Interview with independent MEP, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan. “You know nothing”, was the phrase Mr Flanagan used to lambaste a German MEP, Mr Reul, when the latter attempted to praise Ireland’s progress with regard to its reform programme, during a May 21st plenary session at the European Parliament. The Irish politician has always spoken bluntly about his views and has often been criticised for them. A pro European but anti-EU advocate, he makes a clear argument on the not so true reality of Ireland “exiting” its austerity programme.
• The numbers appear to grow positively for Ireland after several months the country exited the so called “bailout”. There was 4.8% growth last year and the outlook for 2015 is about 4.2%. There was even an upgrade from Standard & Poor’s. Do these numbers reflect the reality and every day life of the Irish people?
There are a whole host of articles out there pointing out that because of the distortion caused by the multinationals and their shenanigans, not to mention what’s going on behind the brass-plate closed doors of the IFSC (Irish Financial Services Centre), Ireland’s GDP figures, and thus – by extension – its ‘growth’ figures, are not remotely accurate as a barometer for how the country is doing internally. The reality is that we have a health service in chaos (record number of people lying on hospital trolleys in A&E corridors that can’t get past even the first hurdle, record numbers of people on the various waiting lists, nursing numbers reduced, bed, ward and hospital closures, etc.); we have a police service that has simply stopped doing its day-to-day job of crime investigation and solving and instead focuses on tax-collecting measures associated with traffic offences and other such simple targets; we have an education system that is under pressure for funding and staffing at every front-line level; we have unprecedented numbers of suicide and depression; we have a major housing crisis, with record numbers on the streets (and growing); we have housing repossessions never before seen; we have deliberately distorted ‘unemployment going down’ figures, where the 90,000 people on various government job-schemes aren’t counted, where the 200,000 people in their 20s who have left Ireland in the last six years are ignored (if they didn’t have that usual Irish safety valve, our unemployment would be higher than anywhere else in Europe, including in Greece).
For further details I refer you to and highly recommend this article, “The Myth of the Irish Recovery”.
• Exiting the bailout supposedly brought the end of austerity… Or not?
First of all let’s get something straight – Ireland did NOT get a bailout. We got loans from the Troika that added up to €67.5bn (€22.5bn from each), which we are now repaying with interest; before they would even lend us this money, however, the troika blackmailed/bullied/browbeat us – take your pick – into bailing out the failed creditors in failed banks, to the tune eventually of €69.7bn, nearly €2bn more than they actually loaned us. It’s true that we’ll recover some of this money (have done already from Bank Of Ireland) but not taken into account is the extra we paid in ‘coupons’ or interest on unguaranteed loans through this period, what we also paid in interest on the borrowings to bail out those banks.
The banks got bailed out, Ireland got sold out – we were the ones doing all the bailing. As for exiting the ‘programme’, we exited nothing, we are in fact deeper than ever in debt, an additional almost €70bn added to our national debt in the three years the troika were in Dublin. And an end of austerity – in light of the answer to the question, that’s a joke…
• What is the situation with the loathed water tax imposed by the government?
The situation there is that the government is in serious trouble with the people. Three years ago a Household Charge was introduced; of the close to two million who were obligated to register and pay, nearly a million refused to do so by the deadline (the precise numbers are in dispute but it was around 50%), thus knowingly and voluntarily defying the new law. The government got over that obstacle by introducing new laws enabling them to deduct this from source – wages, pensions, social welfare payment. Irish Water however is a different kettle of fish. Because it was set up as a private company (obviously with the aim of being sold on), the Inland Revenue (tax authority) can’t be used as a collection agency.
The government will not release the payment figures for Irish Water (the first bills are now overdue) which is a very obvious sign that the mass non-payment boycott is working. This is an issue that has really galvanised the country.
• In the end of May you confronted a German MEP, Mr Herbert Reul, using the blue card question. What was it that you found most wrong in his argument? You repeated to him “You know nothing”.
Mr Reul was simply repeating the false propaganda being spread around the world about Ireland, its ‘bailout’ and its ‘recovery’, propaganda by the way that’s accepted even in places like Greece and Portugal, who should know exactly how the media is used and abused to spread such nonsense.
I don’t blame Mr Reul, nor the German people whom I believe are also grossly misinformed about what has really been happening in the EU and in the eurozone, particularly over the last six years. It’s been a frantic effort by the EU institutions, led by the ECB, to save what was a hugely structurally flawed currency at launch, to save the major banks, in the likes of Germany and France, but not at all confined to those two countries, while pretending they were saving the likes of partying Ireland and profligate Greece. Many of us know the truth and we’re determined to spread that message.
• You attended the Study-Days of GUE/NGL in Athens recently. What was discussed? What was the bottom line in your opinion?
Most of the debating time was given over to discussing the crisis in Greece, with many outstanding contributions from a succession of impressive speakers from the new government. I did my best to introduce Ireland and the Irish people especially as an ally, suffering a similar fate to Greece, albeit not to the same extent. I could certainly identify though with much of what said, with that same sentiment applying to Portugal and what’s really happening there.
Here is a link to a post I have on Facebook summing up the week:
• In the past you expressed the view that Ireland should not have joined the eurozone. Would it be better off with a national currency and why? Do you think Greece and other countries should do so as well?
There is now no argument, even from those who designed it, but that the euro was fundamentally structurally flawed at its launch. There was no foresight, no oversight, no defences in place against what was very obviously going to happen. In fact, what was predicted would happen by eminent economists such as Paul de Grauwe. Countries that previously paid a premium to borrow from the markets now found themselves getting hugely reduced interest rates and the billions flooded into the likes of Ireland, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, a veritable tsunami that eventually swamped those economies.
That in itself was bad enough, but it’s the response to the damage that was done that is most worrying. Any illusions we might have had that we were living in any sort of community were immediately blown away. Germany and France, Merkel and Sarkozy, this old/new duopoly now dictated to us all and by God, with the help of a few well-off allies in the north, were they going to protect their own, were they going to put the rest of us under the heel of the jackboot.
Now they are in the process of forcing Greece to ignore its own electorate and surrender themselves totally to this new dictatorship, or leave the euro.
In a currency dominated by Germany, Ireland will never be treated equally or equitably, nor will Greece. They can break the Stability & Growth Pact rules at will – and have done when they were weak – but we can’t. For that reason, and to give us back major control of our destiny, I believe we should leave the euro.
• Do you think there is a chance for change in Europe? If yes, what form would that take? For instance, changes in the treaties, the Fiscal Pact? Would it be enough or wise, as some have argued?
I would love to be able to reply ‘Yes, of course!’ to this question, but based on what has happened in recent years, based on where the power now rests in the EU, with the Commission, the Council and the ECB holding the reins, the Parliament dominated by the EPP and S&D not-so-grand coalition, I see very little chance for the kind of major change that’s needed to put the EU on the right course. This would include a new Treaty, reversing much of what happened in both Lisbon and Nice, and blowing the Fiscal Compact clean out of the water!
• Do you see political change coming in Ireland? You wrote on Facebook: “A return to Fianna Fáil is just that, a return; a return to Fine Gael, well…”. What did you mean by that?
Yes, I see political change coming, and the sooner the better. As for that comment, the major difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is a few letters of the alphabet; they should do the honest thing and just combine into Fianna Gael because really, when it comes to policy decisions, they are peas in a pod. Reminds of the story of Mouseland, where the mice would switch from electing black cats to electing white cats, without wondering why their situation never really changed. Time to vote for mice!
Published originally in Greek, The Funnel, 14 June 2015
Editing: Alex. Moutzouridis