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'Greed is good' won't cut it in a pandemic

Gene Kerrigan

The only way we will beat the virus is by supporting one another rather than looking out for No.1, argues Gene Kerrigan


Cartoon by Tom Halliday

Cartoon by Tom Halliday

Cartoon by Tom Halliday

Yes, I was annoyed, and resentful too, when I saw the video of those kids crushed into a house party in Sligo. And, yes, they were reckless and selfish.

But they're kids, living through stressful times, looking for fun in a grim crisis.

And I don't believe what they did was more reckless or selfish than the actions last week of the Government led by Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar.

We're being stalked by a deadly entity, mindless and relentless, unaware it's even alive. The only function of the virus is to replicate itself at the expense of human life.

Some of us hoped this might all end within a few months. But it won't end this year.

It may not end next year.

There's no law of nature that says this virus can't take further deadly turns. There's nothing more dangerous to humans than when a lethal strand of nature goes out of control.

It has caused almost a million deaths, it has wrecked the health of many more, young and old. It's not done with us yet.

The true horrors for which this plague may be remembered might not yet have occurred.

We have a number of things going for us - but until science finds a game-changer, we're dependent on human solidarity: the sense that my actions affect you, and your actions affect me.

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We act in our common interest or we're screwed.

Without human solidarity, the medical system might falter, the food chain might break.

We understood that earlier this year, and people responded in solidarity. The hospitals were saved, the food chain held.

Trouble is, that sense of human solidarity is the exact opposite of the qualities revered by those who dominate this country politically and culturally.

They believe we should all pretend we're Ryanair executives and compete ruthlessly, elbowing the competition and grabbing all within reach. This urge to personally benefit, the professors teach to the applause of the politicians, stimulates human creativity and maximises production, for the common good.

They seldom have the guts to say it but their dominant beliefs are summed up in three words - Greed is good.

Well, not in a pandemic, it's not. In a pandemic, human solidarity is central to survival.

The advisers' scandal, which peaked last week, is rooted in that greedy, reckless culture.

When the "adviser" racket started, a politician would hire someone - an economist, an academic or an expert in some specialty.

"How do you think I can best do this?" the politician would ask

That makes sense. Politicians can't know everything. Informed advice from specialists can help them make better decisions. From this came a new form of political life - the special adviser or "SpAd".

What started benignly became just another ministerial perk as desirable as the state car, the golden pension and the inflated expenses sheet.

Some SpAds are cronies and good-luck charms, hired to make the politician feel more secure. Teddy bears serve much the same purpose for your three-year-old. And they often speak more sense.

We also have non-specialist mercenaries, samurai of the suit, wandering from one department to another, from one party to another, serving not the public but their latest paymasters.

There are cost/benefit reports on everything but not on SpAds, who don't have to justify their cost.

They apparently have some unspecified but magical quality.

Politicians fight to get their chosen SpAd with as much money as possible. Even while they were imposing austerity on hospitals and hospices, they demanded money that broke through the pay cap.

The more SpAds you have, the more important you are.

Or, as I believe, the less capable you are.

How hapless must Eamon Ryan be, given the number of "advisers" he needs to help him do his job?

Quote from the Irish Independent: "Mr Ryan has eight special advisers, including two joint chiefs of staff who are entitled to salaries of up to €101,000".

Bless my soul - Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The people who run the United States military are called the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Guess how many of them there are?

Eight, no kidding.

These Joint Chiefs of Staff run the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the Space Force (yes, they've got a Space Force) and the National Guard.

So, of course, I googled the salary of a Joint Chief of the Army. It's the equivalent in dollars of €123,000.

So, the guy responsible for running the US Army is paid just a bit more than the person who helps Eamon Ryan find his glasses. And whatever else advisers do for the Minister for Forty Winks.

Imagine if the rest of us needed "special advisers".

Hey, look, there's Kevin the bus driver and those are his five "special advisers". He needs them to counsel him on which pedal to press with which foot, and where he needs to turn right instead of left.

Say hi to Marie the chiropodist and a big hello to Michael, John, Lisa, and Alan - whose special advice is indispensable in dealing with that bunion.

You might imagine that they'd downplay this nonsense in the midst of a pandemic. No, quite the opposite. They've cut the urgent special payment to those rendered workless by the pandemic. Meat workers are still in conditions dangerous to themselves and to us. Nurses still have to pay to park at their workplace. Countless businesses face an uncertain future.

Yet, the worst of the politicians obsess over their status.

The Government decided there should be fewer SpAds. Junior ministers revolted. Martin and Varadkar gave in. Now the greedy me-first brigade have got all the SpAd fashion accessories they need to show how important they are.

A wonderful example of social solidarity. I'm sure it gives heart to the youth of Sligo.

Junior ministers are not the only rebels. Poor, sad, angry Sir Van Morrison...

Oh, dear. Sir Van somehow missed out every protest since 1967. He didn't sing out against the slaughter in Vietnam, IRA violence or British state collusion with Loyalist bombers. For more than 50 years, he didn't get noticeably angry about a succession of struggles for workers' rights, against sexism, racism or homophobia, the slaughter in Iraq, the sickness of apartheid, the greed of the few or the oppression of the many.

And that's fine.

Sir Van was entitled to ignore politics, to concentrate on his art.

Now, however, at the age of 75, he finally finds an issue worthy of protest. He's written three songs in which he proclaims that no one should dare limit his freedom to project his spittle in the direction of others, even if that spittle carries a deadly virus.

I'm holding on to the good times, Sir Van.

I'm remembering the joys of Have I Told You Lately, Days Like This and Into the Mystic, but ye're an awful pain in the arse, so ye are.

So, yes, there was justified anger and resentment at those kids being reckless and selfish in Sligo.

But to tell the truth, the first thought I had when I saw the video of that house party, the kids bopping up and down, silly grins on their fuzzy faces, was - God, those poor saps. This really is their music? We had the best of it back in the day - didn't we, Sir Van?

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