Wednesday 23 October 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'The kids who mitched off and the Citizens' Assembly have one thing in common - nobody elected them and they have no mandate'

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Photo: PA
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Photo: PA
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Few Irish people would ever grumble about having go to America for a week, but Leo Varadkar would be forgiven for wishing his visit to New York and the west coast had come at a different time.

Jean-Claude Juncker's blunt assertion that we are, after all, facing a hard Border won't have come as a huge surprise, but that doesn't lessen the despondency.

Similarly, the news that, even though it's an EU border, the Irish will have to do the heavy lifting was yet another depressing reminder that, for all the fine words about protecting the Good Friday Agreement and preventing the return of the Border, that is all they were - words.

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Frankly, there are times when it feels like this country is the hapless child caught in the middle of an inverted tug-of-love between two warring parents who are both fighting to avoid custody. 

But, as has been pointed out in these pages, life goes on as normal in other parts of the world and this week's visit Stateside, which includes the Taoiseach, the President, three cabinet ministers and the usual entourage of aides and advisers, is also important.

The planned opening of a new consulate in LA would be a hugely positive development, and one which would certainly provide a massive boost for the Irish film industry.

A crucial part of the trip is trying to convince other nations to vote us onto the UN Security Council from 2021 to 2022.

In the jostle for that seat, we face strong opposition from Canada and Norway, although we may have one not-so-secret weapon in our arsenal.

Yes, lest we forget, Bono has been busy promoting our cause, and U2 played a special gig to launch the campaign. 

If musicians have any impact - and you only have to look at Trump's election in the face of universal opposition from all the big acts to see that such a claim is always dubious - then we are in front of an open goal.

But if we can sway the delegates with U2, the best that Canada could offer in response would be a gig by Nickelback and Norway would probably be reduced to asking A-ha to reform.

Yesterday also saw Varadkar address the UN Climate Action Summit.

That's rather shaky territory for a Taoiseach who has admitted that this country has been a 'laggard' in the past when it comes to introducing swingeing measures and more taxes for the citizenry - a citizenry now utterly expert in being hit by punitive taxes they neither understand nor want. Just stop anyone in the street and ask their view of the USC, for example.

As things stand, next month's Budget will see an increase in diesel, petrol, home heating oil and solid fuels. 

That may play well internationally and with some domestic sectors. But it could be politically disastrous in the run-up to May's expected election if we get a hard winter and people are afraid to turn on their central heating, or die because they run out of oil and can't afford to fill the boiler.

That's not a fanciful idea, either. We shouldn't forget the national scandal when, during the heavy snow of the winter of 2010, a young mother of two from Ballymun died of hypothermia due to a lack of adequate heating in her flat.

During yesterday's speech, Varadkar argued: "Leadership is required to convince people that it's not too late to act." Unfortunately, leadership seems in scant supply when the Cabinet can't even reach agreement on either the fuel hikes or, indeed, the ludicrous notion of a 'carbon dividend', which would see the Government reimbursing households for any new tax - thus rendering the whole scheme utterly pointless.

Warming to his theme, and well aware of the domestic attention his words would receive, he then congratulated last week's mass truancy from Irish schools, saying: "We are inspired by children and young people who have embraced the cause and keep it at the top of the agenda."

He then boasted that the Government has also listened to the views of the Citizens' Assembly about climate action.

The kids who mitched off from school and the Citizens' Assembly have one thing in common - nobody elected them and they have no mandate.

In a traditional democracy, we elect people to do a job. Then, when we invariably discover that they can't do the job they promised, we vote for someone else and keep them in power until they too disappoint us.

What we don't do, however, is vote for a Government which would then spend its time either praising truancy or hanging on the words of the kind of people who join the Citizens' Assembly.

Those supposed adults praising the kids for having the courage to skip double maths last week should be pretty embarrassed at their craven capitulation to the idealistic but chronically naive demands of adolescents.

But the Greta Thunberg bandwagon has turned into a veritable steamroller, and it now seems there's nothing unusual about vital national policy being dictated by some kids who have been catastrophised and traumatised beyond reason.

The fact that many psychologists are now warning parents to stop terrifying their children with apocalyptic predictions is surely proof we've entered an age of panic and doom-mongering not seen since the threat of nuclear war.

But ever careful to catch a popular wave, Varadkar has hailed the strike (if bunking off school is now a 'strike', I must have been the equivalent of Jim Larkin when I was in secondary) and said we should all be inspired by them.

That's all very fine and predictable, and there's no doubt that politicians seem more concerned about the emotions of children than the real-world concerns of voters.

But if Extinction Rebellion Ireland go ahead with their plans to shut Dublin city centre for an entire week in October, will the Taoiseach praise these people who are nothing more than economic vandals happy to sacrifice the jobs of others on the altar of their own neuroses?

The loudest voices are currently receiving all the attention, and that is the way of life. Emotional authoritarianism is always an effective tool.

But those loudest voices often forget one thing - we all have one vote, and one vote only. When it comes to polling time, the people who are too busy, or too cautious, to raise any objections to the current mood of hysteria will get to make their voice heard in the only place it matters - the polling booth.  

Activists may not care about such trifles as democracy. In fact, many of them seem to find the concept extremely boring.

But any politician worth their salt should be wary of alienating people who vote in favour of indulging children who can't, or those fringe activists who think democracy is something you do on Facebook.  

Irish Independent

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