Sunday 20 January 2019

Judge not, Shane Ross, that ye be not judged

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

In life, we often find situations in which an otherwise excellent career is overshadowed by one major transgression. In politics, Shane Ross is demonstrating it can work the other way round, with one excellent idea being overshadowed by the accumulated weight of all the transgressions.

And, in his case, the transgressions are perhaps coming from the same source as the one excellent idea - from his career in journalism, in which he excoriated many of the things politicians routinely do, and then discovered that, as a politician, he was doing roughly the same things routinely.

Therefore, he seems to be always either transgressing or about to transgress, in the light of all the fine things he used to say.

But in journalism, in that happier time, he would also be required to have an excellent idea at least once a week… well, maybe once a month…. well, maybe once. And this is as much a source of trouble for him now as all the bog-standard political manoeuvrings.

He just can't let go of that one excellent idea, which is to stop the practice whereby the political parties appoint what he calls "their friends" as judges.

Of course in this he has been attacked by various members of the political parties, and their friends - judge not, that ye be not judged - who have been able to make the one accusation above all that is truly embarrassing. That he is just like them.

So he has been justly hammered for the way he minds his own constituency, after a lifetime of observing such practices with a wintry eye.

It's not a good look, when Wesley College gets a grant of ¤150,000 or when the Stepaside garda station is re-opened for reasons that do not seem to conform with the absolute best in progressive policing practice. But, again, Ross would not exactly be alone in favouring this particular style of political resource management.

Perhaps more is expected of him because he talks so grand, but then anyone who goes around expecting things of people in that line of work probably needs to tone down those expectations or risk a great deal of personal unhappiness.

The tweet in which he mistook Rob Kearney for "Dave" was not the greatest look either, though I felt that this worked as a kind of "distraction" - while we were laughing at how little the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport knows about sport, which was something we knew already from other terrible tweets, we wouldn't be talking about the ¤150,000 going to Wesley.

And, again, to be accusing a minister of not knowing things that are known to the rest of the population would be to misunderstand the nature of their vocation, which is not the accumulation of general knowledge and its accurate dissemination. No, whatever it is, it is most certainly not that.

The sport may not be his strong suit, and the transport seems to be something of a challenge to him, too, given his lofty disdain for any suggestions that he might intervene in bus strikes or other such controversies which are really none of his business. That seems to be the policy anyway, in these matters - the Minister for Transport has no "role" of any kind when things go wrong in what can only be described as transport.

Indeed not only do these disruptions have nothing to do with him, mate, apparently the worst possible thing for the minister to do in these circumstances, would be to do something.

Only bad things can come from doing something. Not doing anything - that's the smart play.

Yet while it may be infuriating to those who, unlike the minister or his associates, must rely on public transport, again this attitude of masterly inactivity is not just the approach favoured by Shane Ross, it has become the guiding political philosophy of many of the western democracies.

For a government minister to do something, to do anything, is seen as "interfering" with the great forces of nature which rule the universe.

And, indeed, you are inclined to see some wisdom in this when Minister Ross actually gets it into his head to do something, and it turns out to be his unprovoked attack on learner drivers.

When Shane Ross started out in public life, the main thing that seemed to be worrying him was the incessant meddling of petty officials with the few freedoms enjoyed by law-abiding citizens, that incurable urge on the part of the grey men to complicate the lives of productive people going about their business.

Then he crosses over to the other side and more or less immediately turns into one of the grey men himself, endorsing what is one of the more asinine of all forms of bureaucratic dead-handedness, the stipulation that learner drivers must be accompanied at all times by a qualified driver - a deeply illogical and even farcical idea that is not just supported by Ross, but that he is planning to reinforce with various draconian measures.

I would say just one thing about this - a qualified driver is not a qualified driving instructor. Well, two things - with waiting lists for driving tests stretching as far as the eye can see, this would not seem like the ideal time for a crackdown. But such simple truths are as nought when the minister wants to show that he cares about something.

Still, being fair-minded to a fault, again I'd have to say that with these moves, he will make the lives of many decent people far more difficult than they should be. Which will make him unpopular, with those people at least. And usually we would applaud that readiness to be unpopular in any minister, but in this case we won't bother.

So all this unpleasantness around Ross, all this tomfoolery, is taking away from that one thing he is doing that is unquestionably excellent, his proposals about the way in which judges are appointed.

There is nothing wrong with what Ross is trying to do there, nothing at all. Personally, I have long regarded these practices as the sort of thing which, if we found out they were going on in the more dubious outposts of Latin America, we would laugh indulgently at the, well, the Latin American-ness of it.

No, there is nothing wrong with what Ross is trying to do there, apart from the fact it is Ross who is trying to do it. And, sure enough, his enemies - who consist of just about all the other members of the "traditional" parties in Leinster House - are responding not with any intelligent arguments, because there aren't any, but mainly by saying the words "Shane Ross" at every available opportunity.

Yes, they have loved this particular "perk", and they are not going to let it go without a horrible struggle, and certainly not to "Shane Ross".

So with a heavy heart, he must stand aside from this one, and give it to someone who can really get it done. Someone who will not be so target-rich, but which will strike dread into the hearts of the establishment on this issue.

He must give it to Boxer Moran.

Sunday Independent

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