Saturday 22 October 2016

Ship of State drifts aimlessly, with only a makeshift government to look forward to

Published 21/04/2016 | 02:30

In the minor matter of the drifting of our ship of State, it's not seven weeks, but more like seven months, since we have had any meaningful command from the bridge.

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The last time we had any real governance was on Budget day, back in October. Then, the main preoccupation was with a general election. As things turned out, Enda Kenny allowed himself to be deflected by Joan Burton, who wrong-headedly vetoed an early date.

Since then, all parties have been pretty much in full-on election mode.

Since Christmas, we had dithering over the date - followed by deeply depressing debates devoid of any long-term national planning. There followed a period of polls, platitudes and populist posturing, all culminating in today's political paralysis.

Now we see parties and personnel jockey for position for a second election. Running the country on autopilot may, at a glance, seem viable - but it isn't, and it exacts a huge toll on the authority of public office.

The Government's first duty must now be to engender some respect and restore credibility. After all, it employs 300,000 people. It has the ultimate responsibility for State security against thugs, terrorists and organised crime. Its duty of care is to provide basic living standards for the most vulnerable in society. It regulates all sectors of economy through taxation, legal standards for consumers and competition parameters. It represents us on a daily basis at EU structures and across the globe, and has an obligation to earn our esteem.

The aura of a Cabinet minister comes with a status worthy of respect. This is difficult to describe - it is not a celebrity thing, it is the dignity of service that comes with being in cabinet.

If this honour could be seen as a currency, it has evidently been steadily devalued for the past several months.

Even the process of election has lost value. Blatant, self-serving electioneering reduces the whole affair to a cheap giveaway bound up in jockeying for power and privilege.

Of course, it is voters and taxpayers that are the major losers in this winner-takes-all orgy of opportunism.

In the wings, the public sector trade unions are certainly not slow to pick up the scent of weakness on the wind.

Why not pay Luas drivers more than bus/train operators or equivalent grades in the rest of Europe?

Why not reverse all the entry pay grade reductions for teachers and gardaí?

Why should anyone pay Irish Water bills? Why should hospitals or HSE units exercise cost control when there's an end-of-year bailout?

Sectional interest/pressure groups can ratchet up their case for 'fairness'. They all have votes and, quite simply, there's no one around to shout 'stop'.

The weakness of whatever makeshift minority government materialises will be without precedent.

It'll be led by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who's desperate to grasp office and will compromise to get a deal through.

We've heard the reports of Independent TDs who are in a position to pitch deals - constituency deals that may cost €1 billion per deputy.

Government sources recently leaked to the Sunday Independent 'shopping lists' of €13 billion.

At least Waterford's John Halligan candidly came straight out, insisting his vote pivoted on 24/7 cardiac care services being approved for his local Ardkeen hospital.

It's all reminiscent of the dreary dying days of Jim Callaghan's Labour government in Britain in 1979.

He was a nice, reasonable, avuncular guy. Too nice. When uncollected refuse bins and unburied bodies piled up from municipal workers' threats, indiscipline and work stoppages, the British public had enough. Maggie Thatcher was the antidote. It seems we must re-learn the harsh lessons before we can re-establish proper governance.

'New politics' advocates of majority-less government point to Denmark as a role model to follow.

They currently have 179 MPs and a single governing party, Venstre, with only 34 seats - of which 18 members are ministers.

Their political culture is based on a bedrock of consensus. At various times over the past 70 years, the Conservative People's Party, the Social Democrats and the Danish Social Liberals have come and gone in government.

Every issue is negotiable, and every issue is eventually agreed upon.

They haven't heard of cute hoors or gombeenism there.

Back on the old sod, senior civil servants remain rudderless.

They're unable to implement rigorous overviews of State agencies like Nama.

It's been confirmed that they own/operate sites that could house 80,000 homes on more than 2,000 hectares of strategic land in Dublin and surrounding commuter counties.

History may yet reveal how the nation's prime property was sold for a song to foreign vulture funds and developers.

We may well buy back these same assets now, providing those investors with massive profits.

Families must pay higher rents and young couples can't buy homes due to supply-side dysfunction in construction.

All the while, the Dáil is fair set on a course to drift aimlessly along. Mind the gap - as it's never been greater between the rulers and the ruled.

Has there ever been a time in the nation's existence where there's been so much bluster and blather and such little respect and credibility for politicians?

Irish Independent

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