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Immaturity of political culture

IT is a measure of the sustained adolescence of Irish political discourse that when a politician speaks honestly, he is called an idiot.

Of course, when it comes to Mr Kenny's woes, we would be more encouraged if they were caused by a deliberate willingness to speak openly of the flaws in our character. But the Taoiseach's madness in Davos was little more than one of those unfocused streams of consciousness he occasionally indulges in when let out on his own. And any sympathy for Mr Kenny's current travails must be qualified by the Taoiseach's regular pandering to this adolescent school of public politics for his own political advantage.

Sadly, we should not be too surprised by the hysterical response to Mr Kenny's accidental journey into the land of truth. Irish personal debt may be out of kilter with the rest of the normal world, but one of the great staples of Irish public discourse is that it is every-one from the Normans to Lehman Brothers, rather than we ourselves, who are to blame for our travails.

The absence of any sign that we might be emerging from this 'we are not our own keepers' style of adolescence was epitomised by the ongoing furore over septic tanks -- God help us -- where we apparently expect a grant for every human act outside of breathing and wonder why the country is bankrupt.

When it comes to the Anglo bonds, meanwhile, no one can deny this fiscal stupidity represents the amoral cannibalisation of the country. But, if you surrender your sovereignty, as Mr Cowen did, do not be surprised if, when your country is naked and defenceless, more rapacious powers impose reparations for their own ends. And, astonishing as it may seem, when compared to the systemic bankruptcy of our failed state, Anglo is a mere mote in this country's eye.

Ironically, Mr Kenny's debacle diverted attention from two significant Government successes. Though the wise physician will tell patients 'a little of what you like is good for you', any enthusiasm over the sale of €3.5bn of Irish bonds should be qualified by the revelation that the main purchasers were Irish banks who had donned the green jersey. Experience tells us this should be treated as cautiously as the Government's subsequent claim that its multi-layered reform of the bankruptcy laws represents a 'radical reform of insolvency'.

Unfortunately, the departure packages for a raft of top civil servants remind us small is not always beautiful for some. It is a measure of the journey the Irish public sector have taken since the Whitaker era that the defining image of top civil mandarins, in the eyes of our citizens today, is one of endemic incompetence and a series of 'entirely legitimate' severance payments that resemble in scale what is vulgarly referred to in reports on Premiership soccer as 'bungs'.

The scale of such 'bungs' is all the more astonishing given that the ethos of the modern civil service appears to consist of politically motivated tolerance for well-meaning mediocrity -- where the successful top-level mandarin is 'a safe pair of hands', as distinct to being an innovator or a whistle-blower. It would be unfair to single out any particular mandarin. But there is certainly something uniquely adolescent, and rotten, about the governing culture of a State where the only accountability those responsible for the evolution of a culture of colossal follies experience are colossal sinecures and colossal pensions.

Sunday Independent