As a people, we are unwilling to take on any responsibility
Published 09/12/2012 | 05:00
Our failure to hold people to account is a national trait we must address if we are ever to recover, says Carol Hunt
THE Austeri-tea drinking mother smiles beatifically as she reads the letter written by her emigrant daughter. The voice of comedian Eleanor Tiernan, rising ever higher with impotent rage, rails against the lack of accountability of anybody for anything in Ireland, and the way we go on and on about this lack of accountability but never hold anyone accountable for it. While watching this, and the many other razor-sharp sketches on Thursday night's Ireland's Pictorial Weekly, I realised it wasn't so much brilliant satire as depressingly truthful social commentary.
God love us (because nobody else does), but we really are a very sick country.
Last week Ireland received its worst ever ranking on the global Corruption Perceptions Index, conducted annually by Transparency International (TI). John Devitt, chief executive of TI Ireland, said, "Ireland's ranking shows how little faith investors have in our ability to prevent the abuse of power. Our failure to hold people to account for wrong-doing is also having a very negative impact on international perceptions of Ireland."
He added, "We will still attract companies looking to avail of our low tax rate, but our reputation for cronyism and other forms of corruption will drive many honest businesses towards more open and well regulated economies."
Ireland under Fine Gael and Labour is viewed as being even less transparent and accountable than under the previous administration. Now, that really is an achievement. Especially if you remember (was it really less than two years?) when bright, honest Enda was elected Taoiseach and he informed the nation that "Paddy likes to know".
All right, it sounded patronising, but we gave him the benefit of the doubt. The more optimistic of us preferred to interpret his condescending, colonial phrase as the dawning of a new era of transparency and accountability, an end to cronyism and corruption and to privilege and perks for our many institutionalised golden circles.
Yes, people, some of us believed all that less than 24 months ago. But, as it keeps telling us, it's not the poor Government's fault that it has managed to break nearly every promise it made.
Nope, it's not its fault that it can't stop the walloping great pension payments being paid to those bankers and politicians who partied so hard they broke the country. And it's not responsible for bringing in yet another budget that screws the working poor and the self-employed while maintaining salaries for its members and their cronies that greatly exceed those of similar posts worldwide.
Gosh no, this Government can't be held accountable for landing a property tax on people in negative equity who are still paying off whopping great sums of stamp duty. Nor is it accountable for taking cash from mothers, children, the disabled and respite workers while allowing thousands of public sector workers to maintain high salaries and pension pots. "Newly" appointed ministers can't be held accountable for what the civil servants in their departments do – ask Mr Reilly – and civil servants insist that they have to be properly deferential to their ministers, who often have little or no experience in their fields.
Nobody is, was, or ever will be responsible for fiascos like e-voting (€55m), Media Lab Europe (€50m), decentralisation (€44m), Thornton Hall (€42m), the Children's Hospital (€30m and counting); two rounds of one-way benchmarking and the Croke Park deal (gazillions), and the infamous bank deal (priceless, as we'll be paying for it forever).
Then there are cancer patients dying because X-rays weren't reviewed, women contracting Hepatitis C, Mick Wallace's VAT bill, Michael Lowry's continual election to high office despite him being shown up as a corrupt, shabby crook – amazingly, no one is responsible for any of it.
But if no one is responsible, then all of us are responsible. And I suspect, as a people, we just aren't willing to take on that responsibility.
It's a pity that Freud insisted the Irish were impervious to psychotherapy because if ever a group of people needed collective therapy, it is us. Why do we let our "betters" get away with this near-criminal behaviour? Why do we just shrug and accept such immorality, lies and cheap cock-ups as inevitable? Why don't we ask where the buck stops?
Last month, at the Psychological Society of Ireland annual conference, clinical psychologist Dr Trisha McDonnell said that Irish behaviour exhibited three post-colonial traits in particular: a deferential attitude to authority; a tendency to avoid the truth; and a communication strategy which was manifested in a failure to speak plainly and assertively.
Amazingly, through the years we've managed to sell all of the above traits as positive qualities: good children were ordered to obey their elders and betters without question, meanwhile they were also told, "whatever you say, say nothing". Straight talk was considered impolite, something only brash Americans did.
Civic virtues were ignored in favour of religious dogma and parochial politics; meanwhile the "cute hoor" businessman screwing the system was – and still is – admired by many. Instead of wanting to destroy golden circles, we aimed instead to join them.
But we're not responsible because the mistakes made during the Celtic Tiger years were due to our young nation going through an adolescent stage after gaining independence from our colonial overlords, weren't they?
(Except of course that, rather than rowdy teenagers throwing a party while the parents were absent, our government insisted on organising the shindig itself, borrowing from the neighbours to pay for the champagne, and then dumping the bill, as well as the clean-up, on the aforementioned teenagers.)
It's not fair, we poor adolescents whinged. "Tough luck, life isn't fair," said our last government as it waltzed off into the sunset, well rewarded for wrecking the place, with pay-offs and pensions that would make Louis Bourbon green with envy at the salacious audacity of the theft.
But surely we've learned something over the past five years? Will we now hold our leaders accountable for their decisions, their crony-politics, their broken promises, and their betrayal of the coping classes, the self-employed, the unemployed, our emigrants and the most vulnerable?
Will we insist, as we so often tell our children, that actions have consequences?
Will we learn how to "prevent the abuse of power"?
Will we get a receipt?
Will we f**k.
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