On the bizarre inconsistency in standards in Irish public life…

It’s rare to get Fintan O’Toole, Kevin Myers, Fergus Finlay and Richard Waghorne (sadly, not online) all singing to the same tune on any matters political, but that is the dubious achievement of the Green party this morning… Each of them though, like the blind men and the elephant describe quite different parts of what ails the Irish body politic. Mr Myers first examines in detail what happened last week when Labour and Sinn Fein defenestrated the Ceann Comhairle:

The issue here is not John O’Donoghue. The issue here is how we do things. The left was responsible for the unconstitutional end to his career. Yet this ‘left’ is composed largely of the remaining body-parts from failed fringe-movements. Within the Labour Party are former Stalinists who supported the USSR, others who were members of the Official IRA, which killed people, and blew things up. Provisional Sinn Fein is Provisional Sinn Fein-IRA, whose moral voice is authentic as Mike’s cock-a-doodle-doo: or, as it is known at Canary Wharf, rock-a-dock or two.

Throw in some mob-oratory from the national broadcaster’s disgraceful ‘Liveline’, and almost no state institution and no politician is safe from the vengeful, idiot wrath of Madame La Guillotine, or Les Heureuses Tricoteuses. [emphasis added]

Fintan O’Toole:

If you wanted to encapsulate the death of the Green Party in a little moral tale, you’d be hard put to come up with a better one than John Gormley’s ostentatiously eco-friendly trip to the UK on the ferry, after which he was picked up by a limo that drove from London to Holyhead at a cost of €2,200. If you think of the ferry as Green principles and the limo as Fianna Fáil culture, you have a perfect image for the charade that was played out at the weekend.

But the heart of his case against the Greens is on the substance of policy, rather than metaphorical. O’Toole’s case is that Nama is hoovering up everything in its path:

…let’s look at the two things that are not in the programme. Both are completely central to any idea of sustainable development. The first is the implementation of the Kenny report on the control of building land by allowing local authorities to buy it at the agricultural price plus 25 per cent. It has been an absolute mainstay of Green policy since the party was formed. There’s not a word about it in the programme. What we get instead is a wind-powered exhalation about “a long-term strategy of land acquisition in order to meet at a reasonable price the needs of both market and non-market providers”.

The second non-appearance is the urgent issue of upward-only rent reviews for commercial property. This has to be tackled right now: ludicrously high rents are closing Irish businesses every day and throwing workers on the dole queues. The Greens have been going on about this for ages. All we’ve got on the table is a very weak proposal to outlaw the practice for new leases. What have the Greens, and the Irish retail sector, got to show for all the posturing? Nothing.

And why is nothing happening on these two crucial issues? Because change would not suit the Nama strategy.

Fergus Finlay also focuses on what the Programme for Government does not say:

Take social welfare, for instance, one of the most critical areas on which the programme is silent — “because it’s a budgetary matter”.

How can any serious politician sit down to negotiate a programme for government and leave out perhaps the single most important issue for thousands of families in the country? There can only be one reason. A programme for government has been negotiated for one reason and one reason only — to give its authors a mandate to stay in government and preside over a budget that will be a complete negation of the ambitions and aspirations of the programme itself.

And the kicker:

The Greens are now entirely complicit in this denial. In a week when the value of the Irish Glass Bottle site in Dublin was officially downgraded from the €413 million that was paid for it to just €60 million – a fall of 85 per cent – the party is telling us, as the programme puts it, that “the Government’s approach to asset valuation within the Nama initiative is carefully balanced and reasonable”.

Putting what remains of Green ideas and idealism into a zombie government is a waste of political capital in the same sense that putting €30 billion of public resources into a zombie bank (Anglo) is a waste of financial capital.

For all the nice gestures, it will be just as productive. The Greens are now in that publicly funded luxury limo, sitting comfortably on the road to perdition.

