Thoughts on the expenses ‘crisis’

Is there any possibility that our politicians will take from the expenses crisis the lesson that is writ large therein if they would only take heed of it: that, aside from a rump of stubborn Fianna Fail supporters, the  climate which tolerated abuses of power and privilege no longer prevails among Irish people?  This is a point which needs to be driven home forcefully and effectively.  A window of possibility has opened with the resignation of John O’ Donoghue which is in some danger of being shut firmly again if there aren’t swift moves to ensure that it is not.  It can’t be that this solitary gesture will suffice for so much that has been so wrong for so long.  The expensive frustration of corruption tribunals, the lack of accountability for gross icompetence, the erosion of democratic transparency, the destruction of our economy and the monstrous proposal that is NAMA – undoing the conventions and thinking that have resulted in these things is essential if the country is to make a genuine recovery.  Genuine reform must come first.  A sacrifical Bull won’t accomplish any of this. 

Irish politicians are among the most authoritarian, arrogant and devoted to themselves of any western democracy.   Their salaries alone attest to this.  But even they have begun dimly to appreciate that we are not in a mood not to be taken seriously any longer.  Trust is completely gone and for good reason.  It can hardly be a comfort to them that the Lisbon Treaty result was almost certainly a consequence of a conviction at large that there is noone trustworthy, responsible or capable at the helm.

We have to throw our disapproval at them like a bucket of ice water over a sleeping drunk.  Otherwise they will simply marvel that they have once again gotten away with it.  If JOD’s resignation is enough to quiet us about even more serious matters they will carry on as normal. 

Some early signs are not good.  Already people are throwing around accusations of ‘trial by media’ when in fact the media was largely if belatedly doing a more thorough job for a change by reporting uncomfortable facts.  For example, someone (I can’t remember who) pointed out on Eamon Keane’s Newstalk programme that when Mary Harney and her crew were on their junket in Florida there was a substantial retinue of journalists in tow – none of whom appeared to notice the nature of what was going on at the time.   However, if the media now behave more like a pack moving from culprit to culprit in pursuit of individual scalps without any serious challenge to the underlying issues it will all be for nothing.   Opposition pliticians, commentators, academics and ordinary people themselves must ensure that the political agenda stays firmly focused on the real business of reform.  Enda Kenny to give him his due has repeatedly complained at the way the government functions so secretively – preferring to liaise with consultants in private than to discuss their plans openly as is supposed to be the function of parliament.  Civil servants too have been marginalised thereby laying waste to a body of experience that is supposed to inform government without prejudice.  Whether they do or not is another matter, but they at least function under an entirely different tradition to commercial consultants who are only too happy to tell governments what they want to hear – often on behalf of clients with vested interests.  This is the sort of thing that needs to be investigated and routed.

There are more heartening signs elsewhere that things may turn out well.   In the case of NAMA, honest capitalists (I know, I know) such as Constantine Gurdgiev, Morgan Kelly, David McWilliams and Joseph Stiglitz have had the courage to put their heads over the parapet and tell it like it is.  The word ‘criminal’ is at long last – and deservedly – in play.  NAMA  is not playing by the rules of capitalism they say.  Failed banks are their own responsibility.  The rest of us have enough to do dealing with the damage they have inflicted on us without being made to pay for their gambling debts. 

Fianna Fail politicians are in the habit of throwing almighty tantrums when things don’t go their way.  They are typically foul-tempered and aggressive when brought to book about anything – lashing out at messengers and victims of their wrong doing alike.    Sadly, the media often run like frightened rabits when they do.  It is much to be hoped that editors, journalists, opinion column writers and the public at large will show some metal in dealing with this sort of bullying for a change.

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