By Anthony Sheridan
The party on the bridge of the ship of state was in full swing. The captain, his officers, first class passengers and the bulk of the media were celebrating the epic achievements of their great and glorious ship.
Servants scurried about frantically filling glasses, restocking food trays and cleaning up the mess made by some of the more over-indulgent partygoers.
Meanwhile, deep in the bowels of the ship the steerage passengers, who could only barely hear the sound of good times high on the bridge, chatted among themselves about their hopes that the ship would also take them to a better place.
Then, at 2008, a mild but distinct shudder knocked over some of the more precariously balanced drinks and food trays on the bridge as it rippled its way down the entire length of the ship.
What the hell was that, one annoyed journalist demanded to know as she ordered a refill of her gin and tonic from a cowering waiter.
Don’t you worry your pretty little head said Captain Cowen. I’m in charge of this ship; a ship bestowed upon me by my good friend Captain Bertie and navigated by generations of great Fianna Fail leaders with the occasional input from our ruling elite colleagues in Fine Gael and Labour.
Oh Captain Cowen, I’m so impressed, cooed the journalist. I’m going to write a glowing article about your legendary intelligence and political wisdom.
Deep in the bowels there was no such assurance as the steerage passengers struggled in vain to save themselves from the catastrophic flood that had finally breached the hull as a result of decades of corrosion from the disease of corruption.
They looked on in horror as the lives and dreams of their families and friends were swept away in the putrid waters of cronyism, nepotism and gombeenism.
As they waded past the bodies and lost possession of their kind, they began to move upwards to look for assistance, guidance and sympathy from those steering the ship of state.
All through 2009 and 2010 the party continued unabated on the bridge.
Bankers surrounded by their good friends in the Financial Regulator’s Office. Property developers feeding in the trough of endless profit constantly topped up by the captain and his officers. Journalists eagerly assisting their political masters in exchange for a bottle of hooch and a cheap headline.
But some were beginning to suspect that all was not well.
Tell me, said Noel Whelan from the Irish Times to senior officer Brian. The ship seems to have slowed down considerably and, while I’m no expert, the bow appears to be an awful lot lower in the water than it was before the party began.
There’s absolutely nothing to worry about Noel, whispered Brian soothingly. There’s been a bit of a storm in international waters which resulted in some moderate turbulence for the ship.
But the captain is worried that the ordinary, uneducated people down on the lower decks might not understand what’s happening.
Of course, of course, replied Noel in sympathetic agreement. Is there anything we in the media can do to help?
Well, now that you mention it, there is something you could do. The captain would be forever grateful if you and your colleagues could man the broadcast system to the lower decks. You’ll be working with your good friends at RTE who have already agreed to do everything they are ordered,…er, I mean, asked to do to calm the masses.
Of course Brian, what are your instructions?
Just keep on broadcasting the term ‘Lehman Brothers’, over and over again. It’s crucial that you never stop and never question the wisdom of Captain Cowen’s brilliant navigation of our great and glorious ship.
Now, now Brian, you know we in the mainstream media never question the amazing intelligence and courage of our great leaders but this Lehman Brothers thing, what does it mean?
Well, just between you and me Noel, it doesn’t mean anything. We have legal advice, which of course must remain secret, that the term has a mysterious calming effect on the lower classes, but; to be fully effective it must be repeated endlessly.
You can rely on us in the mainstream media to remain loyal to the captain said Noel as he grabbed a Bloody Mary from the tray of a passing waiter.
By 2010 the people’s struggle upwards to freedom was blocked by a series of iron gates that had been firmly shut by agents of the state.
The police ordered the protesters:
Get back down to your own level, nothing to see here; no way through.
Behind the police, social welfare agents shouted:
We’re cutting your allowances to make sure those on the bridge have enough resources to live in the comfort they’re accustomed to as they plan the mass burial of your dreams and ambitions.
At another gate, a politicians announced:
Don’t worry, although many of you are doomed we promise, going forward, to reform the way our great and glorious ship is navigated.
As you suffer and die we are planning to replace the officers on the bridge with another group of officers who have really, really, really promised to work in the interests of those of you who are lucky enough to survive.
Through all the shouting and bedlam an endless media drone could be heard – Lehman Brothers…Lehman Brothers…Lehman Brothers…Lehman Brothers…
Initially, the people were downcast when their path to freedom was blocked. But as more and more of their kind drowned in the dark waters of despair they became angry and began to organise.
