Farcical system proves this is no crisis
LET US be clear: there is no crisis in Ireland. A crisis is a moment when a system must either collapse or change. The Irish system has no intention of doing either. It has led us to disaster.
To any rational observer, it seems unthinkable that it could carry on regardless, but it survives in all its farcical glory. Its basic elements of impunity, lack of accountability and cod-democracy are fully intact. Consider just three episodes from the last week.
First, there’s the Mick Wallace affair. It is actually very simple, but it is complicated by stupid questions. Should Wallace be suspended from the Dáil?
Who gives a damn? Giving a TD who cheats on taxes a holiday on full pay is exactly what the old system did – Denis Foley got a two- week paid vacation after admitting to the Moriarty tribunal that he had an Ansbacher-related offshore account.
Should Wallace be censured by the Dáil? In that case, he would be stigmatised as a pariah, just like the only person punished in this way, Michael Lowry. What a terrible fate . . .
Wallace should have been prosecuted. He used money that didn’t belong to him (VAT collected from purchasers on behalf of the Revenue) and knowingly made a false declaration. In any functioning democracy, these are crimes – pure and simple. It is entirely irrelevant what the Dáil or the technical group or anyone else thinks or does – this is supposed to be a matter for the law. So long as it isn’t, how can we say that anything has changed?
The second episode unfolded last Wednesday when the Taoiseach was asked a simple question: what did Angela Merkel say to him about bank debt when they had a telephone conversation after the Irish referendum result?
Two things flowed from this. One is that the Taoiseach’s reply, through a dense fog of verbiage, was, in essence: none of your business. Even more striking, though, is the Dáil’s collective response to this direct assault on its status as the embodiment of our democracy. In any self- respecting chamber, deputies from all sides would have walked out in protest.
What our lot did instead was to descend into infantilism. Here is a flavour of the “debate” that was more like a very bad undergraduate avant-garde play:
Taoiseach: “The question is –”
Micheál Martin: “The Tánaiste said it. The Government side did the leaking. We all know how it works.”
Taoiseach: “The question is that European leaders –”
Micheál Martin: “The Taoiseach made the call.”
Robert Troy: “ET phone home.”
Micheál Martin: “The Tánaiste was saying it non-stop until the date of the referendum.”
Robert Troy: “ET phone home.”
Taoiseach: “The European leaders must focus on their responsibilities as political leaders –”
Mattie McGrath: “Frankfurt’s way or Labour’s way.”
Taoiseach: “– to make political decisions about the euro zone crisis.”
Micheál Martin: “I agree.”
Taoiseach: “As I stated, 17 governments, 17 parliaments and one bank –”
Dara Calleary: “And one lady.”
Taoiseach: “There is a range of views.”
Mattie McGrath: “One lady.”
This is political Tourette’s: shout out the first thing that comes into your head. The only statement in the entire debate that express any kind of truth is “ET phone home”.
On the same day, we had the third episode: the “launch” of a crucially important document called Our Sustainable Future: A Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland.
We know this was launched because there is a big picture on the Department of the Environment website of Phil Hogan, Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore, all glowing with the pleasure of holding copies of it. There is also a report, with direct quotations, of the speeches made by each of the three at the “launch”.
And all of this was a brazen lie. There was no “launch”. There was only a photocall to produce those thrilling images of three men holding copies of a document.
Not one of the 108 individuals and organisations that contributed to the strategy was present. Reporters were kept away, lest they should behave as they would do at an actual “launch” and ask questions.
The official press release that mimics news reports with phrases such as “Launching the framework, the Taoiseach commented . . .” and “Emphasising the need to plan now for a future that is truly sustainable, the Taoiseach added . . .” is pure fiction.
The Taoiseach said nothing at all. He didn’t even wave his hands and make meaningful gestures, as he would have done in a proper game of charades.
This is where we are after we elected a government pledged to radical reform: a legal system that doesn’t prosecute open tax evasion; a Dáil without the self- respect to insist on basic information or to act with dignity when it doesn’t get it; and a taoiseach who doesn’t even feel it necessary to actually deliver the “speeches” he claims to have made.
It’s just as well, then, that there is no crisis, and that nothing has happened to make us want to change our ways.