Political pantomime now a circus of despair

By Tom McGurk (for the Sunday Business Post)

It’s almost impossible to know where to begin any commentary this week - the Dail circus may see a few more surreal performances before the citizens finally move in and close it down on March 11.

There have been many casualties in the last seven days, but perhaps the greatest casualty of all has been the profession of politics itself.

Our political classes have disgraced themselves yet again.

In the context of a week when the ESRI estimated that 100,000 of our brightest and best will emigrate over the next two years, we have been witnessing a political pantomime that has essentially been about nothing other than how to gain personal political advantage, or survival, as the election approaches.

As James Joyce put it all those years ago: ‘‘Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow.” As the surviving days of this Dail run down, the reality of our political classes has been ruthlessly exposed. Perhaps the single most unforgettable image from a kaleidoscopic week was that of Mary Harney cruising off into a gilded retirement (years before retirement age) with all her pension and severance goodies - apparently amounting to [euro]360,000 this year for starters.

Here was someone who, if you remember, entered politics to reform the system .Google is full of Harney quotes about the inequities and the self-serving nature of the political classes she was going to reform.

For years, from the self-appointed moral high ground the Progressive Democrats claimed, we were treated to lectures about how and why they were different, about how they would change the system and put an end to political selfishness. But as her limo drove out of the Dail gates last week, was that a cheer we heard from the lines of patients on trolleys in hospital corridors across the country?

Remember, too, Harney’s other unending lecture, the one about the infallibility of the market? Remember when all political arguments had to end as the Progressive Democrats solemnly reminded us that there was only one real arbitrator for all of these questions, and that was the market? ‘‘You can’t buck the market’’ or ‘‘the market decides’’ were their mantras.

As Harney gazes out of her limo at the ghost estates and the closed factories and the lines outside the dole offices, will she conclude that all this too been decided by the market? Or when a club of golfing bankers - with the help of the ECB - decided to turn the country into a capital casino, were they, too, allowing the market to decide?

Come to think of it, weren’t all the political rules bent so Harney could have a charmed life?

Even when her party disappeared, she still continued in government - a single independent in cabinet - like some rich relative who had moved into the house and couldn’t be got rid of.

So at the end of the day, Mary, thanks for the memories and the valuable lessons you taught us about the market, and enjoy your taxpayer-funded retirement largesse. Sure, politics wasn’t such a bad old number in the end, was it?

Meanwhile, the Fianna Fail leadership stakes descended into the usual Cutest Hoor of the Year competition. Micheal Martin, Mary Coughlan and Brian Cowen, as if in some children’s game, spent the week peeking around corners trying to sneak past the others before anyone saw them. But we all saw them, of course, and day by day ,the levels of public anger grew at the intensity of their self-interest.

Yesterday the Taoiseach finally relented to political pressure and resigned as party leader.

In all of the argument about Cowen’s leadership, not a single word was spoken about policy or the levels of the economic crisis we face. Here, an elaborate game of political charades was being played out for utterly selfish political interests, with the country’s taxpayers reduced to an increasingly outraged and disbelieving audience.

Where once, in advance of an election, we wondered who to vote for, we have now reached a point where thousands are wondering why they should vote for any of these people in the Dail ever again.

We may have reached the end of politics as we have known them in Ireland. Our established political class has utterly failed us.

They are clearly incapable of running the country and we have totally lost confidence in the lot of them. So what are we to do?

Ironically, at one level, this crisis is eased by the fact that, by now - largely due to the urgings of the political class - we have effectively abandoned our political and economic sovereignty to Europe.

For the immediate future, Irish governments are mere bookkeepers for the ECB and the IMF.

The Department of Finance on Merrion Street now has to furnish weekly reports to HQ in Brussels.

But do we want the other lot from across the floor as replacement bookkeepers? Will they make any difference?

Will anything change, and will there be any confidence that we have people of ability and imagination in charge? Have we no alternative other than once again to put our - and our children’s - future, into the hands of whatever detritus our meaningless party system washes up on March 11 into the Dail?

For generations now, given the nature of our party system, few with any real talent have got involved.

Our brightest and our best took one look at its infantile obsessions, its secret cabals and its celebration of mediocrity - and walked away.

Can you seriously find anyone on the opposition front benches who, for example, a major company would appoint as chief executive?

A few independent voices are breaking out, but there is an intense sense nationally that our entire political system is no longer fit for purpose.

We are up the creek without a political paddle.

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