Wednesday 16 October 2019

Gene Kerrigan: Who knew telling the truth was sedition?

AT FIRST it was hard to know what to think. When Garda Michael O’Boyce, the outgoing president of the Garda Representative Association (GRA), severely criticised the Government my instinct was to agree with what he said.

But the media was full of respectable and responsible people telling us we should be shocked by Garda O’Boyce’s audacity. According to some, his speech was seditious. He had “crossed a line” into expressing political views, dragging the gardai into “the political arena”. He should be sacked, it was said, if not arrested.

Garda O’Boyce had prepared an address to Minister Dermot Ahern and it was released to the media when the minister decided not to attend the conference. For this he was treated as a threat to democracy. But what did he actually write?

“The Government,” said Garda O’Boyce, “has mismanaged the wealth of this country for more than a decade by allowing our assets to be plundered and robbed by bankers and speculators.” Having given it some consideration, there’s just one word in that sentence with which I’d quibble. It’s the word “allowing”. The Government didn’t allow bankers and speculators to gamble with our futures, it relentlessly encouraged them. I’d go a bit further — I’d say that various media stars, academics and economists also bear responsibility for the debacle. They mindlessly cheered on the reckless greed and attacked anyone who dared urge caution. (The opposition parties, too, were imprudent. They swallowed the philosophy of greed and offered no alternative. Their priority was trying to get a few state cars under their own arses.)

Garda O’Boyce went on to accuse the Government of “making generations of Irish workers pay the price for this treachery” — well, that’s true. (And it may be about to get much worse than even that.)

So, Garda O’Boyce wasn’t making stuff up. “Men like Fingers and Seanie were held up by government as examples of entrepreneurial skill and business acumen but were nothing more than gombeen men.” That’s true.

Garda O’Boyce intended telling Minister Ahern: “We are angry that we, our children and our children’s children have been sacrificed by this Government, to protect the people who bankrolled your party and robbed the Irish people.” Well, it’s true that Fianna Fail has for years been bankrolled by the property gamblers.

And the first instinct of the Cowen regime was to protect the bankers. Not to salvage a viable banking system, mind you, but to place the solvency of the country on the line in a reckless attempt to protect the solvency of the banks. Including the cursed Anglo.

“Bankers and speculators have bought your party, and in return you have sacrificed the greater good and prosperity of the Irish nation for the benefit of the few — the few who have now taken their ill-gotten gains and secured them in tax havens around the world. Truly, a government of national sabotage.” Now, strictly speaking, that’s not true. The bankers and speculators didn’t actually buy Fianna Fail. It’s more like they have a long lease on the party.

Garda O’Boyce might have had in mind Harry McGee’s startling Irish Times story about how the Government outsourced the preparation of legislation on financial regulation. Who did they outsource it to? An outfit that was “dominated by the financial industry and the private sector”. What sane person could disagree with Garda O’Boyce that “a Government corrupted by years of power has lost touch with the reality of life on a modest salary, if they ever knew it at all”? The garda, incidentally, never said the politicians were corrupt in the sense of taking bribes — although those who wish to muddy the waters have pretended he did. He said they were ”corrupted by years of power”, and surely no one can deny that?

Garda O’Boyce went on to describe “a government whose only agenda is to protect the economic traitors”. I’d have to admit that’s a bit unfair. That’s certainly not the Government’s only agenda. They’re also passionate about building a chaotic, expensive and unfair two-tier health system. And they’re true believers in using dangerous inequality as a social dynamic.

Garda O’Boyce said that gardai “are angry at being lectured by government on the need to be patriotic”, and aren’t we all? “This Government is misusing what it means to be Irish as they support a new aristocracy created in their image. This new aristocracy chooses whether to retain state pensions while still working . . .”

Let me stop you there, Garda O’Boyce. The pension-on-top-of-a-salary thing. Some of us were writing about that long before the collapse. Our complaint has nothing to do with forcing politicians to make sacrifices in a time of austerity. Big pensions for people already earning big salaries is just plain wrong.

The politicians took control of the payroll and swiped huge amounts of money. They called it expenses, pensions — whatever. The true description is looting. It happens all the time in the private sector, where executives control the payroll and declare themselves to be unique talents worthy of massive rewards. Name it for what it is — looting.

Garda O’Boyce thinks the demonisation of the public service “verged on incitement to hatred”. A slight exaggeration, but I can see how it might feel that way. Certainly the Government sought to “drive a wedge between the public and private sectors”.

Now, how seditious was it of Garda O’Boyce to say all this? It’s not a secret that political parties take money from big business and frame public policy to suit their patrons. From that we got light-touch regulation and financial collapse. And most of the politicians responsible, and their financial backers, are still in business. And, apparently, none of this is a threat to democracy.

But when a policeman sees this, understands it and states it plainly in robust language he “crosses a line”. Today, we are in such extreme trouble that matters of pay, of housing and health and education are highly politicised. To merely discuss how we live is to enter “the political arena”. That is not Garda O’Boyce’s doing.

A lot of ordinary people like Garda O’Boyce now have a clear view of the catastrophe into which we’ve been hurled. (This is more than can be said for many politicians, academics and economists.)

We need these people talking, arguing — defending their corner. We need an active citizenry to balance the cronyism, incompetence and — yes — corruption of this society.

What we don’t need is to shut people up when they speak their minds on matters of public policy. The complaint about the GRA, for some, is not what was said but because of who said it. But there’s no need to fetishise the concept of a non-politicised police force. We want the police politically neutral, not brain-dead.

Possibly the most sick, repulsive and yet hilarious moment in the whole farce came when Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said the GRA “owe the Irish people an apology”. It brings a new meaning to self-delusion when any member of this Government feels he has the right to call on anyone else to apologise for anything.

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