IT'S now two years into the economic crisis and it's highly questionable whether, as a nation, we have learned anything despite everything that has happened.

It's easy – and largely justifiable – to blame the government for the mess we're in. But our problems, and more importantly the solutions to those problems, go much deeper than that.

Public debate has at times become so hysterical that charting a course out of the crisis is almost impossible, regardless of who is in power.

Take the past week for example. There was a huge furore over Brian Cowen lighting up in Croke Park. Imagine a foreigner on holidays turning on the radio last week. What would he or she have made of a country that is borrowing €80 million every working day just to pay its bills getting convulsed about its leader having a smoke?

The other issue that sent temperatures soaring in recent days was the department of environment circular over private use of commercially-registered vehicles. The fallout was ridiculous, with the story being presented as another attack on hard-pressed business people. Any calm, rational assessment of the story would have made it obvious that there is absolutely no question of gardaí apprehending people who genuinely own commercial vehicles dropping their kids to school or going to mass.

But calm and rational assessments are not exactly thick on the ground right now. That is apparent in the continued calls for Brian Cowen to demand the resignation of Ivor Callely from the Seanad. Of course, it would be desirable to see Callely, who is bringing politics into disrepute, exit the Seanad. But there is nothing the Taoiseach can do to bring that about.

The Constitution is quite clear that the people are sovereign and that nobody has the right or the power to force anybody from either the Dáil or the Seanad. Calls from the Taoiseach or anybody else for Callely to resign are about as worthwhile as a lighthouse in a bog.

Equally futile is the argument – constantly being made – that Anglo Irish Bank should be closed down. If only that were possible. If the bank were to shut down next month, all the deposit- and bond-holders, along with the ECB, would have to be paid their dues and the only way to do that would be to sell the assets of the bank.

One guaranteed way to get a terrible price for these (in most cases) already devalued assets would be to put up a sign stating that they had to be sold within a few weeks. The whole process would end up being even more expensive for the state.

Anglo Irish Bank will be wound down over time and – the management's good bank-bad bank plan aside – that is the only way it can be done. The burden that Anglo-Irish Bank is putting on the taxpayer is horrendous. But let's not kid ourselves that there is any easy solution to this disaster. There isn't.

Even if you accept Standard and Poor's worst-case scenario of how much this toxic bank is going to cost the state, it will equate to only the same amount of money the state has borrowed since the beginning of last year to fund the huge gap between spending and revenue. This is being largely ignored. Every year, we are running a deficit that almost amounts to an Anglo Irish Bank exposure and yet that attracts nowhere near the level of debate and comment.

In fact, despite being in the depths of the worst crisis in at least a generation, there is precious little debate about the really important issues. Aside from bland generalities, there has been no discussion or analysis of the training programmes available to the hundreds of thousands of people on the dole queues. Are the schemes we have working? Do they provide value for money? Are we learning from the lessons of Scandinavian countries in the early 1990s who faced the same problems?

Nor has there been any proper discussion of a property tax. We now know, with the benefit of hindsight, that a property tax would have been one of the very few measures that could have helped take the heat out of the property market a decade ago. Yet despite this knowledge – and the fact that every country in Europe has such a tax and that it would help put a major dent in our giant deficit – all the main political parties are shirking the issue and public opinion is firmly opposed to it.

The same goes for third-level fees. An expert group has recently found that the current funding of universities and colleges is unsustainable and the system needs €500 million next year. It's patently obvious that the funding crisis can be addressed only by the reintroduction of fees and an end to the current system in which middle-class college students are subsidised by working-class taxpayers. But no political party will go there.

It's hard to blame them. They won't be thanked for putting forward the hard realities. In the current climate – or perhaps in any climate – any party even sticking their toe in such waters will be gobbled up in a wave of anger and hysteria. Unless and until that changes, we could be facing into many more winters of discontent.