Monday 16 September 2019

Let's establish who caused this humiliation

The establishment chooses its own facts as the truth and we vanish down the rabbit hole into wonderland

Illustration by Tom Halliday
Illustration by Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

For some time, humiliation has been part of the job description for members of the Irish establishment. The pay is still good, and you still get to wag your finger at the common herd, but the position has lost its moral swagger. Because they know that we all know what's going on. The remarkable thing is the extent to which the Irish establishment brought itself into disrepute.

It wasn't the lefties, the liberals or the feminists who undermined the Catholic Church or An Garda Siochana, it was all their own work.

And never has a politician been found out as quickly as the current Taoiseach. By his own behaviour.

Today, to accept the writ of the Irish establishment you must be seen to believe things that are widely known to be untrue. It's humiliating.

Back in the day, the establishment was impregnable. At local level, the priest, the banker, the doctor, the solicitor, the business owner and the TD operated as a loose coalition to oversee the riff-raff.

At national level, either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael topped the poll. Whichever it was, they governed in an unofficial coalition with the Catholic hierarchy.

To question any of this was to be considered a crank - at best. Maybe even a subversive.

That old establishment was both socially and economically conservative. But from the late 1960s the social conservatism ebbed. In the old Ireland, men could legally rape their wives; contraception and divorce were not human rights but sins; and many an evening in a quiet corner of a public park the locals enjoyed a game of Kick-the-Queer-Unconscious.

Connecting with Europe meant improving education, an openness to ideas. Many of the savage aspects of old Ireland embarrassed the establishment in front of their new European friends.

While the social conservatism withered, within the EU the economic conservatism persisted - and hardened through the final decades of the 20th Century.

And it was during that period that the humiliation of the establishment began.

First, the captains of industry, the politicians, the hoteliers, the pub owners were revealed to be operating intricate tax-evasion schemes, with the aid of bankers, lawyers and accountants.

Later, the super-wealthy were revealed to be dodging tax using "loopholes" obligingly knitted into legislation following consultation with lobbyists.

We knew they were at it, and being let get away with it.

Inquiries of various sorts took place, but the overall impression was of an establishment that prospered by doing whatever it felt it needed to do, without consequences.

The Catholic Church might have had something to say about all this, but its authority had already collapsed. It still hasn't recovered from the revelation that the hierarchy protected its Church's reputation for decades by playing Hide-the-Paedophile.

Then the Guards ran out of fingers on which to count their own accumulating scandals. When it turned out they'd invented a million fictional breath tests we were partly shocked, but kind of admiring all the same. These guys don't do corruption by halves.

For many, it was regrettable that the establishment was morally deficient, but at least they'd given us the Celtic Tiger.

Then, the 2008 collapse revealed that the bankers literally didn't know how banking works.

The role of "regulators" seemed to be to ensure the bankers weren't troubled by regulations. Economists who pointed out the laws of economics were told by the Taoiseach that they ought to commit suicide, so most of them decided to agree that money grows on trees.

Thus the corruption spread, until official Irish statistics became a source of mirth internationally - and we'll long be mocked for our "leprechaun economics".

When the economy collapsed, the establishment worshipped at the Church of Austerity. This required the asset-stripping of the many; and, at the same time, a high tolerance of tax dodging by the few. Simultaneously, massive amounts of private debt were taken over by the State.

This led to an increasing left-wing presence in the Dail, but it's still quite small.

The economic conservatism that imprisons the mainstream parties makes them helpless in the face of homelessness and the health chaos. You cannot meet social needs if every initiative must be subject to the laws of the market.

As a result, we have people making fortunes from the property market and the health business, while the numbers of homeless multiply and the hospital waiting lists are declared to be "out of control".

Even as its credibility drained away, the establishment began to more loudly insist on its own infallibility.

Homelessness isn't the problem: what really matters is someone claiming the dole and doing the occasional nixer - that's the nut we have to crack.

To question the party line is to risk being driven into the wilderness.

If a conscientious banker, such as Jonathan Sugarman, popped up, he was easily isolated. Garda whistleblowers were treated as pariahs by Fine Gael, the "law and order party".

It wasn't law or order that mattered, but loyalty. The whistleblowers were, the party agreed, "disgusting". Black was white, good was bad.

When honourable gardai sought protection it was not from the ranks of FG or FF that they got it. And when a TD was arrested, handcuffed and her name falsely linked with drunk driving, the media cooperated with those who sought to discredit her. And did so even though all this happened shortly after that TD spoke in the Dail about the need to support the Garda whistleblowers.

It's now four years and five months since the media was used to blackguard Clare Daly. Even now, incredibly, the investigative dynamos of GSOC have yet to conclude their investigation into that scandal.

Again and again and again, we have an establishment humiliating itself even further by being unable - and/or unwilling - to confront the emerging reality of its own institutions.

We know what's going on, and they know we know.

It's now almost two weeks since the new Taoiseach spoke to the Dail about the Jobstown "false imprisonment" trial. Since he had previously spoken about this matter, in a planned interview, it's obvious that the Taoiseach knew what he was doing.

He told the Dail that his view of what happened at the Jobstown protest was formed by an incident - one that was mentioned in court (details of an alleged vote to hold Joan Burton captive overnight). The evidence he cited was, as he should have known, rejected by both the judge and the jury, as it was contradicted by a video of the incident.

This rejection, in parliament, by a Taoiseach of the findings of a trial judge and a conscientious jury is unprecedented.

One would expect such an event to provoke some controversy - is the Taoiseach right? Was the judge wrong? Was the jury incompetent?

No questions have been asked.

It's as though the political parties are pretending either the Taoiseach was right or this didn't happen. And the media shrugs.

We know this happened, the establishment knows we know. Are we supposed to pretend it didn't happen? Or are we supposed to adjust our views and accept as true that which we know to be false?

When the truth is widely known, yet the establishment chooses its own facts as the truth, we are truly vanishing down the rabbit hole into wonderland.

Sunday Independent

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