Thursday 27 October 2016

Government must look like it is happy, not jaded already

If this administration is going to achieve anything it must stop worrying about its own fate and get on with the job

Eoin O'Malley

Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30

'The admission by Enda Kenny this week that he could do nothing about the gang feud in Dublin might have been a statement of the truth, but it also gave a sense of a government without an agenda' Photo: Reuters
'The admission by Enda Kenny this week that he could do nothing about the gang feud in Dublin might have been a statement of the truth, but it also gave a sense of a government without an agenda' Photo: Reuters

Lots of kids grow up wanting to be sports stars or famous musicians. Many of them work hard at it, and some of them have real talent. But very few people become successful in sports or music. It might be that they are trying too hard to become famous. It's interesting to see that many of those who did become successful in music didn't harbour dreams of fame. Ed Sheeran just wanted to do something he enjoyed - make and play music.

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The same is true in other areas. Successful companies tend to be set up by people who weren't interested in making money. James Dyson was interested in solving engineering puzzles. That he became immensely wealthy was a bonus. The same is true of most, if not all of the most successful people in the world, whatever their field - they do it because they enjoy it.

It might be a bit early to tell, but the new Government doesn't seem to be enjoying itself. It's anxious to survive, but beyond that it doesn't seem interested in doing much. It's not clear how the Government is going to achieve anything. It seems hamstrung.

The admission by Enda Kenny this week that he could do nothing about the gang feud in Dublin might have been a statement of the truth, but it also gave a sense of a government without an agenda. In the first few weeks of the real business of the new Dail the extraordinary thing is that there has been so little real business. The Opposition seems to be making all the running, the Government is only reacting.

New governments usually come in bursting with ideas. There will be an agenda for the first 100 days. But this Government, it seems, is anxious to take a break. Theproposal that the Dail should rise on July 7 for 12 weeks - earlier and for longer than usual - gives the impression of an administration that's already jaded.

There is no legislative agenda. Even if there were, the Seanad is still not in place to progress that legislation.

Now maybe that isn't a real problem. We sometimes mistake new legislation for effective action, but new legislation can often be a barrier to effective action. It gives the impression that something is being done, but it often slows down the government or agencies from using the powers they already have. It just adds clutter for the sake of being seen to do something.

The call for legislation is a typical reaction when bad stuff happens. The series of murders in the gangland feud led to calls for tougher garda powers, including internment. And, of course, the Opposition looked for more money, as if there is no problem so big that throwing money at it won't solve it. This looked very much like old politics from the Opposition.

The 'usual reactions' tend to look at problems head on. They treat the symptoms, but rarely get to the cause. For gangland crime that must mean we look at the impact of illegalising the drugs that the gangs are making their money from. If you ban something that there's a demand for, someone will step in to supply it. Making it hard to get drugs makes it more dangerous for the users and the extraordinary profits that suppliers can make leads to gangland violence.

Legalising drugs on its own won't solve the problem. Bored young men will find some outlet for their energies. In middle-class areas they can play rugby and destroy banks. With many of the jobs their fathers and grandfathers did now gone, what do young, working-class men do? We should think about how to offer them more than an irrelevant education and a life of welfare dependency.

The Opposition was also unimaginative in its reaction to the housing crisis. We have close to 100,000 people on social housing lists and rents are too high. The Opposition's reaction is typical. It wants to increase rent supplement - even though we know this will just help landlords. In the Glass Bottle site there are calls for 30pc social housing in the development. But if there's a requirement that 30pc of the development is social housing, then nothing might be built. Developers might figure that the sums don't add up.

It's looking at the problem too squarely. If we have a social housing waiting list, build more social housing - simple! But we forget to look at why people are on social housing lists. Many of them are in work and earn a good income. They are only on social housing lists because rents and prices are unsustainably high. We need more houses. If 3,000 housing units are built on the Glass Bottle site - even if they are all private - that eases demand and has an impact on the social housing list.

Nor is the answer to simply give in to the market. Priory Hall and Longboat Quay show that the market can and will fail people. But rather than step in to 'solve' the problem by offering to foot the bill, the State can start to enforce its existing regulations. The political intervention is depressingly reactive.

When the Dail is on its long recess, people will complain that politicians are lazy. They are anything but lazy. TDs work harder than most of us would ever dream of. Oireachtas committees will work through July and no doubt will listen sympathetically to people affected by the crime or housing crisis. TDs will attend meetings each night and at weekends. But working long hours is no substitute for imagination. And sympathy is no substitute for solutions.

If politicians concentrate too much on getting re-elected they forget what it is they are there for in the first place. Government stops enjoying itself. If it can regain that enthusiasm for coming up with practical solutions to real problems it might find it enjoying itself once again. Re-election could be a happy side-effect.

Sunday Independent

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