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Oireachtas Reform – Gilding A Poisoned Lilly

Enda 'Paddy' Kenny
Enda ‘Paddy’ Kenny

Some uncomfortable reading in the New York Times newspaper for Ireland’s Neo-Ascendancy elites as the author Tana French reveals the psychology of our broken republic:

“Ireland’s population is just over half that of New York City’s. Our ruling class — including many of the politicians, bankers and property developers who wrecked the economy — is a tiny community, interwoven by friendship, marriages, education, sports and financial transactions to a degree that would be unimaginable in a bigger country. That interweaving has created a safety net that won’t let any of the ruling elite fall. If you’re a banker and your golf buddy’s kid wants to be a banker, then it doesn’t matter if the kid is an idiot, or if he kills cats for kicks: you’ll take him on, and you’ll keep him on.

For many of these people, action and consequence don’t apply; their lives are mapped out from birth, and nothing they do will alter that map. It seems to me that that would be intensely disempowering, even terrifying. Instead of being a series of interlinked actions, life is made up of a scattering of events that have no discernible relationship to one another and that you don’t influence in any real way. In that climate, it would be difficult to develop the sense that your actions make any difference, that you have any responsibility for the consequences. Without cause and effect, there’s no foundation for morality.

Throughout the economic boom, the politicians and bankers and property developers, along with the news media, were telling all of us that cause and effect were perfectly, inextricably linked: “If you buy a vastly overpriced and shoddily built house in the middle of nowhere, the economy will keep growing, and in a few years your house’s value will have doubled, and you can sell it to some other sucker and buy something you actually want and live happily ever after and UTOPIA!!!” It was as simple and certain as sticking a coin into a vending machine: insert Action X, and the life machine will inevitably whir and beep and spit out Future Y.

A lot of my generation believed that chain was unbreakable. When it shattered, so did they — not just financially (although that too), but also psychologically. Their whole sense of a world governed by coherent cause and effect, of their ability to have any agency in their own lives, came under attack.

Those people, the ones who trusted too deeply in action and consequence, were the ones who got utterly, shamelessly destroyed by the people who had no such belief. I’m pretty sure the effects of that betrayal, for Ireland, will take decades to fully unfurl.”

And there is more criticism of those-who-would-be-kings in the Irish Times from the historian Diarmaid Ferriter and others:

“The Irish Republic remains dominated by centralised powers and “unaccountable elites”, UCD historian Diarmaid Ferriter has told the MacGill summer school.

The push to abolish the Seanad rather than to seek reform seemed a “grubby power-grab” he said, adding: “Those who seek to abolish the Seanad should be asked a simple question – have you learnt nothing about the dangers and consequences of the excessive centralisation and abuse of power in this state?”

He argued that removing the checks and balances of the Seanad would mean that “rushed and defective legislation can simply be rammed through the Dáil”.

“One of the chief causes of the contemporary crisis was the absence of alternative views and insufficient scrutiny of flawed decision-making,” he said.

Writer Theo Dorgan told the summer school: “Like most independent post-colonial peoples, we have been slow to abandon folkloric belief in our foundational moments, and I think it is beyond argument that most Irish people still consider that the fundamental compact between government and citizens rests on this promise.”

He said a “flawed republic” had been created, which was “uncertain and fitful in its provisions for the children of the nation, certainly not a secular republic as the French might have it, and not underscored by a bill of rights as the American republic is, but to most people a republic nonetheless”

Pointing to the Democratic Programme to mark the 90th anniversary of the first Dáil and the inclusion in it of the claim: “We declare that we desire our country to be ruled in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality and Justice for all, which alone can secure permanence of Government in the willing adhesion of the people.”

“My profound sense at this moment in our history is that we are sliding inexorably towards the withdrawal of that consent to be governed in accordance with a mutually-understood compact,” he said.”

Many of us might think that it is somewhat too late in the day for those who populated Seanad Éireann in times past to claim it as a bulwark of democracy and accountability when in truth it existed as a unapologetic temple of patronage and corruption. What is rotten cannot be saved, it must be excised and replaced in its entirety. And that applies to the Irish system of politics as a whole. Democracy begins at the lowest common level and rises upward. Reform must follow the same path. In Ireland it must begin with the abolishment and replacement of our notoriously inefficient and criminal-prone system of local government. That is where we must start, at the bottom not the top. And that cannot be done by gilding the corrupted flowering of poisoned roots.

5 comments on “Oireachtas Reform – Gilding A Poisoned Lilly

  1. Pádraig Ó Déin

    ” Our ruling class — including many of the politicians, bankers and property developers who wrecked the economy — is a tiny community, interwoven by friendship, marriages, education, sports and financial transactions to a degree that would be unimaginable in a bigger country.”

    I don’t suppose there is any solid proof of this, is there?

    • Anecdotal proof going back decades, even to the days of the old Magill magazine in the 1970s. The contemporary Phoenix has long chartered the incestuous world of Ireland’s Neo-Ascendancy. The frequent scandals in local government etc. have been notable for the close ties between those involved: familial, school, social, business, political, etc.

  2. James Todd

    Funny, this sounds like a lot like the problems we have here in America with our ruling classes. Truth be told, I don’t think the solution lies in any legislation or act of reform. Nor do I think the problem can be solved anytime soon. The underlying issue here is simply the mindset that has at turns aided and plagued mankind ever since we organized ourselves into tribes, cultures, cities, and states. That is the concept of pursuing your own welfare and that of your kin above the welfare of others. For all the hatred and scorn levelled at these bankers and politicians, they’re really just acting as most would in their situations; Utilizing the substantial power that they have at their disposal to secure for themselves and their family and friends as good and luxurious a life as possible. If they can help out their constituents/customers in the process, that’s great. That isn’t their priority though, and they aren’t any different from the vast majority of the human population in that regard.

    This mindset is so integral to the human condition that we could probably call it one of our defining traits, except for the fact that it’s found in most other animals as well. I think that if there is a solution to this issue – and I’m not certain that there is – then it lies in the culture that we indoctrinate our children with during their upbringing. “Looking out for #1” is what comes naturally to us, and our culture reflects that. Thus, as our children grow, their inherently self-serving nature is affirmed and reinforced by the culture that they are being educated to join. If they’re fortunate enough to be born into a position of guaranteed privelege, like the ones described in the article, then they will naturally display the kind of behavior that we’re complaining about.

    If, on the other hand, our children were raised into a culture that required a regard for the public good to be married to the pursuit of wealth, then when they grew into adults and assumed positions of power I doubt that you’d see this sort of behavior as often. It’d pop up occasionally of course, but not as often. Now, how would this be done? I have no idea. The problem with culture shifts as I see it is that the way an adult thinks and acts is often a reflection of how he or she was raised, and the way an adult raises his or her child is pretty much always based on how he or she thinks. Hence why I don’t think this is a problem that will be solved anytime soon.

    But, maybe I’m wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time.

    • Very good points, James. In Ireland we have this awful political language, media-speak beloved by the political classes, that refers to Ireland as “Ireland Inc.”. Everything is framed by references to business metaphors. A nation is not a business. It is a community of communities, a family of families. That is the fundamental difference between the thinking of the 1% and the 99%.

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