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John Drennan: No one should leave a country in this condition

BARACK Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel once famously said you should never waste a good crisis.

It seemed to be a somewhat odd position but the US president's right-hand man was claiming times of national trauma provided real leaders with their best chance to design a better state.

Sadly, whilst Roosevelt might have understood that logic, Mr Cowen and our administrative elite have remained utterly oblivious to the need for a great national renewal.

Whilst the rest of the country increasingly looks for a reprise of the last great social revolution, which was driven by dreaming poets like Yeats, practical doers like Horace Plunkett and mystic idealists such as Pearse, it is not enough to merely say we need national renewal.

That, you see, is the Cowen- style politics of 'I'll leave nothing on the pitch', and we have had quite enough of that wind and sentiment.

Instead the cornerstone of any renewal is to first accurately diagnose the toxic source of our malaise for until that is done we cannot accurately hack the rot out.

In truth, seeing as the fighting Irish have the reputation of possessing a bit of devil in the blood, diagnosing the source of our current unnatural passivity has been quite the struggle.

Ironically, the solution may have come from the man who when he was Taoiseach doubled the national debt.

The Don Quixote of The Irish Times may be a hard old hound to love, but Garret FitzGerald's recent comments about the role of Ireland's ongoing colonial mindset in our current crisis did carry the ring of truth.

We are not suggesting 700 years of British occupation or the Famine are to blame for our self-created crisis, for the fattest generation in our history should really have gotten over the whole coffin-ship thing by now.

But we should not ignore the reality that the traits and characteristics of any society are formed by their historical experiences.

We might not like the arrogant French but their national persona is symbolised by Eugene Delacroix's ageless portrait of the beautiful woman 'Liberty Leading the People'.

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In contrast the best poor old Pat can come up with is the Sean Bhean Bhocht sitting in rags beside an abandoned potato field.

The pugnacity of the British character was formed by their imperial experience whilst their frontier history means the Americans prize liberty and personal responsibility.

Alas, however, when it comes to poor Pat, like all other colonial outposts, though we are good servants and fine flatterers we have an innate disposition towards lethargic indolence when the fates appear to be against us.

The great clique of non-judgmental sociology lecturers may claim that all peoples are born free but the gene pool created by history, climate and disposition means we are too willing to bow the neck as we lift our hair shirts and brace ourselves for the lash with practiced fear.

We may once have been Tigers who lived like Swedes, or even Germans, but now Paddy is back playing his ageless colonial role to such an extent that our blind wandering 16th century bards have been replaced by Joe Duffy.

That would be bad enough but the even greater problem we face is that this self-defeating colonial mindset is not confined to the voters.

Since the recession began the great cri de coeur of the people has been for leadership.

However, as we are learning to our ever-mounting cost, our even more feckless political and administrative elite are incapable of providing this.

We should not perhaps be too surprised for, like any other post-colonial state, irresponsibility has been the dominant theme of how we have been governed.

The political class has not just been irresponsible in the fiscal sense for we neglected our children, our environment, our economy, schools and, most importantly of all, how the State should be governed.

On one level this irresponsibility was understandable for our history meant the two post civil-war parties were instinctively hostile to the State.

This mindset meant political parties, and in particular FF, spent much of their time in office trying to undermine the State as distinct from actually running it.

For a time, rather like the newly-independent African colonies of the Sixties, the damage was contained by the virtue of the post-revolutionary generation. But, as with other newly-independent states over time, the new rulers acquired the traits of those who they replaced.

Though the Haughey era was more colourful, the degeneracy of how we have been governed reached its apogee during the Bertie era.

Back in 2002, Richard Bruton was more prescient than he thought when he compared the State Bertie built with Ceausescu's Romania.

At the time, far more attention was devoted to Mary Harney's claim that the struggle for the Irish soul consisted of a battle between the ethos of Boston or Berlin.

Ironically, as we now know, we were actually being governed more like a small semi-corrupt Communist East Bloc state where the role of FF (and the PDs) was to represent grand elites amongst the barristers, the bankers, public sector trade union leaders, builders and civil service mandarins who run the country on behalf of their nominal political masters.

However, now that a great politics of reform is needed our 'doss house' -- as Brian Hayes so eloquently called it -- of a parliament is so riddled with the vices that come with a colonial mindset that they are neither temperamentally nor politically equipped to rat out their real bosses.

They are fit only to serve and not to lead.

So how are we to reform the current wretched circumstance where, after less than 90 years of 'independence', we are casually talking about handing the keys of the country back to the queen?

All great national renewals occur when the people decide to confess to previous sins and shed the dead skin of that past.

We may well be a colonial State today but admitting where we are now should not be confused with any degree of acceptance that this should be a permanent condition.

One of the few constant themes of Mr Cowen and our governing elite is their self-proclaimed respect for the institutions of the State.

But no one who respects a country would leave it in this condition.

And no electorate who respects itself, will tolerate the retention of the debased political and administrative elites, who have reduced us, admittedly with our ill-informed consent, to our moral and fiscal decrepitude.

But if we do attempt to redefine ourselves, it is not enough for us to simply imitate the Germans or Americans for another symptom of colonialism is the desire to ape our more civilised superiors. If we are to engage in a genuine process of national renewal we have to recognise Ireland has not become a colony because of some series of political accidents or the fall of Lehman's bank.

Instead, to paraphrase Shakespeare, we must admit firstly that 'the fault dear BIFFO is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.'

Once that admission is made then, if we really want to be governed like Canada or other civilised states, the voters must make one thing clear to our political Lilliputians.

The party which promises to wield the knife most vigorously on the elites who have pimped us out to the bond markets to protect their status is the one which will be allowed lead our national renewal.


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