Gene Kerrigan: Blatantly unjust politics takes fun out of dissent
At least rogues like Haughey gave hacks outlandish spin to deride, says Gene Kerrigan
There was a time when a gig as a dissenting newspaper columnist was relatively easy. Charlie Haughey, for instance, was a joy to write about. He lied and thieved with barely an effort to keep the smirk off his face. The obsequious party faithful bowed and grovelled, delighted that such a great leader had consented to pick their pockets. Back then, the gig for a dissenting newspaper columnist involved remembering what Charlie said a few months earlier, taking it out of the files and laying it down beside what he was saying now -- and bingo, watch the penny drop. Wake up, suckers, the guy's a chancer.
But no matter what the little crook did, there was always a solid core of Fianna Failers ready to kiss his hind quarters.
Later on, I enjoyed my work whenever a new packet of money turned up in one of Bertie Ahern's bank accounts. "I won it on a horse", Bertie would say. Or, eh, that was a "dig out". And the other money, the sterling deposits, well, "I didn't get that, I never got it -- oh, wait now, I think I must have changed punts into sterling when I wasn't looking and -- ah, Jayzus, why don't yez all bugger off and commit suicide?"
By God, those were the days. There was a vast centre of fawning deference to the Irish establishment -- all they had to do was put up a threadbare explanation of their questionable conduct and the crawlers bought it. This left a huge constituency of the bewildered faithful to which the perceptive newspaper columnist could attempt to explain what was going on.
Today, you don't have to be perceptive, you don't have to keep records of what the dodgy people said last month or last year. Today, the all-pervading cheesiness at all levels of the establishment is so blindingly obvious that -- well, they've taken the fun out of it.
Take the Greens. Imagine if a few years back someone revealed that a cabal of Fianna Failers was secretly rigging the composition of the Cabinet. Hey -- you be minister long enough to get a pension, then I'll be minister for a while. Imagine if the configuration of the Cabinet was decided by Fianna Fail chancers in deals so secret that even members of the Cabinet seemed unaware of them.
Imagine Haughey or Ahern was caught at that. The ropey alibis and the thick mist of spin would descend on everything, and dissenting newspaper columnists would spend weeks trying to blow the fog away. Today, there's no real effort to pretend that the secret rigging of the Cabinet is anything other than what it is -- unquestionably wrong and irretrievably debased. The very word Green has come to mean a particularly sneaky, self-serving form of behaviour. And the Greens seem cool with that.
Last week, a biggie from the HSE went on Morning Ireland to hammer rank and file campaigning against cuts -- the people who are trying to stop things getting even worse. Why was the HSE escalating the conflict? He said they "want to ensure that no patient or client coming into our services will be put at risk".
This was on a morning when the newspapers and airwaves were aflame with the story of Tracey Fay and the other two dozen or so children who have died in HSE care. Not to mention the countless immigrant children who simply disappear. Meanwhile, a coroner was considering the case of a 41-year-old man who turned blue and died after waiting seven hours in an A&E. Whole armies of people who have waited in A&E for multiples of seven hours read that and shivered. But, hey --not to worry -- the HSE is on the job. The health services might now be misshapen by the market obsessions of the right-wing ideologues in Government, but we can rest easy. Any lower-level public servant who works to rule is now in big trouble, because that potentially puts patients "at risk". And we listen to this and we don't even pretend anymore that it makes sense.
It used to be that a newspaper columnist had to argue that problems within the garda force couldn't merely be ascribed to the occasional bad apple -- that the political control and supervision of the force, the debasement of the very notion of why the force exists, was the problem. Today, this is so obvious that no one needs to be convinced. The Evening Herald got its hands on copies of the letters in which Trevor Sargent interfered unlawfully with the administration of justice. And quite properly published them. And the Opposition slyly -- and in my opinion incorrectly -- suggested that Fianna Fail must have leaked the letters in order to embarrass the Greens. Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern had a conniption. In an instant, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation -- I'm not kidding, the bloody National Bureau of Criminal Investigation -- is assigned to track down the leaker. Why?
When there was strong evidence some time back that Cabinet confidentially was betrayed, to the commercial benefit of identifiable business people, was the NBCI called in? Like hell it was. But, back then, only the integrity of the Cabinet was compromised by a leak. Now, the cosy relationship between the governing parties is threatened.
And today, the establishment is so gross and lacking in shame that it feels entitled to use a specialised Garda unit to exonerate the Minister for Justice from political allegations of leaking.
The builders have been swearing blind that their inside knowledge shows there are a mere 40,000 empty dwellings in the state. Now, an independent academic survey shows it's more than 340,000. One in six dwellings is empty. And it got this way because of the collaboration of the builders, their friends the bankers and their other friends the politicians. The politicians created the tax breaks, the bankers loaned the money, the builders threw up whole fields of unneeded houses and apartments, hotels and office blocks -- and they all got rich. Now, we pay billions to clean up the mess. In 1987-94, service cuts and tax evasion saw billions in wealth transferred from us to an elite. Lives were destroyed, people died unnecessarily and prematurely. Fortunes were made. Today, there's a transfer of billions from us and our children to the tiny elites of the bankers and their bondholders. They gave us cover stories that for a while seemed to their media fans to have some substance. All this would "clean up" the banks and "get credit flowing", to "mend the economy". No one now believes that. If the cover story is untrue, why is this being done? In whose interest? Some await revenge at a general election. But Fine Gael and Labour offer similar solutions, with a veneer of moral outrage. Even Sinn Fein, on Friday, agreed to "leave the door open" to doing a deal to keep Fianna Fail in power, or Fine Gael, if they have a better offer.
The injustice is blatant. Yet, we seem powerless to stop it. There is, perhaps, a level of fear. Either we swallow the injustice -- or we take on a very, very big fight. And the implications of that are daunting.
Charlie, old son, them was the days.