Monday 26 September 2016

Tolerance has its limits so let's cut out the posturing and form a government

Tim Pat Coogan

Published 11/03/2016 | 02:30

In their desperation, the people have not clutched merely at straws, they have clutched at Fianna Fáil. One thinks of the cartoon showing Micheál Martin in hypnotist mode telling his audience: 'When you wake up you will remember nothing'. Photo: Gareth Chaney
In their desperation, the people have not clutched merely at straws, they have clutched at Fianna Fáil. One thinks of the cartoon showing Micheál Martin in hypnotist mode telling his audience: 'When you wake up you will remember nothing'. Photo: Gareth Chaney

The hard-won Parliament that ultimately emerged from the flames of the GPO presents a sorry spectacle these days. The lip service that has been paid to the idealism of 1916 is being drowned by the sound of the slurping noises from the snouts buried in the trough of patronage.

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It's quite clear to anyone looking at the results of the election from a historical perspective that the people have delivered a massive vote of no confidence in the way our democracy is run.

The huge number of Independents, the devastation of Labour and the decline of Fine Gael indicate a dangerous outburst of that old condition of colonial times: "If there is a government, I'm agin' it."

In their desperation, the people have not clutched merely at straws, they have clutched at Fianna Fáil. One thinks of the cartoon showing Micheál Martin in hypnotist mode telling his audience: "When you wake up you will remember nothing."

As a result, Fianna Fáil has taken to the airwaves to play hardball letting it be known that it is back in the saddle and that it has a mandate not to coalesce with Fine Gael. Decoded, this translates as: "We should get the lion's share of the spoils." Of course, the conventional wisdom is that basically all will be well; that, although there is general anti-merger feeling in Fianna Fáil, this will be overcome and we will get a government led by that intriguing new Irish political figure, Micheál Kenny - if only because they don't want to see Sinn Féin becoming the major opposition party.

But even the conventional wisdom also believes that we need not expect the emergence of this creature until, at best, some time in April.

I have no doubt that the basic common sense of the Irish people which held our society together during the worst days of austerity, without army or civil unrest in the streets, still exists in abundance.

But there is a limit to tolerance.

For the moment, the people are reacting with a decent sense of national spirit, as befits the centenary of 1916. There is no sign of colonial cringe discourse about whether or not the Queen should be invited or whether we are risking offending the Unionists.

However, there is also a criminal national debt which costs €7bn annually to service - repeat: seven billion.

There are inflated suicide figures, a generation lost to emigration, a housing shortage and homeless totals which are rising by the month, and no one in authority seems unduly pushed about the trolley situation in our hospitals.

Imagine someone being forced to lie in a busy corridor while suffering from bowel cancer?

There is also the small matter of the looming threat to our fragile stability posed by the possibility of Britain, our largest trading partner, leaving the EU.

We need a government to demonstrate stability to international markets. The bank bailout has left us with such a debt overhang that a rise of a percentage point or two in interest rates could make that €7bn servicing of our debt another crippling blow to our economy.

Overall, there is an appalling lack of accountability in our society. Nama remains silent about things northern.

Many banks think that they have got away with it to such an extent that they have had the brass neck not to give customers their entitlements by returning them to tracker mortgages where due.

Our system of investigating possible white collar crime is a non-system. It depends on setting up tribunals in which, for one day's attendance, a senior counsel can be paid something of the order of 10 weeks' old age pension.

And do the tribunals result in justice and fairness? Do they hell. George Bernard Shaw's words apply: "A government commission reminds me of a man going to the lavatory. It sits, for a long time nothing is heard, then there is a loud report - and the matter is dropped."

In all the talk about Dáil reform, I hear very little about the need to change the Constitution so that the Dáil is entitled to set up committees with real teeth to ask questions like: Did the directors and chairmen of the financial institutions know we were heading for a crash? If they did not, why not?

We don't know the answers but we do know that the problem cost us €70bn (at least) to pay for what happened. We also know we don't have gardaí on the streets, but we do have huge, provocative criminal funerals and old people in rural Ireland living in terror of being attacked in their homes.

To our posturing politicians, I say: Cut out the crap and form a government.

Irish Independent

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