Sunday 26 May 2019

We've forgotten how to take blame for our actions

Our flight from personal responsibility has become a stampede to self-exculpation. (Stock picture)
Our flight from personal responsibility has become a stampede to self-exculpation. (Stock picture)
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

A Wicklow walker was recently awarded €40,000. Teresa Wall had injured her knee after taking a tumble on a rotting boardwalk. In a judgment that will have very worrying repercussions for all of our national parks, Judge Jacqueline Linnane said that Wall had been directed by signs to use the boardwalk and so the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), and not Wall, were to blame.

It is a depressing sign of the times. Misfortune and compensation and utter lack of personal responsibility, all wrapped up together, as if obeying some ancient natural law.

Perhaps if the NPWS had dug a hole and lined it with spikes, then Teresa Wall would have had a point. But they didn't. Boardwalks are slippery. Our rainy Irish winters cause them to rot and we live in dark times for personal responsibility.

Everything from fatness to school marks and career advancement must always be someone else's fault. In fact, the concept of an accident is disappearing from our collective consciousness. If you fall over on a street made slippery by dead leaves, then someone should have swept them away. If you fall off a cliff, someone should have warned you by putting up a notice warning that it is too far to jump.

Our flight from personal responsibility has become a stampede to self-exculpation. The phrase 'it's my fault' has vanished from our vocabulary; in its place comes an expectation that someone else will pay.

Obesity, drink-fuelled crime, tobacco-related illnesses and mortgage problems are blights that are widely regarded as being caused by irresponsible suppliers, not self-indulgent consumers.

Yes, supermarkets sometimes sell booze at knockdown prices. But it's us who choose to buy it and guzzle it down.

The Department of Health and various other organisations have already indicated their support for the introduction of a sugar tax in a bid to tackle rising obesity levels.

It's an unpleasant campaign, because it is hugely patronising. We all know that sugar isn't good for us. From time to time, we choose to have it anyway. We eat sugary things because they taste good.

Obesity isn't just to do with fizzy cans of pop either - the causes of childhood obesity are complex, involving a range of factors from bad diet, lack of exercise, poverty, psychological difficulties and poor education.

Heavily sugared and artificially sweetened food and drink products remain a key factor that cannot be sidelined, but I want to make that choice for myself. Paternalism is a rather literal word for it. They know what's best - not just for them, but for us. Not only do they know it; they want to force us all to share their choices, regardless of our own views.

Our government increasingly sees us as childlike and helpless. Just log onto the HSE's "Winter Ready" website that patronisingly tells us: "Accidents do happen but many slips, trips and falls are preventable". This condescending nonsense on how not to fall over to a generation that lived through the Emergency and more challenges than us millennials could begin to imagine?

The Nanny State Index from the UK's Institute of Economic Affairs published last month ranked countries in terms of how they stick their noses into their citizens' business. We came in fourth place overall. We came third on drinking because of high taxation on alcohol and advertising restrictions. The study found that we are the second hardest EU state in which to smoke.

There are some, of course, who say that our growing compensation culture is nothing more than an urban myth. If only that were true. Right now, far too many people, spurred on by the disastrous alliance of personal-injury solicitors and self-appointed consumer-advice groups, regard big institutions, especially public authorities and doctors, as fair game.

Big government should leave us alone if we chug alcohol or eat sweets or trans-fat-saturated sausages. That's our business. Cry freedom, because if this bullying nonsense makes it to the statute books, we'll be left with stealth taxes on those least able to afford it, a bunch of bureaucratic do-gooders feeling good about themselves and a generation of snowflakes needing to be mollycoddled every step of their way through life.

Not much hope of us taking personal responsibility on board for the moment, though, not when there's the carrot of five-figure payouts.

Irish Independent

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