Rejecting the authority of those on the bridge the people elected new leaders and began to rattle the iron gates demanding to be let through, to know who was responsible for the catastrophe that was playing out on the lower decks.
But the gates were strong and the agents of the state were steadfast in their determination to keep the unruly masses in their proper place.
Meanwhile, back on the bridge an approaching ship interrupted the party.
Hello SS Ireland, this is the SS EU, what the hell is going on over there; your ship is way down at the bow, you appear to be sinking.
Not at all, slurred back Captain Cowen. We’re jush, hiccup, I mean, just having a party to celebrate the success of our great little nation, now feck off unlesh, hic, you have some more money to give us.
Standby SS Ireland, we’re sending over a three-man boarding party.
As Captain Cowen joined ex Captain Ahern in the luxury stateroom where they argued over who had the biggest pension the new captain, Captain Kenny, was assuring the Troika and the unruly masses that the ship of state was now on a new course, a course to paradise.
Already, he claimed, his crew had repaired the breached hull. There was no need to worry about the dangers posed by leaking water and certainly no need to cancel the party on the bridge. The ship, he declared, would be safe under his captaincy.
But Captain Kenny, like his predecessors, was lying.
He was lying to the desperate citizens trapped below decks when he promised democratic revolution. He was lying to the Troika when he promised to carry out reforms. He was lying when he said the ship of state was secure. The hull wasn’t repaired, the water was still flooding in and the ship was still sinking.
As time moved on into 2013 and 2014 the ship became unstable and began to tilt at an alarming angle.
Captain Kenny, with unquestioned support from his media partygoers, blamed the surging masses and their leaders for the instability as they finally escaped onto the decks where they could see, for the first time, just how and who was steering their ship of state.
At 2015 the bankers, property developers, financial regulators and politicians, including former captains Ahern and Cowen, began to take to the lifeboats.
Many journalists, loyally standing by their political masters, helped them rescue their credibility, political legacies and justifications for decisions made in office.
Other journalists, on witnessing reality for the first time, went into deep shock. One of them, Fergus Finlay of the Irish Examiner, approached Captain Ahern who was loading up several lifeboats with family, friends and loot.
Captain Ahern, what are you doing? If you take all those lifeboats for yourself you will be condemning ordinary citizens to drown in the depths of despair.
Jazus, will you look at that eejit of a journalist, Captain Ahern replied contemptuously. No wonder we were able to fool the people when we had half the media in our pockets and the other half believing everything we said.
Just as civil servants gently lowered Captain Ahern and his loot safely onto calm waters, Finlay turned and, for the first time, noticed the massive iceberg that had struck the ship.
The giant neon sign atop the iceberg that read – POLITICAL CORRUPTION – finally shocked him out of his denial as to who was responsible for the catastrophe.
You Maniacs! You’ve sunk the country, Damn you! God damn you all to hell the befuddled journalist howled as he pounded the heaving deck with his fist.
At 2016 the steerage passengers finally broke down the doors to the bridge. What they witnessed shocked even the most hardened of water protesters.
Captain Kenny was engaged in a vicious fistfight with wannabe captain Martin for control of the ships wheel.
Ah ha, crowed Martin: You thought the people had thrown us overboard, well….we’re baaaccck. Now step aside, it’s our turn to steer.
Feck off said Captain Kenny punching Martin in the eye: We got more votes than you, so there.
Yes replied Martin but you ignored the dangers posed by water and now you’re sinking.
Nearby, a group of establishment journalists led by John Downing of Independent Newspapers huddled together insanely muttering the same mantra over and over again:
This has nothing to do with water; this has nothing to do with the people’s anger at political corruption. Everything will be all right so long as we keep assuring ourselves that Sinn Fein is to blame for everything.
Amid the bedlam the government broadcaster RTE launched its latest deny reality TV show – ‘Let’s Get Back To The Good Old days’ presented by soccer pundit Eamon Dunphy and featuring such stars as Mary Coughlan, Alan Dukes and Noel Dempsey.
But by now the people had seen enough. Brushing aside the huddled group of journalists they rushed towards the bickering twosome at the wheel of state intent on taking control themselves.
And so, as we celebrate the centenary of the rebellion that launched the ship of state we wonder will the current conflict result in a change of course to the left or to the right or are we about to witness a final plunge into the dark depths of political despair.
Tune in for the next episode but be sure to bring a lifejacket – just in case.