Friday 26 December 2014

Gene Kerrigan: It's always silly season for our leaders

Our economy is dying but politicians have much more important things to worry about, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 23/09/2012 | 05:00

OH joy -- the politicians are back from their summer break. After working for 79 days over a period of seven months (averaging 11 days a month), they needed an eight-week break, God love them.



Traditionally, the 'silly season' is that period which begins when the politicians go on holiday and we in the media are so short of material that we have to invent silly stories.

You know the kind of thing -- like the stories we made up this summer. About the economy tanking -- as the Government's austerity policies continued to drive down domestic demand.

We all knew that as soon as the politicians came back and had a look at the latest ESRI report they'd put us, and our silly-season stories, in our place.

The report came out last week. And, it seems that the economy is tanking. As the Government's austerity policies continue to drive down domestic demand.

So out strides Enda Kenny, refreshed from his five-star hotel think-in, and he says: "The silly season is over."

You have to love it -- a Taoiseach masterfully brushing aside the quibbles of the small-minded people who doubt him. Away with the sceptics, "the silly season is over".

Em, eh -- not quite. Things have seldom been simultaneously so ludicrous and yet so serious.

Councils are sending false demands to citizens in an effort to con them out of money. Labour TDs have rallied to the support of the embattled Health Minister, who is about to cut home help for the elderly, a decision that will undermine the health and sanity of countless people.

Authorities are reconsidering whether to chop anti-suicide resources for young people. And Labour TDs turned their backs on the one minister who seemed to be espousing party policy on health.

Meanwhile, with a motion of no confidence in Health Minister James Reilly, Fianna Fail launched another attempt to take the moral high ground.

Really, lads?

If there is anything more bizarre than this Government trying to look dignified, it is the constant efforts of Fianna Fail to take the moral high ground.

Lads, ye couldn't take the moral high ground if ye had all three infantry brigades of the Irish Army clearing the way.

This Government is a mess. A competent opposition could tear it apart. But we know that whatever Fianna Fail says isn't about our welfare, it's about the welfare of Fianna Fail. It's about the party trying to reposition itself for the next general election.

So, the right wing in the Dail isn't up to much. What about the Left?

Oh, dear. If ever we needed a coherent response to the destruction being wreaked by right-wing politicians, it's now. As far as I can tell, one group of lefties is attacking another group over something to do with Mick Wallace -- or not.

Concerted action is suspect among groups divided by ideological differences forged in the heat of early 20th-Century politics.

If you can't take on a Government as brutal as this one, in these bloody awful circumstances, pack it in, comrades.

County councils, frantic in the face of government funding cuts, want to get their hands on money. They fear that the county infrastructure will deteriorate -- and so it might.

So they take standard application forms and rewrite them. Sending out forms for student grants, they inserted a demand for proof that the household charge has been paid.

One constituent of Seamus Healy TD was asked for proof of payment of the household charge after applying for a mobility grant.

Effectively, these are makeshift fake invoices, trying to frighten people into paying charges for services to which they are entitled, regardless of whether they've paid those charges.

This is like an ambulance refusing to pick you up from the side of the road because your library books are overdue. Next, they'll want us to produce our TV licence before we're allowed a blood transfusion.

It's so glaringly out of order that South Tipperary council had doubts. It looked for legal advice and dropped the idea on the basis of that advice.

"We do not want to do anything that is not legal and changed our approach on the basis of that," county manager John O'Mahony told the Irish Times.

Where did it get this legal advice? From the Department of the Environment. And who is the political head of that department? Phil Hogan.

And what did Mr Hogan say about the plot to link household charges to benefits to which citizens are legally entitled?

He said in the Dail that he looked forward to more examples of councils taking "whatever means is necessary, to get an increased level of compliance with this household charge".

Question: was the Minister of the Environment ignorant of his own department's views on the legality of this? Or was he aware but just didn't give a toss?

Is the Environment Minister encouraging councils to break the law?

The HSE chose, after much work, 30 locations for primary-care centres. The list went to Dr James Reilly. He added five locations to the list, two of which are in his own constituency.

Will TDs, with all their resources and protections, take this decision apart and look at its innards -- and not just at the locations in Reilly's constituency?

Or will they bray about it for a while and then find something else to have fun with?

Technology now allows the citizen at home to see what a vote of confidence looks like. It was gross, with giggling, sneering TDs rocking in their seats, throwing insults at one another.

It's great entertainment, the health of the citizens.

I wouldn't be a fan of the handwringing wing of Labour, but Roisin Shortall's short speech on the motion of no confidence in her boss raised question after question that go to the heart of why Labour is in government.

Wonder of wonders, a junior minister for health made a speech about our health! It posed two opposing ways of looking at politics and it wasn't a mindless example of cheerleading.

Faced with this choice between Labour's way and Fine Gael's way, the Labour TDs loudly bellowed their support for Fine Gael.

Shortall could have voted against Reilly -- which would have got her thrown out -- but she's playing a longer game, embarrassing not just Reilly but those of her own comrades who are proud of their role in putting the boot into the helpless.

Colm Keaveney, chairperson of the Labour Party, assures the nation that the Labour rank and file are disturbed by what's going on. Really? So they support Shortall's stance?

And how will this manifest itself? Is this the same Labour rank and file that was cool with Ruairi Quinn's solemn undertaking not to increase tuition fees -- and his subsequent flagrant reversal?

Is this the same rank and file that was so easily satisfied with Eamon Gilmore's dismissal of the Wikileaks revelations?

With the return of the politicians, the silly season, I'm afraid, has resumed.

Sunday Independent

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