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Rise up against the enemy within

OUR previous week's celebration of Ireland's 'Prague Spring' was, unfortunately, somewhat premature. The original 'Prague Spring' was, of course, also short -- but an army of Soviet tanks was needed to quash the 'velvet revolution' of the Czechs. In our case all it took was two further reports into our venal public and semi-State sector to leave us wondering why we worry so much about foreign enemies when our own elites collaborate so enthusiastically in the nation's destruction.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Ireland needs to experience some form of Easter Rising against the untrammelled arrogance of a caste of top civil service and semi-State oligarchs, whose greed and indolent inability to govern or regulate has turned them into the well-heeled enemies of the people. Some will criticise Peter Nyberg's failure to name these individuals, but ironically this actually provided us with yet another example of how our top mandarins have created a poisonous golden circle of unaccountable officials.

It surely says something about the quality of our democracy that, when it comes to a public sector that resembles the sort of pedigree dogs that are only fit to lie in the sun, just two scapegoats have paid any sort of price (and received huge pensions) for their boundless incompetence.

Sadly, when it comes to the need to burn a few secretaries general in the same pyre as those reviled bondholders, our new Government has already made a fatal error. The upper echelons of the civil service may be the administrative equivalent of a rotten borough, but in a final sting of the dying wasp, those who have been serially guilty of the vice of 'group thinking' have been allowed to make three critical appointments to the Taoiseach's office and to the new Ministry for Public Sector Reform from their own discredited ranks.

The decision stinks of the cunning old crocodile politics of 'chaps looking after chaps'. Mind you, it is only one of a whole host of stinks that besets our rotten State apparatus. In the aftermath of Colm McCarthy's report into our rogue semi-State companies, some innocents claimed these graveyards for the taxpayers' money, which has been looted beyond even the most avaricious dreams of venture capitalists by their workers, constitute some form of family silver. The bitter truth is that the familiar old roues of the ESB, the DAA, Bord na Mona and Coillte actually bear a closer resemblance to one of those 19th-Century encumbered estates.

It is now patently clear that, like the Bourbons, our top civil servants forget, and learn, nothing. Their governing principle of service to their own vested interests may have led us to the edge of the debtors' jail. However, the only response these bureaucratic fifth columnists come up with is the demand that their excessive salaries should be paid even if it bankrupts the country. And if that cash stream runs out, they expect Europe or the IMF to pay up. One is rightly entitled to ask where their vainglorious sense of entitlement actually ends.

Amidst all this venality one moment of hope arrived, courtesy of the pledge to hold a referendum to restore the powers of Oireachtas committees to inquire into corruption. Should it be passed, there are many bright people from Shane Ross to Stephen Donnelly and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan who could be given much work to do. Pat Rabbitte might even consider televising such investigations. Undoubtedly, our 'Sir Humphreys' would look at such a 'populist' act with some distaste. For the rest of us though, any trial, even if it is merely one by television, of the mandarin and semi-State class would be a distinct improvement.

Sunday Independent