DUBLIN, Ireland ― The National Concert Hall in Dublin was packed Wednesday evening for a performance called "Four Angry Men." The four did not sing, recite, dance or play a musical instrument and, as one admitted on stage, they didn’t look particularly good. But the 1,200 people who paid €25 ($37) each for tickets hadn’t come for the usual concert hall fare. They crowded in to share in the anger that is bubbling in post-boom Ireland about the mishandling of the economy.
The four angry men were three commentators and a senator who have based their reputations on exposing the mismanagement and corruption that have brought the Celtic Tiger economy crashing down. It says a lot about the low esteem in which Ireland’s rulers and managers are now held that the quartet got thunderous applause from the largely middle class audience for their criticisms of politicians, bankers and developers.
All four performers have just published books on what has been going on in Ireland in recent years, and the titles speak for themselves: "Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger" by Fintan O’Toole; "Who Really Runs Ireland: the Story of the Elite who led Ireland from Bust to Boom and Back Again" by Matt Cooper; "Showtime: The Inside Story of Fianna Fail in Power" by Pat Leahy; and "The Bankers: How the Banks Brought Ireland to Its Knees," by Sen. Shane Ross.
Cooper, who presents a radio current affairs program, recalled how emigration had devastated his community in Cork before the boom and how it was now happening again — with a twist. Some who had returned during the good years had lost their jobs and were unable to emigrate again because they were trapped by negative equity on their homes.
O’Toole, a historian and Irish Times columnist, drew a picture of a free-spending Ireland in the decade up to last year where churches were turned into swanky hotels, SUVs clogged the roads, croissants arrived in every country village, Poles came to serve the drinks and property prices rose higher than London's. What made him really angry was the failure of the government to make provision for an economic downturn and the consequence for the underprivileged who would now have to suffer cuts in benefits and social services.
What made independent senator Shane Ross furious was his contention that the banks had become so powerful they could dictate financial policy to the government and escape punishment for well-documented fraudulent activity.
“The collusion between banks, regulators and government is unique in its tawdriness,” Ross said.
Leahy, political editor of the Sunday Business Post claimed that, “If the country were a business we would be guilty of trading while insolvent.”
The sell-out performance of the four angry men came on the same day as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) issued a report on Ireland that suggested things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. The government could only get out of its economic crisis, the report said, through a combination of lowering wages and unemployment benefits and imposing a property tax and university fees. The OECD represents 30 developed countries including the United States and its prescriptions are being taken seriously by the Fianna Fail-led government as it prepares for a severe budget next month.
The title "Four Angry Men" is not original. There is a U.S.-based cartoon series by the name, with a website that boasts of “sleazy skullduggery and manic mayhem.” That description would also fit the picture of modern Ireland drawn by O’Toole, Cooper, Leahy and Ross in the theater of outrage they pioneered in the National Concert Hall in Dublin this week.