Worrying signs that politicians learned nothing from collapse of the Celtic Tiger
Traditional politics caused the economic mess - they can also get us out of it
The good, the bad and the ugly side of Irish politics were in evidence over the past week. All served as a reminder that the mistakes which almost undid the country will repeat themselves unless the politicians, and the electorate, learn the right lessons.
To start with the ugly side of politics: the behaviour of Luke “Ming” Flanagan on the issue of quashed penalty points was breathtaking. Here was a TD who led a vitriolic campaign against those who abused the penalty points system being forced to admit that he had, not just once, but twice, benefited from that very same abuse.
The hypocrisy involved was astonishing, coming as it did from somebody who frequently accuses other politicians and various organs of the State of being corrupt. That the Roscommon TD could engage in a noisy public campaign against a practice in which he had himself engaged says it all.
In one way his behaviour reflects a certain strand of Irish public opinion in which all politicians are denigrated as corrupt and self-serving by people whose own standards of behaviour are often very much worse.
The political behaviour of Ming and his ally Mick Wallace, who was last year exposed as a tax defaulter, are all of a piece with this corrosive attitude to politics. Their success has frightening implications, given the number of voters opting for Independents has never been higher.
The last Irish Times opinion poll showed that more people intended to vote for Independents and smaller parties than for any of the established parties. There is a real possibility that the technical group in the next Dáil will have 30 to 40 members.
It brings to mind the remark of the Irish patriot Tom Kettle that politics is the only profession in which most people believe the amateur can do a better job than the professional. Whether the behaviour of the current crop of Independents will do anything to alter that view only time will tell.
Not that the professionals covered themselves in glory over the past week or so either. A depressing feature of the reaction to the plan to deal with the mortgage crisis was the level of political posturing all-round - and even worse was the propensity of TDs to attack a senior official for trying to speak the truth.
When the secretary general of the Department of Finance John Moran gave evidence to the Dáil public accounts committee two weeks ago he outlined the facts about mortgage arrears and gave his honest assessment of the situation.
He pointed out the incontrovertible fact that the level of house repossessions in this country is “uncharacteristically low”, particularly given the extent of the crisis, and noted that “it’s surprising to us that there are so few repossessions in the system at the moment”.
It was not long before anonymous Government sources, said to be speaking on behalf of Labour Ministers, were attacking Moran for insensitivity, while misrepresenting his comments in the process.