Monday, May 09, 2016

Government or Circus?

The yawning gap that exists in Ireland between the process of electing a government and what a government is expected to do was illustrated in an almost offhand exchange about the Independent Alliance on the Irish Times’s Inside Politics podcast of last Friday night. The exchange is between Fiach Kelly and Pat Leahy of the Times’s political staff, and begins at 12:25 on the podcast:

Sarah’s right. They are not used to government. They are used to saying ‘get up the yard, get off the fence, let’s put our shoulders to the wheel’ - 

They’re the opposite of government. It’s not just that they’ve been a conventional opposition, but it’s the exact opposite. They’ve never been the sort of opposition that had to prepare, that had to watch what they said because they envisaged being in government after the next election.

They had their ‘Charter for Change,’ which formed the basis of their negotiations over the past number of weeks. This document they drew up about a year ago about their principles – motherhood and apple pie is a generous description of said document. I was speaking to someone in Fine Gael today who said that last week was the worst week of their lives because, at least when they were dealing with Fianna Fáil they were professional operators, they knew how to negotiate. Then you turn around and talk to the Independents and they didn’t know how the system or the government or anything like that worked, at all. So it’s going to be a very steep learning curve for them.

And the question your broken-hearted correspondent asks of all this is: why don’t the media report this? Where are the articles and think pieces that say politics is a profession, like any other, and while getting elected is a key skill, being able to govern is another?

A national politician who is serious about national politics should know how the instruments of government work. He or she may disagree with how those instruments work, and that’s fine. When he or she is in power, he or she will then have the power to make those instruments better. But he or she must know what those instruments of government are in the first place. And it’s quite clear that members of the Independent Alliance haven’t a bull’s notion.

There is a chicken-and-egg situation here. Media claim that they don’t cover these issues because politicians don’t talk about them. Politicians claim they don’t talk about these issues because the people aren’t interested in them. But how can the people learn about them if not through the media?

Yesterday the Sunday Business Post led with a story about an ‘understanding’ between disgraced TD Michael Lowry and Fine Gael in return for Lowry’s support for Enda Kenny as Taoiseach. As remarked upon here earlier, Lowry is like the dog that didn’t bark in the old Sherlock Holmes story.

Why would Michael Lowry support the government? What’s in it for him? The people of Tipperary elected Lowry on the first count in the election because he is seen to “deliver” for the people of Tipperary. What’s Lowry swung for the Premier this time? Why haven’t we been told? Why hasn’t any other media outlet (especially RTÉ) reported the story? Why hasn’t anyone asked the Nemesis of Cronyism, the Minister for Transport, Shane Ross TD, how he feels about a secret sweetheart deal with Michael Lowry?

This tweet from Matt Cooper may help explain why:

Extraordinary. A story broke in the US last week about how ridiculously easy a member of the Obama administration found seeding stories in the media. That man wouldn’t ever have to get out of bed in Ireland.

But we have a government now, and they are sitting down to govern. How will they do that? Well, some of those governmental decisions that effect people’s lives and, potentially, the future of the state itself will be decided by a man who won a coin toss. Not because the Taoiseach has had his eye on this or that person’s career and thinks he or she could do a really good job as a junior minister in a particular department. No. It’s because he won a coin toss.

Imagine if, God forbid, you are in court, accused of murder. And instead of a judge, Bozo the Clown walks in and announces that, as a result of a coin toss, he’ll be running the court while Mr Justice Murphy will be doing pratfalls and standing on rakes in Fossett’s Circus for the foreseeable future. Then, with Bozo tooting a horn rather than banging a gavel, the court comes to order and the trial for your life begins.

Welcome to Ireland in the year of the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. God help us all.