Irish Republican News · March 14, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Establishment should hang its head in shame

By Tom McGurk (for the Sunday Business Post)

What an extraordinary political week it has been. The backdrop to the desultory by-election campaigns in Kildare and Meath has illustrated, if illustration were ever needed, the sheer mediocrity of our public services and political classes.

We are being robbed left, right and centre by our insurance companies. The consumer report last Monday once again pointed out that, despite Mary Harney’s pre-election promises, nothing has changed.

Last Tuesday, it became obvious that the deal on abuse that the politicians and the public service signed with the Catholic Church is going to cost the taxpayer a massive amount of money. A recent award in one case was far in excess of the amounts being paid out. So it looks like the hit on the public purse may well equal the original hit on the religious orders. Of course, the calculation was, by nature, a subterranean process that was always going to be difficult to measure accurately. But the government’s figures are already spectacularly wide of the mark. Watch out: once again, nobody will be held responsible.

By Wednesday, one of the brightest and the best of our entrepreneurial class was being snapped up by a grateful British Airways. Willie Walsh became the second Irishman, along with Michael O’Leary, to head one of the world’s largest airlines. I can imagine that when visitors fly into the Third World conditions at Dublin Airport, they will hardly be able to comprehend that this country has produced some of the most outstanding talents in the aviation industry.

Apparently, it takes longer to find a new boss for tiny Aer Lingus than it does for the giant British Airways. Walsh’s successor still hasn’t been named, and no decision has been made on the future financial structuring of the national carrier. Nor has any decision been made on the second terminal project for Dublin Airport.

Is it any wonder that Walsh fled to a business environment where people are serious about what they do and politicians actually make decisions?

All one can do is wish him well and congratulate him on his escape. Meanwhile, the prospects of the ten to 15 new routes that Ryanair will base in Dublin when the terminal chaos is sorted, remains up in the air.

All of this makes for more grim hilarity when you consider that, last Tuesday, yet another politician was complaining about the drop in annual tourist figures.

But it was the news last Wednesday that left us gasping, as we realised our deepest suspicions about the mediocrity of our political classes was a nightmare beyond anything we had previously imagined.

According to the Travers report, the last 14 governments in this state have embezzled more than 2 billion Euro from state pension funds belonging to over 300,000 old, sick and infirm people.

One grimly hilarious paragraph in last Thursday’s Irish Times deserves to be cut out and pasted up in the Dail bar.

It read: “Last night Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the government must launch an urgent investigation to make sure that all other state agencies are properly based in law. ‘Otherwise we could get into this again’.”

How’s that for reassurance about how the state is run?

Can you imagine the scenario if department heads from all over the public service queued up outside the Attorney General’s door seeking advice as to whether their function on behalf of the state has any basis in law?

Even more fantastically, the price to be paid for all of this was the sideways promotion of one civil servant.

When Harney was cornered about the total discrepancy in the civil servant’s version of events and Micheal Martin’s, she reached for the Sinn Féin/IRA handbook on how to handle either/or questions.

Harney, apparently, was not in a position to adjudicate on the veracity of either. Whether her senior department head or her ministerial colleague lied, is apparently of no relevance in the parallel universe in which our political classes dwell.

It goes without saying that had such a catastrophe happened in even a medium-sized corporation, the board and perhaps the chief executive would have had to walk. The shareholders would not have tolerated it. But not the Irish government.

Against the backdrop of a truly bizarre day in the Dail last Thursday, the political classes were tramping the streets of Kildare and Meath seeking more votes from shareholders. Thursday’s proceedings in the Dail were simply nauseous, as each political party attempted to place the blame on the other.

They were like thieves falling out over the spoils, as a grim-faced Martin reasonably asked why he was the only one whose head was on the block.

All establishments have in-built and invisible rules for their survival. When caught in the headlights, members bluster and prance and do a reasonable gnashing of teeth, but they recognise it is in their mutual self-interest not to rock the boat too much.

They circle their pensions and wait for the storm to pass, for something else to sweep them off the front pages. But this episode has been so catastrophic for our political establishment of career politicians and civil servants, and the vista of incompetence and then pure self-interest in the face of being caught out has been so shocking, that something truly defining and monumental has occurred.

Perhaps it is the sight of the old and frail short of a few bob for their smokes or their sweets, or even a change of clothes, in their homes and institutions that is so appalling.

This is the generation that built this country in the worst of times and never lived long enough to enjoy the economic benefits. Many of their brothers and sisters took the emigrant boats while they stayed behind scraping and saving to educate their children for an Ireland whose political establishment, in the end, quite casually and indifferently robbed them of what little they had in their old age.

Somehow, I think this one has sunk deeper into the national psyche than our gesticulating clowns on the Dail benches fully realise. This one won’t go away.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News