Of all of them it is Myers who asks the most searching constitutional and related questions of probity in Irish public life:

…instead of facing adversity full-on and rescuing the Irish State by seeking cross-party unity, the Government has chosen merely to rescue the Government. This apparently means giving the reptiles’ foreskins [Myers’ ‘quaint’ term for the Greens] everything they want, from sail-powered airliners, to moss-driven state cars to hand-knitted trains, and meanwhile sacrificing anyone the mob dislikes. (Though to be sure, ‘sacrifice’, in the perverted and grotesque parlance of the Irish public service, actually means early retirement on a millionaire pension-pot).

None of this — from the politicians’ expenses, to the retirement schemes of public servants, to the convulsions of lynch-mob political emotionalism, to a ‘public service broadcaster’ which regularly decides whom to ruin — is rational. Indeed, rational analysis does not explain Irish life.

It cannot explain how RTE’s main current affairs investigative programme into the woes and scandals of Irish life is actually presented by a man who tried to grab a neighbour’s land through — by his own legal submissions — adverse possession, and who for a decade was given a top-of-the-range car by BMW. No rational analysis explains such a bizarre inconsistency in standards, or the overwhelming silence on this issue from the other media.

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  • kensei

    I don’t get how Myers piece isn’t mostly man playing here Mick, especially the first bit.

  • Mick Fealty

    It is absolutely. He and any politician are entitled to do that. We as bloggers and commenters are not. Them’s the rules.

  • kensei

    Mick

    I don’t buy it. If you’ve launched straight into man playing then you are doing it to avoid the issues whether you are on Slugger or you are in the newspaper or on TV. Yes, the Left is fileld with terrible evil peopel – but you knwo, where they actually right? It’s avoiding the argument.

    The rest of it is simialrly poor. And I’m unsure about 1. The benfits of National Government to anyone 2. The end-is-nigh nonsense suggesting the state is in any imminent danger of destruction 3. Why anyone would expect a governemnt not to try and save itself and 4. That said government wouldn’t believe this is the right thing for the country in any case.

    He may be right on RTE hypocrisy, but again, it may be galling that those running RTE current affairs are a big pile of hypocrites, but on the issue at hand are they right? There is a measure of look into the eyes to it.

    Third, who ever said people where rational? That like economic edifice as certaibnly toppled int he last year. Anger is certainly an adaptive response, in this instance though.

    HJe may have the right to angry man playing rantign Mick, but it typically leads to poor quality.

  • Mick Fealty

    You’re preaching to the quire Ken… But nonetheless, he has a point about just how lost Irish public life is… just now…

    Though if Mr Myers thinks it is a peculiarly Irish problem he should look at the arbitary actions of Sir Thomas Legg (in the post below this one) and the screaming headlines on the front page of my own alma mater this morning… implying the PM filched that £12.5k when he was clearly acting within the rules as set by the fees office…

    A point picked up by the Guardian and a story otherwise relegated to page 2 by the FT and shared by the more substantial story on the divergence of thinking on quantitative easing (ie printing money…

    That said, the Irish problem is, for me, that one of the few parties to ante up on policies and principle in front of the voters is now getting crucified for every inch they have given short of those principles. If people really want that kind of purity, they need a first past the post, winner takes all system.

    It also posses the question of what happens when deflationist FG and reflationist Labour try to stitch a coherent position together from their divergent views on a whole basket of the most pressing issues?

  • kensei

    Mick

    Though if Mr Myers thinks it is a peculiarly Irish problem he should look at the arbitary actions of Sir Thomas Legg (in the post below this one) and the screaming headlines on the front page of my own alma mater this morning… implying the PM filched that £12.5k when he was clearly acting within the rules as set by the fees office…

    This is mad. In no other walk of life would this be backdated in this fashion – it is simply unfair on those who followed the ruels as laid down.

    That said, the Irish problem is, for me, that one of the few parties to ante up on policies and principle in front of the voters is now getting crucified for every inch they have given short of those principles. If people really want that kind of purity, they need a first past the post, winner takes all system.

