Rocking the Cradle of Democracy
Deaglán de Bréadún
The Pork and Beef saga at home has distracted attention from the social and political turmoil taking place on the territory of one of our EU partners. Since they’re so far away and get such an enviable amount of sunshine, we Irish think we have little in common with the Greeks.
However it may turn out that events in the cradle of democracy are a harbinger of things to come in other parts of Europe. If it is true, as the “experts” tell us, that we are heading into the worst economic crisis since the Thirties, then we may well be facing the same level of political upheaval that was seen in those not-so-far-off days.
There have been issues with the banks in Greece. We are told there is quite a high level of political corruption. There are extremist elements just below the surface of society – we may not have many anarchists here in Ireland, but there are others ready and willing to play the pied piper if our current social and political set-up starts to unravel.
Today I was asked to give an interview to BBC television about the Lisbon Treaty and Brian Cowen’s plan – which we expect to be revealed at the Brussels Summit this week – to re-run the referendum with some bells and whistles plus a spoonful of sugar or two in order to sweeten up the electorate.
Soundbites and social analysis don’t mix and I wasn’t able to go into one of the important if largely-unspoken reasons that Lisbon went down. That’s the disillusionment of a large proportion of the population with the political system. TDs and ministers are getting paid too much; there’s too many of them and a goodly number don’t seem to do anything very relevant or useful; many deputies have “inherited” their seats from their fathers and then we have these recurring stories about them hiring family relatives as employees; there are so many junior ministers and committee chairs that backbenchers are becoming a rarity; teams of civil servants spend their days doing constituency work for ministers at public expense; side-deals with Independents mean other constituencies are left out in the cold; and so on.
There’s also the penchant that our various interest-groups have for using issues such as the Lisbon Treaty to promote their own agendas: remember the way the farmers used it as a bargaining-chip in relation to the world trade talks.
We have already seen the huge row about the restrictions on medical cards for the over-70s, who took advantage of the free travel for seniors to come to Dublin to protest; we had a very large demonstration about the education cuts last Saturday. The potential for upheaval exists in this country, if the economy continues to deteriorate and the quality of our political leadership fails to improve.
As a journalist I can see the attractions of covering the story of social breakdown but as a citizen, frankly, I fear for the future. Brian Lenihan in his Budget speech called for patriotism, but there is little sign of this in our society, least of all at the top, and the motto seems to be, “Look after Number One”.
Deaglán de Bréadún