Sunday 17 November 2019

David Quinn: We need Michael O'Learys, not consensus monkeys, to rule us

If Michael O'Leary had been in charge of the country during the boom, would the economy be in its present mess?

The question occurred to me the other day when watching him on the news condemning The Gathering as 'The Grabbing' at a big aviation conference.

Ireland is full of trained consensus monkeys whose only ambition in life is to be part of the crowd, to have authorised opinions and to ask only safe, authorised questions.

In a land of consensus monkeys, O'Leary stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. He sets out to annoy. If he doesn't slay at least two sacred cows per speech he isn't happy and, even when he's wrong, he's still providing a service by forcing people to think.

Ireland during the Celtic Tiger was all about consensus and social partnership. Everyone said yes to everything because it was the easy thing to do. It made you popular and it got you re-elected.

This is the No 1 reason why we had our sixth austerity budget in a row on Wednesday. No hard choices were made, no fights were picked.

During the boom, the opposition parties didn't do much opposing. They criticised successive budgets for not spending even more public money.

The much maligned Charlie McCreevy was further maligned after the 2002 general election for trying to bring public spending under control having released the brakes in the run-up to that election.

If O'Leary had been in charge of the country during those years there is absolutely no chance whatsoever that he would have pandered to the social partnership. There is absolutely no chance he would have let spending get out of control.

The budget deficit wouldn't have ballooned the way it did because public spending would never have risen to the dizzy heights of the Ahern/Cowen era. O'Leary would have said 'no' when it needed to be said, and sometimes even when it didn't need to be said. He would have asked for every cent of public expenditure to be justified before a single extra cent was released.

He'd have said 'no' to his ministers and, much worse, to the public sector unions. The result of the latter would have been huge industrial unrest and that would have been very, very painful indeed. But would it have been worse than the pain we have to endure now with 15pc unemployment, six harsh budgets in a row, rising debt, and the return of mass emigration? Very doubtful.

The problem is, of course, that an O'Leary could never be elected Taoiseach or, if he was, we'd soon be rid of him. The No 1 lesson of the Celtic Tiger isn't even the danger of giving into all the vested interests – it is the danger of groupthink.

We haven't learnt that lesson yet, not even remotely. For example, there is no really serious questioning of the Croke Park agreement except by a handful of politicians and economists. There is still no real taste for confrontation with interests that can punch back.

The groupthink also extends to social issues including abortion, gay marriage and now assisted suicide. Anyone who disagrees with any of these is utterly condemned and vilified and the most appalling abuse poured on their heads.

The key at all times is to have safe, conformist views of the sort authorised by the 'church' of RTE and 'The Irish Times'.

It is obvious O'Leary despises consensus because he knows it is often another word for cowardice. If Ireland really wants to leave the economic disaster fully behind it, we need more Michael O'Learys.

Irish Independent

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