    Ie The Greens? I think most people didn’t see it as much mroe than a stunt rather than an actual expression of principle, Mick.

    It also posses the question of what happens when deflationist FG and reflationist Labour try to stitch a coherent position together from their divergent views on a whole basket of the most pressing issues?

    Surely that is what elections are for? FG and Labour must have an inkling they’ll be winding up in Government together. Surely their manifestoes will reflect this?

    The Republic is shellshocked at the moment. Public life is simply reflecting the national mood. Far from ideal, but understandable. Both will recover.

  • Mick,

    I guess we have to overlook the fact that Myers pleads with his readers to choke, assassinate or otherwise dispose of two of the Republic’s cabinet ministers. In any case, the Greens generally take comfort when he and Waggers spew out critical copy – on the basis of that old Swiftism that when the dunces (in this case of the self-important, conservative and close-minded hue) are in confederacy against you…

    But the criticism from Finlay and O’Toole, whose Labour identifications are admittedly not buried too deeply, are more bothersome and also more dishonest.

    Political opponents, of course, you expect to ignore accomplishments and focus on what you did not achieve. To use Finlay’s phrase, the “single most important issue for thousands of families in the country…” would have been anything that the Greens did not achieve.

    Gilmore, Burton et al have taken to that with gusto, while Rabbitte deploys the ‘it’s all phrased very aspirationally’ talking point (as if the language in any Programme for Government was ever different.)

    In Finlay’s case, social welfare is now the “single most important issue for thousands of families in the country” because the Greens delivered most of the education reversals and protections that he had been calling for in recent months.

    In O’Toole’s case, having opened with the cheap inaccurate limo metaphor, everything was about Nama. (For the record, there are no trains between the Holyhead ferry port and Hay-on-Wye. Bristol airport is closer but still 75 miles away. The train from Holyhead stops, after a nearly four hour journey, at Hereford, which is still 20 miles from the festival. So John Gormley would have needed transfers for any of these options. That the embassy chose to dispatch a people carrier from London rather than source one locally is a matter of great annoyance to John.)

    O’Toole attacks the Greens for failing to implement the 25 year old Kenny report and the upward only rent review for commercial property, which we have apparently been “going on about for ages.” In the first case the 80% Windfall Tax will replicate the aims of Kenny but by a different means. In the second case, the Justice Minister said that he will address the issue by tabling an amendment to Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill.

    From a commentator who “has been going on about” political reform for a lot longer that we have been going on about rent review (going back to 2004 I can find only one press release on this subject on http://www.greenparty.ie), the very major steps in this area are, according to Fintan, ‘gesture politics,’ ‘lovely stuff,’ and ‘ferry moments.’

    Thus, the banning of corporate political donations (including those sacks of cash that SIPTU delivers annually to Labour HQ on Ely Place) – not worthy even of a mention.

    Laws that will create an open and transparent system for appointments to public bodies – presumably trivial.

    The commitment to have within 12 months a blueprint for the most radical shake up of elections and politics in the state’s history – a gesture? A ferry moment.

    Commentators like Finlay and O’Toole cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the very many progressive and equitable points in the new programme for government because they are blinded by their prejudices against the Greens.

    In today’s articles particularly, but also more generally, they have proved themselves to be an integral part of the cynical, point-scoring and confrontational sham that passes for political debate.

    It’s an intellectual cop-out from supposedly progressive commentators that, in fact, does progressive politics in Ireland no service whatsoever.

    Vincent Browne was at this carry on last week as well, hoisting the Green Party’s 2007 general election manifesto in the air and judging the government (7% Green Party, 87% FF, 6% others) on what it had failed to implement from this document.

    In reflection, O’Toole’s article opens by trying to “encapsulate the death of the Green Party in a little moral tale.” The headline states that we have apparently been “obliterated by a great Nama denial.”

    Myers pleads for the Green Party’s slaughter, while O’Toole reckons that we have already perished.

    I never expected the main difference between these two commentators to boil down to a question of tense.