So who’s to blame for the household charge fiasco?
I read an article in The Observer a few weeks ago that examined the acceptance (or, more accurately, the non-acceptance) of blame in politics. It quoted a book on the subject. Its title told you everything you need to know about politics and politicians (and quite a number of other professions too).
It was called: Somebody is to Blame (But Not Me).
To me, the title was ingenius, containing as it did a universal truth about our political class, but also about the human condition.
In politics, an excuse or justification (no matter how outlandish) will always out-trump an apology or an admission of blame.
Thus, Bertie Ahern’s North Dublin retelling of 1,001 Nights with his fantastical tales of winning money on horses; his dig-outs; and fund-raising dinners attended by men without names in Manchester.
Thus, Fianna Fail shifted the blame for the economic crash on to Lehmans and ‘a perfect storm’ and whatever you are having yourself. Responsibility was denied, blame was spread… nothing to do with me folks.
This phenomeon isn’t confined to politicians but they have made it into an art form. When we journalists made a big faux pas we invariably blame the subeditors for sloppy handling of our copy, even though – sometimes! – we should have been caught bang to rights.
When the reports of the inquiries were published we saw political parties in the firing line proclaim they would accept responsibility. And they did. But it was always heavily qualified. Sure Fianna Fail had to go heavy on Ahern and the disgraceful Padraig Flynn and other corrupt councillors. But it was more ambivalent when it came to its attitude to Fianna Fail ministers who were busily spinning against the Tribunal when Ahern gave evidence (though I thought the three tribunal judges doth protest too much). And the party’s ambivalence towards Brian Cowen (another architect of its demise) was demonstrated at the Ard Fheis when Micheal Martin’s criticisms of him were loudly applauded… yet he also got a huge round of applause when he was namechecked as he appeared in the hall. Condemned and forgiven in the one breath.
And then Fine Gael promised it would be ready to face the might of the Moriarty Tribunal head on and implement all its recommendations. But it too has been ambivalent…with its continuing relationship with Denis O’Brien as well as its convoluted explaining away of the convoluted path travelled by the contribution he gave to the party in the 1990s.
And away from inquiries, it happens one every conceivable level.
Take the example of this week as we have seen Coalition Ministers gradually distance themselves from the household charge fiasco.
True, a more contrite Phil Hogan appeared before his parliamentary committee last night.
But it seemed that despite that he and his Fine Gael colleagues have been playing musical chairs with the blame.
Thus, it is the fault of disloyal Labour Ministers like Joan Burton and Brendan Howlin who have been talking it down.
Thus, it it the fault of Fianna Fail who gave us the Celtic Tiger for 16 years but didn’t give us a proper database of households. Thus the Government couldn’t issue bills or invoices and didn’t even know if there were 1.6m households or not.
Thus, it was the fault of the company contracted to produce the leaflets that didn’t manage to distribute the information to every household in the country.
In essense: Somebody is to blame (but not me).