My wife and I once went to view "a fine period residence in need of modernising" in Co Wicklow and, as the owner escorted us around and I began to ask questions like, "is this staircase sound?" or "what is that smell?", he would ignore each question and with a sweep of his hand usher us to the nearest window where he would exclaim: "Behold the view!"
I recalled this encounter in September when several government ministers and backbenchers attempted a similar deceit when for weeks they ducked and dived, throwing sand in our eyes, to avoid admitting that Dr James Reilly had pulled a political stroke, which he patently had done. Dr Reilly's own dodge-the-bullet manoeuvres included: "It's an insult to the people of Swords and Balbriggan to suggest that they needed political interference to give them what they are entitled to – a good health service." Then to crown it all, in the Dail, live on television, he told the nation that his decision was based on "logistical, logarithmic progressions".
Fianna Fail TD Billy Kelleher's reaction, on hearing Dr Reilly utter this word salad said it all. He physically cringed, turning away with his head in his hand, while the bubble over his head said: "In the name of God, would you please stop, please!" Whatever about insults to Dr Reilly's constituents, it surely is an insult to every citizen that, with a few honourable exceptions, politicians, of all parties, continue to dish out this kind of pap routinely and expect adults to swallow it as a credible explanation for dubious decisions, inappropriate political interference, incompetence, U-turns and the like. Have they forgotten already what we have endured as a society: two decades of denial, selective amnesia, spin, obfuscation, mental reservations and every other form of deceit known to man, not to mention brazen lying and rampant perjury?
A lie is a statement intended to deceive. A statement may be true but still be a lie. The latest revelations about Dr Reilly's involvement in moving Balbriggan up the list of primary care centres raise questions about whether we have been lied to. We learn that an internal audit was carried out in the Department of Health to ascertain whether the minister had any role in choosing the particular sites for the centres, with the word "sites" highlighted.
The audit upholds Dr Reilly's contention that he had no hand in choosing specific sites, while he freely admits he decided on the additional locations. This line, that he had no role in selecting the actual sites was apparently the explanation given to a concerned Tanaiste, who repeated it, in turn, to reassure the public.
The most vital attribute of any government in a time of crisis is its moral authority. If a government loses the trust of the people, in the words of the poet:
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."
Political corruption, which means, according to Frank Flannery at the MacGill Summer School, "the abuse of power for personal or group (ie party or vested interest) gain – and not just the pocketing of brown envelopes, did not die with the collapse of Fianna Fail. The most vital pre-election promise of Fine Gael and Labour – more important even than fixing the banks or providing universal health care, for example, was the promise of "a new way of doing politics".
This is what the country yearned for and voted for in overwhelming numbers, but it is now clear that this fundamental promise is being betrayed. Despite their seemingly sincere intentions, the new Government seems helplessly trapped in the same dysfunctional political culture that brought ruin to the country. How else can you explain Dr Reilly's declaration last Monday that: "I would do the same thing again if I had to"?
Cronyism continues unabated such that, for example, one of the most respected judges in the country, Peter Kelly, has criticised the continued politicising of the appointment of judges. Only a wet day in office, Eamon Gilmore anticipated Michael Ring, junior minister for sport, to trumpet a grant for a swimming pool in his Dun Laoghaire constituency that soaked up 57 per cent of the total national fund for pools; and of all the road-building projects in these straitened times, Wexford, Brenda Howlin's constituency was the winner.
It is a tragedy that the Government which, in fairness, is performing well on many fronts in extremely difficult circumstances, apparently fails to see that the daily drip, drip of this venal stuff undermines its moral authority, the absolute prerequisite to governing and maintaining social order in these fraught
times. Do they fear they won't be re-elected if they play it straight and tell it straight?
In advance of a Budget that inevitably will upset everyone, it would strengthen the Government's hand greatly if there was at least a short respite from parish-pump politics, cronyism, cringe-making spin, patent unfairness, mock powerlessness to tackle outlandish allowances and pensions – including their own – and trying to pass off mere tinkering with political reform as the real thing. It would be a welcome relief for a society that was betrayed and beggared by our political system.
The unpopularity of the Government in these fraught times and any prospect of social disorder has less to do with the hardship, which most people realise is inescapable, and more to do with avoidable incompetence and the venal stuff. With even more hardship about to be imposed people will endure almost anything, except being taken for fools.