Monday 20 November 2017

The Citizens' Assembly

There are no lengths to which our rulers won't go to free themselves of the burden of accountability, says Declan Lynch

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: PA
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: PA

There's very little government, as such, any more. Indeed, many of us noted that after the last general election, when there was effectively no government at all for a couple of months, the country seemed to keep going anyway. It may even have been a better government, this non-existent government, than any conceivable alternative which was available to us, which would always carry the risk of ministers making very bad decisions, when they could have been otherwise engaged making no decisions at all.

But while there may be very little government, that is not to say that our governments, when they do take office, are doing very little. Au contraire, along with the traditional chores of handing out great jobs to their friends, they are incessantly working on ways of avoiding the duties of leadership, of finding an alternative to the dreaded burden of decision-making, of hiding from the acceptance of responsibility.

Far from being lackadaisical in the performance of what they perceive to be their roles, there are no lengths to which they will not go, in order to free themselves from the nightmare of accountability, and generally to cover their asses. There is no detail, however small or seemingly insignificant, that will escape them in this never-ending quest to refer any matter of the slightest substance to a tribunal or a commission or a committee or some such remote burial ground from which it can do them no harm.

But the day they thought of the Citizens' Assembly - that was the day when they turned their usual routines of ducking and diving and passing the parcel into a kind of an art form. This was intended to be their masterpiece, their monument, their Great Pyramid of Shameless Bullshit.

We note, for example, that in the official documentation, this Citizens' Assembly will consist of "99 citizens entitled to vote at a referendum, randomly selected so as to be broadly representative of Irish society", which is nice. Nothing wrong with citizens, is there? Citizens are good. In fact, citizens are great.

Only a very bad person would find fault with anything involving so many citizens, right?

And in this spirit of overpowering piety, these citizens are called "to consider the following matters and to make such recommendations as it sees fit and report to the Houses of the Oireachtas.

1. The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

2. How we best respond to the challenges and

opportunities of an ageing population.

3. Fixed-term parliaments.

4. The manner in which referenda are held.

5. How the State can make Ireland a leader in

tackling climate change."

Now, you see what they did there ? They threw number 1, all that abortion stuff, in with four other topics in a way which calls to mind a terribly nervous adolescent trying to sound cool as he asks the chemist for a packet of Durex - oh, and four other things that he doesn't really want.

In truth, after number 1, you can stop reading. This was about abortion, and nothing but abortion. Or to be more precise, it was about the pathological inability of the elected representatives of the Irish people to find within themselves the moral courage to make a grown-up decision on this subject.

For there is nothing which exposes the immaturity and the essential twistedness of our culture more poignantly than this chronic refusal to legislate for the reality of abortion. This juvenile insistence that there is no abortion in Ireland, just because it happens to take place in England.

And where you will find immaturity and twistedness and juvenility, there you will also find the most Herculean efforts being made on the part of our leaders to pretend that none of this is really happening. And to be many miles away, if it ever looks like it's going to happen.

On abortion, the Citizens' Assembly received some 13,500 submissions. That's 13,500 submissions which might otherwise be directed towards elected representatives, keeping them from their sacred duties, distracting them from some great job which they had laid out so nicely for the brother-in-law, or interrupting their search for a form of words which will bury some controversy in an Enquiry, the first "module" of which will be concluding in 2027. Or, to use the traditional formulation, "in due course".

When they were not receiving "submissions", the unfortunate Citizens in their Assembly were addressed by various speakers, in scenes which make the more sluggish sections of Oireachtas TV look like the most electrifying live show since Johnny Cash At San Quentin.

Imagine the darkness of the minds of the public representatives who could conceive of something of such cynicism, on such a scale, who could be dragging these 99 people, and a chairperson, away from their normal lives on a weekend to engage in these byzantine displays, dumping 13,500 "submissions" on top of them, boring the arses off them with pro-lifers and anti-lifers, solely to spare themselves the pain of making a principled decision for the common good.

And imagine too their horror when it turns out that this Assembly actually wants them to do something about abortion? Something that looks to them suspiciously like the right thing, which is the thing, above all, that they most fervently wanted to avoid?

Michael McDowell, who as a founder member of the Progressive Democrats would have an unparalleled insight into bullshit and how it works, was all over this one early doors, declaring in the Senate that the Citizens' Assembly is "an exercise in political cowardice" and that "we have a parliament established by the people whose function is to consider such topics".

But in a way he is wrong here, too, because they do consider such topics. They consider them very carefully in order to find exactly the angle to come at them, when they are kicking them out the door.

And now that the Citizens' Assembly has messed it all up by making its recommendations on abortion, legislators may feel the need to set up a Citizens' Assembly to consider the verdict of the Citizens' Assembly.

In due course.

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