Saturday 1 October 2016

A tale of how 
we are ruled

Published 27/07/2014 | 02:30

Owen Keegan, Dublin City Council chief executive, has been talking about the Garth Brooks concerts fiasco
Owen Keegan, Dublin City Council chief executive, has been talking about the Garth Brooks concerts fiasco

The moral philosopher Jeremy Bentham's belief that the central objective of all public policy should be to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest number of a state's citizens is not a bad rule.

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Sadly, it is followed more rarely in Irish public life than you might think, for despite all the lectures on populism, Ireland is mostly ruled by coercive politicians and fiat-loving bureaucrats. It might appear to represent a long journey from Bentham to Brooks and the Garth Brooks pantomime might appear to be a flimsy template to define how Ireland is governed. But, the sorry saga which gripped a nation is far more relevant than mere fripperies like cabinet reshuffles. This is not simply because our governing structure, when faced with an issue which would facilitate the happiness of hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens, collapsed in a heap. Ironically, it was Mr Brooks who actually cut to the heart of the issue when, after our bureaucrats had applied the letter of the law to its inevitable dismal conclusion, he asked if it might be possible to now get the man in charge or the real "powers that be" to sort the mess out.

We, of course, knew all too well that Mr Brooks was being pathetically optimistic. Be it within local government, the HSE or national politics, Irish politicians have for decades enthusiastically collaborated with the destruction of their powers via the great rise of quangos and bureaucrats. This has not been accidental either. Instead our politicians have facilitated their own emasculation on the self-interested principle that, if they are not the man in charge they can be held responsible for nothing. Choosing the easy life is, alas, not without its perils. Had Dublin a Boris or a Blair or a Bloomberg, they would undoubtedly have possessed the chutzpah to resolve this issue. But, Irish governance has made it impossible for such politicians to survive. Instead we must suffer the tepid domination of unaccountable bureaucrats who are paid hundreds of thousands a year to obsess over bicycle lanes. And whilst Mr Kenny did indulge in some belated insipid shaping, not even Country and Western stars could take that seriously.

When it comes to Garth Brooks and how we are governed, much has been made of the seat-of -the-pants nature of the planning process, the astonishing organisational lacunae, the casual dismissal of real conflicts of interest and the vast casual indifference our master race of bureaucrats have in facilitating the happiness of the citizen. The latter is perhaps the most telling issue of all. In a land where delight is a rare experience for so many of our working poor, politics, bureaucracy and the law had an opportunity to enhance the happiness and contribute a rare moment of transcendence to the citizens. The challenge inspired little more than casual indifference whilst the only penalty exacted for failure was the irritation of an agitated Dail Committee.

Mention of the working poor, when it comes to the fable of Garth Brooks, should teach us much of the disinterest was informed by social class. Were an opera singer involved some way would undoubtedly have been found. By contrast the small joy of mostly rural and working class citizens was weighed, measured and found wanting in the balance by our permanently pensioned elite. One supposes we should at least be relieved they were only dealing with a concert. Were it our bureaucrats and politicians asked to engage in the judgement of Solomon, one suspects the baby would have fared far less well than it did in biblical times. The bad news for us is that many the self same individuals have now moved on to deal with the issue of a property bubble which Mr Kenny, God help us, believes to be as unreal as the tooth fairy. We can only pray that denouement will be somewhat better.

Sunday Independent

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