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.”
“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.