Saturday 23 March 2019

Gene Kerrigan: 'Do they think we're stupid? Yes, they do'

How did we get so many hapless, superficial and overpaid leaders at all levels of society, asks Gene Kerrigan

Let's not have any witch-hunts, okay? The failures are now coming in waves. But, let's stay cool.

From the cervical cancer scandal to the runaway cost of the proposed children's hospital, to the bizarre behaviour of the Taoiseach in Davos, it's as though we're finding out that the country is run - at every executive level - by clowns.

Let's not look for a scapegoat - maybe we ought to step back a little.

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Maybe we ought to acknowledge that this level of incompetence is so unusual that we need to decide if the problem with this country is deeper than the ineptitude of individuals or departments. Perhaps it's structural.

The tasks that led to the spectacular failures are not even that complicated.

The children's hospital, for instance. Future demand can be assessed (we have the demographic figures), necessary resources and staffing levels can be calculated, costs of materials and labour can be reckoned - all that kind of practical stuff. It happens every day, in every walk of life.

We all know if we're getting work done and it's costed at €1,000 we'll eventually be charged €1,283 - it's an old Irish tradition. But the hospital costs not alone went haywire, they shot erratically upwards like a faulty firework.

In 2012, it was to cost €404m. By the time a contract was awarded, the figure was €485m. By 2016, it was €650m.

When the Government approved the plan in 2017, the cost was €983m. Last November, it was €1,430m. A month later, it was €1,730m. More than four times the original cost.

But this isn't just about runaway costs. This is a dangerous period. Things are happening, from medicine to Brexit, that will have longterm effects on our children's lives.

And our highly paid executive class are currently taking the classification of "bloody eejits" to a new level.

On November 21 last, a shower of our movers and shakers gathered at the Convention Centre in Dublin to be addressed by a Great Mind hired to recharge their intellectual batteries.

That great mind belonged to David Davis, former Brexit Minister in Her Majesty's Government.

Dominic Cummings, one of Mr Davis's companion Brexiteers, has described the ex-minister as "thick as mince" and "lazy as a toad".

No fair-minded individual, viewing Mr Davis's performance as Brexit Minister, could find that assessment unreasonable.

Not alone did our executive class and their servants sit and listen to this man, they paid him €18,000 for the speech.

A couple of weeks back, another carnival of movers and shakers brought Boris Johnson, an epic failure on every level, across to Dublin to speak to them. How much he cost has not been revealed.

Is this a joke? Are our executive class so rich they can afford to spend small fortunes bringing over eejit Brits to put on light entertainment performances?

Is this the level of seriousness of the people who run this country?

It's little realised the extent to which our executive classes - from bankers to judges to politicians, and the layers of their assistants and enablers and "consultants" - vastly overpay themselves.

At the time the banks were being run into the ground, leading bankers were on €2m and €3m a year. Even as the stupid, damaging austerity was imposed on us all, the Taoiseach was paid more than the British Prime Minister. The Minister for Finance got more than his equivalent in the USA. The Irish President was paid more than the US President. The Governor of our Central Bank was on €276,000, and the Chair of the Fed in the USA was on €157,000.

And this was after our folk took "patriotic" pay cuts.

This peculiar circumstance, in which we pay premium rates for pox-bottle performance, still applies.

Medical science can do wonders. We challenge cancer. But now the efforts to rectify the CervicalCheck mess have been found to be mistake-ridden, and the time limit on checking the last test has run out.

There's no issue that our executive class can't make a pig's mickey of.

In December 2017, the British failed to agree a set-up to avoid a border between the south and North of Ireland. Our Government let it go. They could have objected to the negotiations moving on to the second stage. Showing they're reasonable people, they chose to accept the British assurance of a "backstop". Varadkar called it "bullet-proof".

Now, the man who should have been tough in private in 2017 is panicking in public.

In recent weeks, ministers have been tip-toeing around the issue, for fear that a wrong word could be used to destabilise the Irish position. Even when we all knew the Irish case was in big trouble, the politicians kept pretending all was fine. Last Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed endured eight-and-a-half excruciating minutes as Audrey Carville sought answers on Morning Ireland.

Creed threw bushels of verbiage back at every question, all avoiding the issue. After almost six minutes, in measured words Carville said: "Minister, many people listening to you this morning might think that you are treating us all as if we are stupid".

Carville was focused, relentlessly impeccable. Creed stuck to his Government's belief that it's none of our business that they're being pushed around by the British.

Meanwhile, in Davos, a joke-fest for spoofers, where you could listen to the solemn opinions of Sir Bono and Mr Will.i.am, Leo Varadkar was running off at the mouth. He told anyone who'd listen about how awful it'll be on the Border. He said we're being "victimised", and we'll end up with troops and police being shot at by the bad guys.

"Reckless and irresponsible," said Mary Lou McDonald, which sums it up.

"Aides" subsequently "clarified" the Taoiseach's panic. It was "frustration", they said. The Irish Times suggested the strain was getting to Varadkar.

What are we to do about the failure of our executive class - the highest paid, most expensively educated people on the island?

Cut their pay drastically, for a start. The jobs attract eejits hungry for money and prestige. They'll complain, and warn that people of their calibre won't take the jobs. That would be a plus.

Then, recognise that the educational networks that connect, protect and promote these fools saturate them with dreadful values.

Third, recognise that there's a narrow class element to the executive structures - entitled people with an inflated sense of their own abilities. They can't educate, house or medically protect their people effectively. Their own pinched, outmoded ideology and limited class concerns get in the way.

Among the "consultants" who made pucks of money helping our geniuses inflate the Celtic Bubble were the folks from PwC. They made more pucks of money helping our geniuses during the collapse and during the austerity.

These same "consultants" are the ones who paid the €18,000 to David Davis to make a speech.

Meanwhile, there's an inquiry into the utterly mad increase in the cost of the children's hospital. The inquiry will cost €450,000. Who got that gig? PwC, of course. They will bring to the task minds that have been expanded by proximity to the deep intellectual well that is David Davis.

Thick. As. Mince.

Sunday Independent

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