News Eoghan Harris

Friday 19 September 2014

Vote Yes in Seanad poll or we'll make you sorry

Published 22/09/2013 | 05:00

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GIVEN the titanic struggle in Croke Park, let's not pretend that politics can compete with Gaelic football today. Even in Timbuctoo they discuss how the Taoiseach's father Henry was on the first Mayo team to win an All-Ireland in 1936 and that his son Naoise won an All-Ireland hurling medal with the Mayo Minor C side a few weeks ago.

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Luckily for me, the Taoiseach himself provided the perfect link between politics and sport. Last week, asked about his own failure to follow or precede his family's footsteps, Enda Kenny replied: "I was born to play on a bigger pitch."

Naturally, most of the media treated his remark as a ruefully joking response. But some angry callers to late-night radio shows didn't seem to get the joke. And while I hope the Taoiseach was joking, I also think it significant that some people took him seriously.

But why? Possibly because this Government is packed with ministers, both Fine Gael and Labour, who see themselves as heroic figures, striding across the stage of history, taking the hard decisions that will deliver us from the vale of tears into which we were led by Fianna Fail.

So we get a lot of "we" statements from cabinet ministers who come on like Churchill, promising blood, sweat and tears. As in "we" have to take hard decisions, and "we" have to cut our cloth to suit our measure and "we" have to face the fact that it will be a tough Budget.

But it will not be a tough Budget for cabinet ministers. Or a tough budget for members of the Oireachtas. Or a tough budget for highly paid public servants who – without any apparent sense of shame or solidarity with what I call the Suffering Sector – are still drawing their increments.

No minister is poorly paid by the standards of the private sector. Most of the current Cabinet – and this includes the Labour ministers – can look forward to a fat pension, whether or not they seek election again. Only a few in the private sector enjoy that kind of financial padding and sense of security.

So ministers should stop the political mendacity of talking about how "we" must brace ourselves for a brutal Budget. They are not part of the Suffering Sector. And they should be ashamed to speak as if they were sharing in private sector poverty.

But shame, that saving grace, seems to have no place in the psychology of this Government. Otherwise, they would have begun the battle to roll back the recession with an act of solidarity with the people who put them in power – the act of taking a substantial pay cut.

The Government did not take such a cut. The Opposition did not call for one. Both colluded to make sure that neither they, nor highly paid public servants, made any major sacrifices. As a result, Insider Ireland has sat out this recession in relative comfort while their fellow citizens struggled to survive.

These fat cats now assure us the recession is nearly over. How will they be able to tell when they never really registered it in their own lives? How can they honestly call themselves Christian democrats or social democrats when they failed to fully share the sufferings of the past five years?

But the hubris and the hypocrisy of Insider Ireland are not confined to the economy. In the past few months the Government has produced two further distractions to deflect attention from its own failures. The first was the decision to abolish the Seanad.

This would have been fair enough if a temporary standing-down of the Seanad had been proposed as part of an emergency economic package of austerity – a policy which should have included a 30 per cent pay cut for all cabinet ministers, politicians and senior public servants. But to single out the Seanad as the sole source of savings – which are now questionable – smacks of stroke politics.

To add insult to injury we are now being blackmailed to vote Yes. Blackmailed, because what the Government campaign boils down to is the following brutal threat: "If you don't vote to abolish the Seanad, then you are stuck with it, because we will refuse to reform it."

Why have the political pundits been so placid about this brazen bullying? Why have they not hammered home the lunacy of a Government calling on the people to remove the Seanad and, if they fail to do so, folding its arms spitefully and refusing to reform it?

On Brecht's principle of making something strange so we can see it clearly, let's push the "remove or no reform" principle to its logical extreme and apply it to another area. Imagine a prosecutor in a paedophile case calling on the jury for the death penalty or else the State would refuse to reform the accused and let him loose back in the community!

Apart from the anti-Seanad campaign, the other major example of political mendacity is the twice-bungled attempt to hold a banking inquiry. The first bungling was the attempt to allot the inquiry to a bluster of politicians, where it would soon become a show trial for Bertie and Biffo. Meanwhile, the many mistakes made after the night of the guarantee are excluded.

The second bungling was the equally brazen effort to exclude Anglo Irish Bank. This fiasco that would follow has been accurately described as Hamlet without the Prince. Actually, it's Hamlet without half the cast of characters including the characters complicit in the murder of his father.

Shane Ross and Stephen Donnelly have robustly pointed out how ridiculous it is to exclude Anglo from a banking inquiry. But why should these two TDs have to carry the burden of making that obvious point? Why were the political pundits not racing them to raise the roof about this second attack on common sense?

The answer is that ever since Enda Kenny took office many political pundits have stopped subjecting the Government to any serious scrutiny for two reasons.

First, they had not been fair to Kenny when he was in the wilderness. Anxious to foster amnesia about this, they jumped on his bandwagon and became his cheerleaders.

Second, when challenged, these same political pundits claim that cheerleading is the only option. Asked about their failure to hand out a yellow card, never mind a red card, to a Government which has gone off the rails on the Seanad and the Banking Inquiry and you will be told: "Hey, what's the alternative?"

That response would carry more conviction if the same cheerleaders were not conducting a campaign to ridicule the Reform Alliance. Read back over the punditry last week and you would think that Lucinda Creighton, Denis Naughton and Billy Timmons were part of a bunch of weirdos. Actually, they are among the few conviction politicians in Dail Eireann.

In sum, the pundits' argument that there is no alternative to going along with gormless Government campaigns is merely another version of the "remove or no reform" argument. But if the print and broadcast media continue to act as cheerleaders for discredited government campaigns, they should not be surprised if the Suffering Sector turns to other media outlets.

Sunday Independent

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