Monday 22 January 2018

Force the politicians to pay their way

A SUCCESSION of government politicians recently took to the airwaves to pour scorn on the notion that a €100 household tax was an imposition too far on hard-pressed families.

To hear the likes of Pat Rabbitte, Alan Shatter and Phil Hogan dismiss one hundred euro as inconsequential was to make a large number of people feel very small indeed. These guys could not understand the fuss over the charge, or the amount, and said as much. It appears, to them, that this is a trifling amount.

Shatter's contribution was the most bizarre of the lot as he converted €100 into punts, 79 to be exact, without even a hint of irony, to show just how small a sum it actually is. Most of the rest of us stopped converting euro to punts some time around the end of February 2002, but there you are. Each to his own.

Perhaps when you live a life of relative privilege, whether it is in euro or punts, it certainly is not a sum worth getting excited about. But when you don't -- well that's a whole other story.

It's a nice round sum, too, and it's worth delving a little deeper into the real meaning of €100.

When Enda Kenny led the new government into power after this year's election, sweeping all before him, he did so on a platform of change. We are now finding out that, as Tolstoy observed, everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.

The government was new alright but many of the faces weren't. They have been immersed in Irish political life for so long -- decades in some cases -- that the old habits of a flawed political culture die hard.

The idea that there is a sense of entitlement and privilege among the establishment remains embedded in Irish society and it's clear this attitude extends even into sport, or perhaps especially into sport.

One of the great traditional political habits has been showing up at Croke Park on big match day. What better place, after all, to be seen and to strut your stuff as a man or woman of the people?

Last month's Leinster football final between Dublin and Wexford is an excellent case in point. The two governing parties put on a fine show of strength in Croke Park that day as the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste led a notable collection of ministers, ministers of state and back-bench TDs. And a former Taoiseach too (Bertie and his entourage wouldn't miss the Dubs) was in the mix.

The Leinster final was played the day after Fine Gael chose Gay Mitchell as their candidate in the forthcoming presidential election so naturally Gay -- not a man necessarily known for his sporting passions -- stepped straight into election mode and went to Croke Park. Not to be outdone, his Labour Party rival Michael D Higgins was there too.

The majority of the politicians there that day had seats in the Ard Comhairle, the GAA's equivalent of the VIP area. They were not invited guests, however, but rather they had phoned up the GAA -- or rather in most cases they had instructed a member of their staff to phone up -- and asked for VIP tickets, including Gay and Michael D.

The Leinster final was not a sell-out. There were plenty of tickets available for the game. There were concessions on offer too, mostly organised through clubs and county boards, but if you couldn't get your hands on one of those, the general admission price to the Hogan Stand for the game was €35.

In fairness, as one might expect of a representative sample of Irish life, a fair percentage of our politicians have a genuine interest in the GAA and in going to Croke Park. Many are members of their local clubs and all that, but that is not the point because so are thousands of others. And they cannot pick up the phone and ring the GAA and ask for two VIP tickets to the Leinster final, or any other game for that matter.

No, the point is that a government cannot lecture the rest of us about the value of €100 as long as it carries on in this fashion.

The satirist HL Mencken said that what men value in this world is not rights but privileges. When Enda Kenny (pictured) talks about change, it needs to be real and meaningful change, deep-seated shifts in the culture and attitude of politicians.

If Fine Gael and Labour want people to buy into the hardship they say they must impose, then they must also accept their behaviour is under scrutiny like never before. It is reasonable for the Taoiseach and the Minister for Sport to be invited guests at major sporting events, and perhaps there's a case to be made for former Taoisigh as well, but not for the rest. They should pay their way like everyone else.

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