independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Government plays blame game with public's lives

The Taoiseach and his ministers' default position is to insist that everyone else is wrong, writes Willie O'Dea

WE ARE all familiar with the concept of the people becoming exasperated with their government. We have seen it happen here and even more dramatically across Europe.

The government gets it wrong, causes hardship for its people and they in turn lose faith and confidence in the administration of the day and the permanent bureaucracy.

It is a not uncommon phenomenon, indeed it is part of the usual cycle of politics. Governments do get things wrong from time to time and endeavour to put them right.

That is the usual path but, as we have seen in recent times, this Government rarely treads the "usual" path.

When this Government gets things wrong, its default response is to petulantly and repeatedly insist that it was right and that everyone else got it wrong. The volume of press releases containing paeons of praise to itself are in inverse proportion to the level of difficulty being caused to the public.

This was how it handled last year's defeat of the Oireachtas inquiries referendum and this year's Supreme Court rebuke of its Children's Rights' referendum information campaign.

In both instances, it appeared to view everybody else, including the Supreme Court and the public, as being out of step with it. Last week it seemed that the significance and importance of the Supreme Court's ruling on its information campaign had not fully dawned on the Taoiseach.

When asked in the Dail if he got the fact that the Supreme Court had found the Government to be in breach of the Constitution, the Taoiseach and his ministers suggested that they would have to wait until December to answer and hide behind the fig leaf excuse that last week's Supreme Court ruling was just "preliminary".

It would make you wonder if there is any point in setting up a convention to add new clauses to the Constitution when the current Government finds it so inconvenient to respect the existing ones. The Government's constant efforts to both ignore and refute the clear evidence of its own bad decisions and unfocused policies is not, regrettably, confined to the area of constitutional or political reform.

It affects our daily lives. We see it in the health service, where thousands of people are paying the price for a completely avoidable crisis in health spending.

We also saw too, last week, the chaos being wrought by the Government's new Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi). Brought in by Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn to reform and streamline the work that was previously done by VECs and local authorities, it is doing the exact opposite.

Up to 50,000 students have yet to even receive decisions on their applications, let alone the grants and what is the Government's response to this disaster of its own making?

It puts the delay down to "teething issues", writes a stern letter to the CDVEV and assigns 10 additional temporary staff from the Public Appointments Service.

Not content with this, it also offers the excuse that much of the delay is due to students not completing their forms correctly.

In other words, the delay in you getting your grant is your own fault, not ours.

It is an excuse they have used before. Some months ago, Minister Quinn's Labour Party colleague and Social Protection Minister, Joan Burton, was saying almost exactly the same thing to explain away the dramatically increased refusal rates for the disability allowance.

In that situation, almost three out of every five applications for disability allowance were being rejected and there were delays of up to 12 months in processing applications.

Instead of rushing to see how the delays could be reduced and the genuine claims speeded up, the minister and her department laconically defended their new system and said much of the problem was down to people making incomplete or incorrect applications.

The problem for this Government is twofold.

First, many of its reforms and changes are ill-considered, ill-judged and crudely implemented. Reforming the delivery of public services is about a lot more than issuing edicts and writing letters. Second, it has come to power on the back of promises and commitments that are undeliverable in the current climate. It knew this at the time, yet it went ahead and made those promises.

Now the public are paying the price for this folly.

Willie O'Dea is a Fianna Fail TD for Limerick City

Sunday Independent

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