Wednesday 12 December 2018

Gene Kerrigan: Welcome to the Republic of Opportunism

Today, the political classes are uneasy, they must find new labels to sell their political products

MOCK FIGHT: Eoghan Murphy, Minister for Housing, seems to be spoofing over water shortages by setting out to combat imaginary enemies of the Republic of Opportunity. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
MOCK FIGHT: Eoghan Murphy, Minister for Housing, seems to be spoofing over water shortages by setting out to combat imaginary enemies of the Republic of Opportunity. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Heaney is handy. If you're a political leader with a featherweight image, and you need some gravitas, it helps to flick through a volume of Seamus Heaney's poetry.

Take a line or two from Heaney's collected works and carefully adapt it to your political needs.

So, you maybe check out the one about digging with the squat pen, as you spoon a bowl of high-protein low-carb muesli into your gob.

Read on a bit. Potato mould, milk bottles corked with paper - sorry, Seamus, not quite the image we're looking for. Bin that one.

Here's a poem about a child in a... four-foot box. Oh, God, that's gloomy. Move on.

Aha, decides our ambitious politician, here's a nice one: From the Republic of Conscience.

Lovely line, the Republic of Conscience. Two strong, positive words: Republic, Conscience. Politicians like to use strong, positive words.

Can't just rip it off, of course - you have to spin the line sideways a bit.

And that's how Mr Varadkar came up with his catchphrase - the Republic of Opportunity. (Him, or one of the highly paid consultants we employ to fluff his image.)

Great word, opportunity. Conscience is all very well, but it's a bit wimpish, to be honest, Seamus.

Conscience demands something from you. Conscience can slow you down. Conscience is a bit nanny state.

Opportunity, though - it offers you something. It's a good, upbeat word with a smell of the Market about it.

The Republic of Opportunity. That's a concept even a vulture property investor can get behind, while jacking up rents and repossessing apartment blocks.

Last week, Taoiseach Varadkar spoke to Vincent Browne about the terrific plans he has for his Republic of Opportunity.

And former Taoiseach Brian Cowen spoke of how the EU stopped him from being quite as terrific as he might have been.

Poor Brian, getting his doctorate, in his ceremonial robes, looked like a lesser-known Roman emperor. One of the ones whose name you could never remember, so you wrote it on the inside of your wrist before you went into the exam. Brianus Flopperoonius.

Last week, of course, while vainglorious politicians were assuring us of their true greatness, a lot of people were thirsty in this Republic of Opportunity. They couldn't wash, they couldn't flush.

Water from burst pipes was leaking into the ground.

Get used to it, citizens.

There are miles and miles of fraying pipes, every yard of them a potential water burst.

For decades, while the politicians were making the public health system what it is today (dangerous, according to some hospital consultants), the same eejits left the water infrastructure to literally rot.

Last week, the new Minister for Watching Water Leak into the Earth, Eoghan Murphy, tried to float the notion that burst pipes are mostly the fault of those nasty people who refused to pay their water bills.

"It would have opened a new revenue stream..."

Eoghan, I think, fancies himself at the spoofing game.

Instead of fixing the mains (and domestic leaks are a small part of the problem), Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail came up with a plan to install water meters in every household in the country, at a cost of - well, half a billion here, half a billion there, never mind the total cost, check out the Big Idea.

At that stage, FG/FF/Labour were unashamedly arrogant. They began their water privatisation project even as they were hitting us with austerity.

They had no fear of the people. They'd grown used to being obeyed. Vote as we tell you, or we'll make you vote again.

In the past we caught them taking money, we caught them in tax scams - they said, ooops, that was an accident.

We caught them saying one thing in public and the opposite in private - but they looked us in the eye and denied it - and we just shrugged.

We didn't make a fuss when they cut services galore; we sat surly-faced as they directed Revenue and Social Welfare to threaten to take the money at source if we didn't pay levies and charges. Then, from 2014, we fought them.

Their need to keep Irish Water off-the-books meant they couldn't use Revenue against us - they were vulnerable.

The results of the 2016 general election unsettled them.

They're now readjusting their approach. The arrogant do-as-we-say attitude can't be counted on, not for a while, at least.

They must emphasise the all-in-this-together aspect. Thus, the Republic of Opportunity. Thus the ever more widely inclusive "squeezed middle". Thus the insistence that any dissent will lead to petrol bombs and tanks on the streets.

The past must be turned into a blurred picture. Thus, the decades of ignoring water infrastructure didn't happen. The times that engineers warned there would be a bigger price to pay if we didn't fix the pipes - never happened.

Last week, Taoiseach Varadkar complained that too few municipal houses had been built.

As though this was a flaw, a mischance, an error - something that happened when someone took their eye off the ball.

In truth, from the 1980s, local authority housing came into the sights of the right wing. They sold it off, they eventually stopped building. This wasn't an error, it didn't happen when no one was looking, it was part of a long-term plan.

Taoiseach Varadkar complains of the lack of house building, as though he hasn't been ten years in the Dail, and a Minister for six of those years.

And, while the likes of Brid Smith and Richard Boyd Barrett were demanding that the State ease the housing crisis, Varadkar and his chums contented themselves with smartarse quips about people who don't want to take the responsibility of government.

Today, mock fights must be arranged, enemies of the "squeezed middle" identified, and heroes of the Republic of Opportunity must be decorated.

Last week, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy tweeted, "I will fight in cabinet for funding/investment" in Irish Water.

Really?

Who will he fight? Who, in the Cabinet, is against fixing damaged pipes?

You see what I mean by spoofing - Murphy sets up a mock fight, in which he is the hero, combatting imaginary enemies of the Republic of Opportunity.

Murphy has been in the Dail for six years. He and Varadkar and the rest of the crew have presided over an Ireland of trolleys in the hospitals and sleeping bags in shop doorways.

They have protected the obscenely wealthy against such measures as financial transaction taxes, they've kissed Apple's ass, they've been stalwart protectors of the Republic of Privilege.

The vultures circled, Nama became a huge sweetie jar for the rich, the Government voted against tackling vulture funds at a United National level and the mainstream parties became always alert to new ways to facilitate a Republic of Plunder.

It's amusing, in a slightly bitter way, to see the sons and daughters of privilege now uneasy with political instability, trying on various pseudo-democratic costumes, to check how they're reflected in the mirror of public opinion.

This country has been broken by the politics of greed - the schools and the hospitals, the social services, from ambulances to cancer services, from cancer facilitates to the pipes from which we get our water. At the same time, great wealth has blossomed for some. This is not, as we are asked to believe, some accidental imbalance. It's how it works in the Republic of Opportunism.

Sunday Independent