Monday, November 29, 2010

Burning the Wrong Witch - the Need for Irish Political Reform

Whatever else may befall from the events of this recession, the single thing that seems to infuriate people most is this idea that financial speculators are being rescued for backing the wrong horse. That people will see schools close and taxes rise in order to pay off the infamous bondholders.

Ireland, however, is not paying the price for the Mr Monopoly’s reckless speculation. Ireland is paying the price for our own inability to regulate our own banks, our own financial system and our own system of politics.

There is a worrying air of politics as usual about everything that’s going on in the country. Brian Cowen put in his best performance on TV at the press conference yesterday evening, when he resisted his hopeless jargon addiction and spoke plainly and in detail about the details of the bailout.

Two little too late for the misfortunate Cowen, of course. Any chance he had of saving either his Premiership or his job as leader of Fianna Fáil is long lost. Time doesn’t wait for someone to get his act his act together. It rolls on relentlessly.

Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore, rather than leading and risking a prize that's more or less impossible to lose, are just staying out of trouble and waiting for power to fall into their laps.

But where the people are being sold short is in thinking that the problem begins and ends with Brian Cowen and Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil will take their hammering at the polls in February but it will not be a wipeout.

And in the next election, who will bet against a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach taking the salute at the GPO in 2016? The lesson of history tells us that Fianna Fáil, though damaged, will survive, and come back to win the next one. That has been the case since 1932.

To understand how we got into this mess the nation has to realise that our whole way of doing business is fundamentally unsound and admit our own culpability in this. We are paying for the banks because we couldn’t regulate the banks. We couldn’t regulate the banks because we are, as a nation, a little too open to corruption and sharp practice.

We don’t think politicians should be on the take. But if a man wants a few pound for himself, like, that’s not so bad. Sure wouldn’t we all do that?

It’s been the case for over two thousand years, since before the fall of the Roman Republic, that elected representatives should be held to higher account than ordinary citizens – that even Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion, let alone Caesar himself.

In Ireland we repeatedly elect and re-elect politicians who not only put their own local and personal needs above the greater good of the nation, but shout from the rooftops that they do this, and are hailed for it.

Ireland isn’t a democracy of ideas. It’s a democracy of tribes – where local tribal chieftains fight over the spoils of the nation, and return to the village with rewards of patronage for the in-crowd. This is why the banks are in a mess – because actual fair regulation leaves no room for wheeler-dealing, cutting corners, horse-trading and nodding and winking.

This failure exists across the party system – why else didn’t the opposition call a halt to the disgraceful tribunals, if not for fear of being themselves exposed? Why aren’t the opposition now shouting for root and branch reform from the rooftops, other than the fact that the system suits them just as well as it suits Fianna Fáil?

The perception exists now that the bondholders are the bad guys, holding Ireland up to ransom. But the Irish ourselves that are the bad guys, because we regulate our affairs according to who you know and what deals he or she can cut.

And as a nation, we bitch and moan and rage about Brian Cowen and the bondholders and Fianna Fáil. But the sad truth is we are so blind to the true nature of our politics that we can’t even tell who’s holding the blade that’s currently slicing us up like a Christmas turkey.

Political reform now.