single afternoon. 
When I lived in Germany before I used to blame Germany for things that weren't of my liking, and although it's true that one can generalise at times, I've learned in the meantime that no matter where you live you will always find people who are like you. Because ultimately, I agree with Stephen Covey that 'we see the world as we are, and not as it is.'
But there are things I won't miss about Ireland.

1. Tractors on the N17. For some reason tractor drivers don't seem to realise that the hard shoulder is a place where they can pull in and let normalers pass. Of course the tractor drivers themselves might tell you that they can't pull in as it may upset the collie dog that they have on board. Worse though, is when these tractor drivers get off the main road that they shouldn't be on in the first place and take out their cars which are filled with tractor diesel and then blow black smoke into your windscreen all the way up the N17.

2. The health care system. 'Irish health care' is actually an oxymoron. As a cost saving measure, RTE camera crews sometimes record video footage of the A&E room when broadcasting on the latest atrocities in Beirut. There is very little difference between the two. If you child or any of your loved ones are sick, avoid hospitals at all costs.They are places where you will either get a nasty virus, the wrong treatment or beaten up by someone who claims to have been ahead of you in the queue. 

3. The Garda Siochana. This is the Irish translation for 'the Muppet Show'. They practise law and order by 'giving out' and going around chasing criminals on bicycles.

4. Irish Politics. Irish politics is a bit like royalty. You have to be born into it. The only problem though is that it's like having a feuding gang of rival royals all fighting over who did what but all doing the same things to make the same recurring mess. The only thing worse than these chosen families of politicians is the general public who year after year give them license to continue making the mess so that they can blame them for the mess they are in themselves.

5. Hearing people say 'there's no recession on there' wherever there is a hint of somebody doing well, being happy, having success or spending money on something other than a loaf of yesterdays bread at half price in Aldi. It's as if we are not allowed to move outside the confines of recession gloom and doom.

6. Confusing Autonomy with Nationalism. There seems to be this assumption that we cream what we can from Europe, but that deep down we are not part of Europe at all, we are independent of any influence from the team we are part of and how dare they get involved in our country. It's a bit like my teenage kids going on about how they would prefer to be living without me and that I have no right to have any opinion on what they do or think, but what's for dinner and can you lend me a fiver?

Now there are a few more niggly ones but I will leave it at that for now. I promise that one of the next blogs will be on what I will miss about Ireland and why I'm heartbroken to be off. I'm sure I've missed a few, so do feel free to add my omissions in the comment section...

Sunday, May 13, 2012


One of the things I'm going to do when I stop procrastinating and start being to the human race what superfoods are to hamburgers, is to write a dictionary where you can look up words and instead of getting the meaning of the word, you are given an explanation of what the word doesn't mean. I'll start with the word 'sorry', and explain to people that it doesn't mean 'excuse me can I get past you there', if you want to get past someone in a full pub. It also does not mean 'I didn't hear you, can you repeat that please'. I will also need to explain that you can't use the word unless you feel remorse or regret about what you are saying, so if you are one of the bouncers in Massimo's pub for example, saying 'Sorry love, you're too drunk to come in' you are using the word out of context. Unless, of course, the bouncer is truly sorry that he is unable to allow the inebriated lady access to the imbibing house. As I was personally involved in this encounter I believe that no, the bouncer was in no way remorseful of not letting me enter the premises.

Of course there are other words which are bigger offenders, but I'm not in the mood for giving out about the misuse of the word 'like'. You see, it'll be a short enough dictionary, as it won't contain every word, just the ones that annoy me, because after all, I am the centre of the universe.
Apart from my book I'll be working on other things. I'll be opening an online school teaching courses via webinar and I'll be finished the 17 day diet - it should be 15 but I had to go back to 'Go' and start all over again following an evening of having heterosexuals try to brainwash me into joining their congregation, being refused entry to a pub, sitting on a bench talking to someone I hardly know at about 4am when I knew that I'd have to be up with the larks rather than up before them. But the chips - I do regret that big bag of chips. But I'm sorry like, they were forced on me, so I have to start all over again. Sorry.