Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Members of the Oireachtas Have Nothing to Feel Smug About

It was around about the same time that UK prime minister Theresa May was in front of a baying House of Common. The contrast between this respectful celebration of 100 years of unbroken parliamentary democracy here [sic] and the shambles in London was not lost on the Dublin audience.

It is the nature of the politician to be blessed with an above-average amount of self-regard. An adamantine hide is necessary in a life where you submit yourself to public judgement at least once every five years. However; the notion of the current members of the Oireachtas stiffening with pride at the thought that they are the finest of parliamentarians, not like those knuckle-dragging Tans across the way, is too much for even the most ravenous of goats to stomach.

One hundred years after the first sitting of Dáil Éireann, Ireland is a state where the Gardaí have merrily ignored 7,900 crimes, some of them very serious, over the past seven years. Nobody knows why these crimes have been ignored, but the GRA, the Garda Representative Association, has made it quite clear that however it happened it wasn't their boys' fault. It may turn out that dog ate each and every one of their notebooks. It’s what Mr S Holmes used to refer to as a three-pipe problem.

This is the same police force who were discovered to have made up breathalyser tests, bullied whistleblowers out of the force and saw the last two Garda Commissioners and the last two Ministers for Justice resign under never-really-fully-explained circumstances. The police exist to enforce the law; what does the law currently mean to the police? It seems to them as a midge on a summer’s evening on the mountain; bothersome, but not really to be taken seriously.

The situation is so worrying a man could end up in hospital as a result. Except that were he foolish enough to do so he might be better of going straight to the graveyard with his wooden overcoat on, such is the state of the Health Service.

The current Minister for Health is - nominally, theoretically - in charge of a Health Service that is unable to diagnose cervical cancer and over-estimates the price of the new children's hospital by one billion Euro, and counting. That's not the price of the thing, remember; that's how much the original estimate differs from the current estimate, and it's gone up, rather than down.

How much is a billion Euro? It's enough to buy every single residential house in the town of Ballina, with about half of those in Castlebar thrown in as well. It's a lot of money, and yet the current Minister for Health, famously "mad as hell" about the cervical crisis, seems completely content to sign off on this bill, no matter how many more billions it goes up to. Don't forget either that this new hospital will not deliver one extra bed compared to the number of children’s beds currently available. Details!

One wonders what the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, thinks of all this. Paschal is one of the leading politicians in the country. He had enough nous to know that, as he himself could never become leader, his allying himself closely with Leo Varadkar once Varadkar made his run would make him the next-best thing. When appointed Minister for Finance, the cognoscenti thought of those many media performances where he smothered criticism of Fine Gael in the manner of a conscientious huntsman drowning surplus beagles, and thought: here is the man to keep an iron grip on the public finances.

If only. The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council responded to last year's budget by accusing the government of repeating the mistakes of the past - over-heating an already-overheated economy, thus guaranteeing that the country will be once again on its uppers when the tide goes out again, as it inevitably must.

There is an irony in this as the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council was set specifically to perform this very task. One of the reasons identified for the crash of 2008 was that a "support the green jersey" policy blinded officials to their duty of telling the economic truth as it is, rather than as people wanted it to be. Thus when things went splat!!, there was no rainy-day money at all. Not behind the couch, not under the bed, not buried in the garden in a biscuit tin.

And now, ten years later, we're doing it all again. The ambulance drivers struck yesterday. A nurses' strike is guaranteed. The teachers can't be far away from having the Art class studying Placarding 101. There's that monstrous, growing bill for the Children's Hospital collapsing into the weight of its own gravity like a fiscal black hole, set to swallow every single thing around it. And that's not even counting the six hundred million lids that the Health department was over budget last year, and for which money was found from .. well. We never do find out where this miracle money comes from, do we?

And how does the political class respond to these triplicate impending disasters, to say nothing of Brexit itself, homelessness, the narrow tax base, the flight from rural Ireland? By poncing about the Mansion House telling each other how well they would have done at Soloheadbeg or Kilmichael had Fate not decided they would be born too late, and then off to Buswells, Kehoe's, Doheny's and sundry other houses to pint the night away.

Brexit is a nightmare, but at least the British can see that there's a dirty big iceberg off the starboard bow and it could sink the whole ship. The first our politicians - and we the people, God help us, because it is us, after all, who are the ones who elect the donkeys in the first place – the first any of us will know about the iceberg is when we're clinging to a spar in the freezing Atlantic, watching the state go under once more, and asking ourselves: how the **** did that happen? It's a mystery alright, Paddy. Who could ever have seen that coming?