Wednesday 21 August 2019

Gene Kerrigan: 'Trusting Varadkar, Donohoe and the SpAds'

We tend to assume those in charge know what they're doing. Evidence suggests that might not be so

Cartoon by Tom Halliday
Cartoon by Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

There are times when you find yourself going, "Ah, come on, stop messing about".

It happens when people behave with such silliness you can only assume they're acting the maggot.

They're supposed to be serious people, in serious positions, making serious decisions that will affect our children's future, but they appear to be complete eejits.

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Twice last week I found myself saying: "Ah, come on, stop messing about."

We came to accept downright foolishness from Fianna Fail - it seemed to come naturally to them. Now, hardly a week goes by without fresh reminders that we're currently governed by a different set of complete eejits.

Last week, we had two such reminders. The first reminder was from the "Chief Advisor" to Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Finance; the second was from our jolly Taoiseach, Mr Positivity.

Sometimes politicians' foolishness comes from arrogance, these days smug complacency is the root cause.

FF had grown so arrogant in the Celtic Tiger years, they couldn't believe the ground would have the audacity to collapse beneath them. And when the ground crumbled in 2008, they stood ashen-faced as the Gods of Banking told them the game was up.

On several continents, very rich gamblers who had bet big money on the health of the Celtic Tiger got the bad news. They shrugged. You win some, you lose some. That's the game they play, it's called capitalism.

And when they got calls to tell them that the Irish government would pay off their bets, despite their greed having crashed our economy, they could only respond, "Ah, come on, stop messing about".

They were almost as taken aback as the "vultures", "cuckoos", landlords, land hoarders and site hoarders are today, at the ease with which they're getting rich off our housing crisis.

But it was true. Fianna Fail, with the agreement of Fine Gael, handed rich gamblers tens of billions they hadn't won, didn't deserve and didn't expect.

Why?

To show the rich people we were strong and confident, our politicians said.

In truth, it was to show them how loyal we are to their interests.

Austerity followed.

At least, we told ourselves, we'll never again have a government as incompetent as Fianna Fail.

Hold my beer, said Fine Gael.

You probably haven't heard of Ed Brophy, but - as "Chief Advisor" to Paschal Donohoe -Ed affects your life.

Ed is a very special person - in fact, his specialness is included in his job description. Ed is a SpAd.

SpAds are Special Advisors.

Once upon a time, government ministers had only civil servants for advice.

Trouble was, civil servants at their best act independently in what they believe are the true interests of the State. Often, this conflicts with the best interests of the political parties. So, in the 1960s, while they were inventing the miniskirt and the lava lamp, the Brits also invented the Special Advisor.

The SpAd's job is to advise ministers how best to advance his or her political interests, rather than to advise them as independent servants of the State.

It was the 1980s before we could afford SpAds in Ireland.

SpAds, in my humble opinion, tend to be dynamic people who snap their fingers a lot and walk around humming the theme from The West Wing.

They are to Government ministers what brass knuckles are to night club bouncers.

In 2011, Ed Brophy became "Chief Advisor" to Joan Burton, Minister for Social Protection. (I remind you, for no particular reason, that The West Wing finished its run just four years earlier, by which time so many pols admired the cool notion of having a Chief of Staff.)

In 2014 Ed was promoted to "Chief of Staff" to Tanaiste Joan.

Through the years of austerity, we were told the hospitals and schools and the hospices and, above all, the Travellers had to tighten their belts.

In line with austerity, there was a "pay cap" for SpAds - at a juicy €92,000. Ed was so special that Joan stood over the payment to him of an extra €52k, so Ed was on circa €140,000.

They were all at it - Coveney, Varadkar, Burton, Bruton, Howlin - all the austerity merchants, accepting special pay rates for their SpAds. Sorry, they told us, but ya get what ya pay for.

I came to believe these people saw their political status as partly determined by how much their SpAd exceeded the pay cap.

For some of us, the high point of that regime was when Joan, with great ceremony and smiles all round, formally "opened" a food bank, where the hungry could be sustained.

Having helped make Labour what it is today, Ed's talents now serve FG.

Last week, I found that Ed had tagged me, and Fintan O'Toole, in a tweet about the success of his government's policies.

"Waiting for an analysis of the... remarkable success... in the next columns..."

And it linked to a magazine piece that said Ireland is the second most "productive" country in the OECD.

I looked at the link and said, "Ah, come on, stop messing about".

The "Chief Advisor" of the Finance Minister is proud of something, and he suggests that leftie columnists stick that in their columns and smoke it.

It was great to hear that Ireland is second best at something. But, what did the OECD mean by "productive"?

Time magazine told us. "Productivity is calculated by dividing each country's GDP by the average number of hours worked annually by all employed citizens."

Ah, come on, stop messing about.

The Irish GDP stats are as reliable as the promises of a TD in a tight marginal.

No one takes them seriously. In fact, no one takes any Irish stats seriously since 2015, when the Central Statistics Office was humiliated by having to report that the Irish economy had jumped by 26.3pc (they later redid the figures and found it was 34.4pc).

The CSO is full of smart people; they knew this leprechaun economics was nonsense, but that's what the figures said - because of the way in which this country is used by mega-corporations, as a machine to run profits through, until the figures say whatever the corporations want them to say.

For anyone involved with Paschal Donohoe to take as meaningful an Irish GDP figure, particularly when divided by the working population, is seriously worrying.

But, y'know, perhaps that's how clueless they are.

Did you hear Mr Varadkar? Asked if Eoghan Murphy's housing policies have failed, he could have said, "Yes, obviously, and we're considering a change of tack".

Instead, I kid you not, he said: "Certainly he's not the person who caused the housing crisis."

It's like a fire brigade arrives and sprays petrol on a fire. When someone complains, the fire chief says, "Well, we didn't cause the fire".

Meanwhile, Murphy was denying his "co-living" plan is setting up prison-like institutions. I kid you not, he said they'll be, "a very trendy kind of boutique hotel-type place".

Jesus wept.

But not as bitterly as those who today work hard but still can't afford to rent a flat or hope to buy a house.

Because the rich are busy doing what they're very good at - getting richer off a crisis.

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