Saturday 19 January 2019

Stuck in a loop of the 'same old, same old'

We seem to have become so used to crisis and scandal that we take these failures as normal. Will it ever stop, asks Gene Kerrigan?

Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

It'll be all right, won't it? Eventually? Let's say five years from now, we won't be having one crisis after another in basic services, will we?

It seems like we're stuck with crisis, followed by scandal, followed by outrage.

For instance, we're still getting over the fact that the State doesn't know how to prosecute white-collar criminals. And last week it turns out we make a balls of it whatever the colour of their collars.

A serious criminal case of alleged violence collapsed in Limerick. The State admitted it couldn't vouch for the accuracy of the Pulse computer system, on which a trial - and the entire Garda force - depends.

Are we stuck in this loop forever - crisis, scandal, outrage? Do we keep going only by pretending to ourselves that eventually - say, in five more years - it'll all be OK?

We'll limp on for a while with this cartel government. Then there'll be an election and we'll have a Fine Gael-led coalition. Or a Fianna Fail-led coalition.

Or maybe they'll cobble together another cartel, in which the right-wing parties run the government and run the opposition - to convince us that there's no alternative to right-wing politics.

And we must keep the faith and live in hope that somewhere along the way FG or FF will sort out the disastrous public health system.

And while they're doing that, they might have a look at the seemingly never-ending crisis in housing. So, in five years or so we won't have yet another scandal like we had last week - a widow sleeping in a car outside a Cork cemetery, with her five kids, because she couldn't get emergency accommodation.

And the Garda Siochana - in five years, give or take, the cops will be oxo, there won't be a new Garda horror story exploding across the front pages every couple of weeks.

(And, sure, with a bit of luck, the Commissioner might even find her phone.)

In five years' time, young teachers will get over themselves and accept that the Government will pay them lower wages in perpetuity, because they can get away with it.

In five years' time or so, the clever people running the country will figure out a less socially destructive way to buy their cocaine. That's if they can find a way to buy it without involving gangs of barbarous little gobshites who're never done shooting one another, and their relatives and friends.

Sure, in five years, we can relax a bit.

Or, maybe 10.

Or 15.

Time flies. The entire Enda-in-office thing lasted a mere six years. It's 10 years since Enda made a personal pledge to "end the trolley scandal".

It's now 11 years and two months since Minister Mary Harney declared the A&E scandal a "national emergency", to be tackled robustly.

Is it two or three years since Alan Kelly solved homelessness?

And I won't live long enough to read all the reports full of remedies for the Garda crisis.

Look, folks, we're not asking for heaven on earth.

Just a place to reliably fix us when we get sick. Or, if the drugs don't work, give us a quiet place to die - not on a trolley in a corridor, with drunks shouting obscenities at a nurse.

We'd like housing for all of us; a reliable public transport service; education for our kids, teachers treated with respect; mannerly cops who enforce the law efficiently and fairly. Stuff like that. Y'know, civilisation. Society.

Why the crisis after crisis, the scandal after scandal, the lie after lie?

And do we have to live with it into the next generation?

It's not bad luck or bad management, and there's too much of it to put it all down to incompetence.

I think there's a blindingly obvious reason we're caught in a cycle of perpetual scandal and crisis. It's because the solutions offered by right-wing parties are the same as the causes of the problems.

Take public housing.

There's been municipal housing, starting in London, since the late 19th Century, after the industrial revolution resulted in miserable slums. First, enlightened employers, who wanted a healthy, strong workforce, built flats and estates. Then, city and state authorities did the job.

This housed the workforces that built economies; it also provided a solid foundation to the housing market, keeping house prices realistic.

In Ireland, from the 1930s, the great housing estates on which our cities thrived were built - all through to the 1960s - periods when we were much poorer than we are now.

From the 1980s, via Thatcher and Reagan, right-wing politics have dominated. This directed that housing must be privatised, so the estates were sold off, local authority house-building was run down to nothing.

This had two main effects - apart from making speculators rich. It destabilised the housing market, encouraging price bubbles - serviced by a reckless, ignorant, greedy banking sector - which eventually collapsed the economy.

It also produced spiralling rents, a massive waiting list for public housing and a growing number of homeless.

Right-wing political correctness prohibits the building of municipal housing. So, the Government tinkers with the market, trying to prod and beg and bribe the private sector into building the right kind of housing.

Hasn't worked, won't work, can't work. But they'll keep doing it. Health - same thing. Market forces in a two-tier system. If the State delivered a working public health system, "there would be no reason for sustaining a private [health] system".

The quote is from Brendan Howlin, reflecting frankly on his failures as Minister for Health.

We think of the "problems" that afflict health and housing; they're not accidents, they're not happenstance problems, they are the effects of deeply felt policies - to which the likes of Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar subscribe in their very bones.

The right has the media on their side, and the bulk of the academics; they appoint the judges, and the senior civil servants; the senior cops are appointed under political patronage; the rich fund the right-wing parties, which do favours for the bankers and receive pats on the back from right wing comrades dominating the EU, the ECB, the IMF and elsewhere.

And still, although dominating the political agenda, they make a pig's mickey of the country.

Opposing them, they have a small, fragmented left that often almost colludes in making itself easy to caricature and parody. And Sinn Fein, which might or might not go the way of Labour.

Every flaw and mistake of left-wing parties is headlined incessantly in the media, while statements by right-wing politicians are accepted at face value. Much that is relevant to our problems is published only in business pages, for the benefit of shareholders and investors, in language not easily interpreted by the rest of us.

We've just had an internal party leadership election in which Coveney and Varadkar each argued a different strand of right-wing politics. It was conducted - and passed on by the media - in isolation from the record of the past six years.

In that time, the party implemented budgets it had condemned while in opposition, and from the United Nations to Nama consistently acted in support of vulture outfits.

But, sure, not to worry. We've years and years of this ahead of us.

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