Like many people in Ireland on Monday, I spent the day in a state of near-paralysis. I had the radio permanently tuned to news and current affairs programmes. It was almost impossible to tear myself away from Twitter. Because I follow a lot of people in the Irish media and journalism, the tweets were pouring onto my screen so fast I could hardly keep up.
There was endless media analysis of what our European bailout/loan/whatever will mean, how much we will finally borrow, links to the apocalyptic headlines Ireland is making around the world. Irish bank shares were down, Portuguese bond yields were up. Political upheaval followed financial upheaval. Rumours of a big announcement from Government junior partners, the Green Party. Later in the day, more rumours – this time of an announcement from the Taoiseach at 7pm. My children waited in vain for their dinner as I sat in front of the TV to hear what he had to say.
I don’t understand economics or high finance, so what did I learn from mainlining all this news? That this teetering Government needs to hang on grimly, long enough to get the budget passed on 7th December. This is because the budget is already a done deal, the €6 billion in cuts is already agreed with the IMF. If the budget fails, the deal is off. But the deal is essential to keep our banks afloat. Despite the billions upon billions that we have already thrown into their gaping maws, Irish banks, like heroin addicts, need another fix. This time, a fix of another €30 billion or so. Banks normally borrow money at 1% interest rates. But nobody is willing to lend to our banks anymore, so we are borrowing it at 5% on their behalf. We’ll be paying this back, along with the countless other billions we are borrowing, for generations.
That’s my no doubt simplistic understanding of the situation today. My reaction to all this is; what have I done to my children?
It was all so different ten years ago when I returned to Ireland with my husband and first child, after 14 years away. The grim and depressed country I had emigrated from in the 80s was a distant memory. Ireland had changed; it was vibrant, young and optimistic. Things were on the up.
I had been very happy with life in London, but felt a strong urge to return to Ireland once we started a family. I had to work hard to persuade my non-Irish husband to move here, and our first few years were completely tied up with work. He set up a new dental surgery in the north inner city and worked hard to build it up from nothing. He gave me a crash course in dental nursing and dental reception and I did both jobs until we could afford to start employing people.
Working long hours and having a young family meant we were largely off the social scene and we both found it difficult to adjust. But we had a loving family here, and that made all the upheaval worthwhile.
Things settled down and the surgery established itself. After the first few years we stopped leasing the surgery building and took out a huge loan to buy it. We worried about taking on so much debt, but the economy was booming and the future looked bright.
At the same time, I wondered why my children’s schools were so run down. Why did I find myself helping out at so many school fundraisers? Why do Irish parents, almost alone in Europe, have to pay for school books? It was a shock having to pay so much for GP appointments, even for children. Having a long-term medical condition which I knew would eventually require surgery, I guiltily purchased private medical insurance so that I could skip the public queues when the time came. As a middle class person in Ireland, it’s just accepted that that’s what you do. But with all the money swilling around, why were public health and education services not being radically reformed? Given the state we are in now, there is little hope that this will ever happen.
The events of the last two years have been disastrous for Ireland but we have been lucky compared to so many others. We have had to make cutbacks at the surgery, following large cuts to publicly funded dentistry in recent budgets. No doubt there are more to come, but we are hopeful that we can put our heads down, work hard and get through.
But what of my two young children? The country in which I actively chose to bring them up is a sorry mess, an international laughing-stock. I am worried for their future and dread the day when they may be forced to take the same journey I took back in the 80s. And if they do, I will bitterly regret my decision to move back here.