Monday 29 December 2014

The hypocrisy of arrogant Alan Shatter's last stand

Shatter's pantomime, €70,000 'gesture' to sick children shows gall beyond compare

Published 25/05/2014 | 02:30

Alan Shatter
Alan Shatter
Illustration by Tom Halliday

Government policies are damaging people who already face dreadful challenges. Which is why Alan Shatter's little pantomime in front of Leinster House on Thursday was grotesque. It was understandable in human terms, but not acceptable on any terms.

This Government is inflicting hell on sick people and their families. Parents of children with leukaemia are given to understand that it's in the best interests of the country that they lose their medical card and all that goes with it. The Government forces people who face immense stress to take time out of their troubled lives to explain, to argue, to plead.

Such treatment of anyone is wrong. To do it to people who are already stressed from dealing with serious illness – whether their own or the illness of a loved one – is cruel. Mr Shatter's little media game filled a need in his life, but it cut too close to a sick reality created by the Government in which he was proud to serve.

In human terms, Mr Shatter has been through a bruising few months. It ended with him losing a job he had long wanted, which he believed he was good at – whatever anyone else thought. Having a ministerial career end in such circumstances had to be painful and unsettling. It will take time for him to see all this in perspective. His behaviour last week was a lapse of taste – to put it mildly.

Few people can have believed that Alan Shatter would take the ministerial severance pay and run. He wasn't entitled to it. Legislation had been passed but not signed into law.

The Government failed to do its job and left a legal loophole through which Shatter could have extracted 70 grand. Only a ball of human greed with no self-respect would do that. Nothing we know of Shatter suggests he would have allowed himself to behave that way.

When the speculation arose, he could have issued a one-sentence statement and left it at that. But Shatter has never spoken a sentence when he could enunciate six paragraphs. During the whistleblower scandal, he issued a routine press release to announce a report – it was over 5,000 words long. And, in case that wasn't enough, he went on TV to explain what he meant.

So, given the opportunity to appear one last time in the limelight, Shatter milked it. First, an announcement that he would make a statement. This created the speculation he knew it would generate. Then, the appearance on the plinth, the centre of attention. And the teasing statement that he had taken the money – the few seconds pause to build suspense, before saying he was giving it to the Jack & Jill Foundation. It was classic Shatter. When he was done, it took a team of cleaners three hours to mop up the ego splashes on the plinth.

Yes, we could complain that the money wasn't his to give – but, God, this whole thing is so embarrassing, so let's not go there.

Shatter's vision of himself as a man of largesse fits into the Government's vision of itself as saviour of the nation. To behave as brutally as the Kenny/Gilmore regime has done, politicians need to see what they're doing as part of a bigger picture – and, by focusing on that, they shut out the cries from the people they're crushing.

No matter which charity Shatter chose to benefit from his pantomime, it was going to be embarrassing. This Government's brutality has asset-stripped in all directions. But to choose the Jack & Jill Foundation for his pantomime – oh, boy, that took a neck as hard as Shatter's.

The previous day, the Jack & Jill Foundation issued a press statement. On medical cards, it said, we must "move beyond means testing". Children with severe disabilities "should get these cards, which are the gateway to the care they need automatically, in their own right, as Irish citizens. Our children deserve better".

Even as Jack & Jill decried the cruelties, the newspapers were stained with the tears of people treated with suspicion, jerked around like puppets, begrudged the support they need, and denied it – the support they've already paid for, in a lifetime of taxes.

Having been part of the Government overseeing that, Shatter then threw a wad of cash at Jack & Jill – and who can blame them for accepting it? The people who run Jack & Jill are far from radical. They campaign against the cruel medical card policies because they see the effects. Had Shatter survived the garda scandals he would be proud of the Government that creates those effects.

The bigger picture tells the Kenny/Gilmore regime that their brutality is an unavoidable consequence of their commendable patriotism. It's part of the Doctrine of Tough Decisions.

We are decent souls, they tell themselves. When we hurt people, it is to do good. It takes special courage to take these "tough decisions". They've now got to the stage that any cruelty can be justified by reference to this doctrine of courage.

But there are tough decisions and tough decisions. Kenny/Gilmore had really tough decisions to make. Like FF and the Greens before them.

It's now fashionable to quote Philippe Legrain, former adviser to Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. Even government ministers quote him. Three years ago we quoted Legrain warning that the ECB was "lending" money to Ireland, so we could pass it on to German, French and UK bankers. It was a roundabout way through which the EU could subsidise those bankers – and it stuck us with the debt.

More recently, we quoted Legrain: "I understand why the Irish government did what it did, but they could have stood up for themselves."

That required truly tough decisions. Kenny/Gilmore would have to confront bankers, bondholders; and the European Central Bank; Merkel, Draghi; Rehn, Barroso, the consultants from the big accountancy firms and the advisers on secondment from the sovereign principality of Goldman Sachs.

No chance. In this Government's kiss-up, kick-down world, it's easier to kick the vulnerable.

Fianna Fail and the Greens lacked the courage to confront those who used this country as a means of siphoning money from the ECB to German, French and UK banks, and sticking us with the debt. We could perhaps understand their panic, their cowardice, as they agreed to anything that might ease the pressure they were under.

Kenny and Gilmore don't have that excuse. They looked at what Fianna Fail and the Greens did, and at the austerity programme that followed, and they called it "disastrous and obscene" (copyright Michael Noonan). And they took office and they did the same. And they're proud of it. They listed all the things that they wouldn't do, and they did them.

It's the medical card cruelties inflicted on the sick and their carers that's now arousing anger. Look in any direction and there are comparable cruelties.

Last week, Alan Shatter gave money that wasn't his to ease the pain of those suffering from the policies of the Government he was proud to serve. And Enda Kenny got a letter from a despairing man with a sick grandchild and he replied with a lecture on how hard he's working.

They kick the vulnerable and they call it courage. Long live the Doctrine of Tough Decisions.

Sunday Independent

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