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Failure to protect citizens endemic

In the wake of the Troika exit, the Public Accounts Committee chairman, John McGuinness, claimed the most serious flaw in Irish governance was that "political leaders have failed in their primary duty of keeping the people safe". Last week's judgement by the European Court of Human Rights on Louise O'Keeffe provides us with a classic case study into the ethos and consequences of such a failure. In the wake of the decision, apologies flowed as freely as the wine at the Wedding at Cana. But, whilst Taoiseach Enda Kenny praised Ms O'Keeffe as "an example of a woman of extraordinary commitment over a long number of years to following her case", the empathy would have been more convincing had it incorporated an explanation as to why she had to fight for 15 years before a foreign court recognised her right to safety in an Irish school. A Taoiseach, who was intriguingly circumspect in confining his apology to "what happened to her in the location she was in and the horrendous experience she had to go through", would do well to ensure future apologies express a broader range of regrets over the evolution of the sort of insipid school of governance where the State claims it is not liable for abuse that occurred in State-funded schools.

Sadly, the endemic inability of our governing class to keep the people safe is not merely confined to sexual abuse. This is a State that has failed to protect the people courtesy of its endemic laissez faire laissez passer attitude to the regulation of our banks and its light touch tribunal-centred response to decades of political corruption. Sometimes, as in Priory Hall, the consequence of State inadequacy in dealing with the plight of its citizens is suicide. On other occasions the abandonment of its duty of care in the hepatitis C scandal was the catalyst for the agonising slow deaths of mothers like Brigid McCole. And whilst the church has been the designated scapegoat for the sexual abuse of working-class children, State indifference and neglect was a key facilitator in the destruction of the lives of the innocents of the industrial schools.

Sadly, evidence is thin on the ground that we have become any more pro-active in defending the safety of our citizens. Outside of the accelerating scandal of the Portlaoise maternity unit, the angst displayed over the PAC whistleblower inquiry indicates that, 15 years after James Gogarty became the catalyst for the Planning and Payments Tribunal, those who speak truth to power are still seen to be the Manchurian candidates of Irish public life. The claim, last week, by our endemically conservative judiciary that a similar vast carelessness has informed the State's attitude to the administration of justice is even more sobering for, to paraphrase A Man for All Seasons, what protection is the citizen to have when the Devil turns, if even the law has been levelled?

When it comes to our ever "curiouser" democratic revolution, the Government appears to have become coarsened by recession into a "penny wise pound foolish" attitude to its duty to keep the citizens safe. Our elites may believe such carelessness is a risk-free gamble if the only cost is the acceleration of our already existential culture of cynical disregard for public life. However, the consequences of this collapse into the cosy chair of pragmatism may, ironically, exact the far more practical price of the hard currency of those borrowed, but still fickle, Fianna Fail votes of 2011 should a viable political alternative emerge.

Irish Independent