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Sunday, 28 June 2009

Collective Stupefaction...

We're gripped by collective stupefaction...

We need more than a changing of the political guard...We need to take the axe to the nation's greedy elite

WHEN the last of the Celtic Tiger cubs are basting in the St Stephen's Green sunshine like Sunday afternoon cooked chickens, it is hard to think revolutionary thoughts.

Sadly, even as we noted that a government which has turned our economy into the Cuba of Europe could be forgiven if it did the same trick with the weather, the antics of our judges and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) swiftly brought us back to more normal dreams about the virtues of Jonathan Swift's wise suggestion that we should hang half a dozen bankers every year.

While the hanging bit is a tad excessive, when it comes to numbers Mr Swift may actually have been too prescriptive -- for any bonfire of our Tiger nonentities should include a right good sprinkling of politicians, clerics, regulators, barristers, mandarins and social partners.

Last week, as the IMF unveiled Ireland's status as a failed political entity, the collective immunity to reason that has gripped our leaders was epitomised by Brian Lenihan's apparently sincere boast that we were on "the right track".

That's akin to the captain of the Titanic saying the plus side to the sinking of the ship was that there would be plenty of fresh ice for any drinks.

Incredibly, this was not the first act of madness by our governing class. This instead had already been provided by a chief justice who, at a minimum, left himself open to the charge of acting like the sort of trade union shop steward who cannot see beyond the vested interests of his members.

The judge's demarche may have been the most egregious example of how all of the nation's "toffs" have failed the people.

What may have far more serious consequences is the apparent belief of our political dullards that, even though the country they created now resembles a pyramid scheme devised by con artists, life should go on as normal.

Of course, there will be cuts (preferably in social welfare because the poor don't vote), but when it comes to the €35bn our bankers squandered or the most expensive public sector in Europe, our role is to simply pay up and be nice about it.

However, although they are incapable of recognising it, the real truth is that the Ireland created by the "Spoilt Princes" and "Marie Antoinettes" of Fianna Fail is now so damaged that the system needs the sort of revolution where things are busted up and put together again in a radically different way.

The most important aspect of any revolution is that it cannot merely consist of a changing of the political guard.

Any transformation in the way this country works needs to start with taking the axe to the top civil service mandarins who have turned this country into an economic tiphead. Such a process will of course raise difficult issues for Brian Cowen.

The great economist Adam Smith once famously noted that when he saw two tradesmen together he suspected a conspiracy against the public. In the latter-day Irish State, the closest Irish equivalent of the tradesmen is the FF Minister and the Departmental Secretary General, who are so closely intertwined that it often looks as though each has a hand in the other's pocket.

As per Mr Swift's advice, we need to select at least six of the top mandarins, line them up against a wall and sack them pour encourager les autres.

This is not just the politics of the scapegoat, for how can those civil servants who created the culture of benchmarking, or the happy idiots in Finance, or Brendan Drumm, be trusted to reform the mess they have made?

The axe need not be confined to our greedy, inept mandarins. It is past time that the salaries of greedy ministers, greedy judges, greedy barristers, greedy university professors and even greedier hospital consultants are halved -- and if you people want to revolt, then try your luck in the private sector.

The Government would save only a moderate sum of money, but the trickle-down effect would soften an awful lot of coughs among those public servants who believe a job for life is a human right.

Any real reform would also have to include the expulsion of dead wood such as "I'm all right Jack" O'Connor and his Colombian pals from the centre of government.

Mr O'Connor and the other participants may have called the construct they invented "social partnership", but their unholy alliance with Bertie Ahern allowed it to evolve into a school for graft where our trade unions and political card sharps filled their boots.

It has also created a public service oligarchy whose venomous self- centred response to our fiscal crisis verges on treason. Happily, when it comes to this oligarchy -- and, for that matter, the banking and other heroes of the private sector -- we have another modest proposal.

It's time to end the "real men don't do accountability" ethos of governance which was so enthusiastically supported by FF and Mary Harney. Instead, we should ensure all top private and public sector "toffs" who are paid by the taxpayers should be employed on annual contracts and be forced to reapply for their jobs in front of specially constituted Dail committees with real Public Accounts Committee-style powers.

Sadly, it is difficult to see how a government that is a mirror image of those Bourbon monarchs whose response to the flames from the Bastille was to continue their game of croquet on the lawns of Versailles, can lead such a process.

We shall leave the hapless Greens out of it, while it must also be noted that Ireland's problem with governance is actually about FF rather than Brian Cowen.

Nothing epitomised the dazed, disengaged incompetent nature of a Cabinet whose capacity to rule is totally compromised by its incestuous relationship with vested interests, more than Dermot Ahern's recent astonishing claim that he was in politics because it puts money on the table.

In one bleak moment, this Jobsworth -- whose great ambition is to be a beach bum -- inadvertently revealed how far we have travelled from the era of Donogh O'Malley. Mr Ahern may not even be the worst of the bunch, but his airy indifference to the death agonies of the Celtic Tiger shows clearly how this Cabinet is no longer fit for purpose.

The modest decadence of the age of Bertie has been replaced by the puritanical rigour of a pay-back time where we no longer have a human right to multi-house ownership or to pay our school teachers so much that they can buy villas in Croatia.

So far, the response of the people and our elite to this transformation has been one of dazed stupefaction. However, unless Mr Cowen gets ahead of the people and starts to do the work required to rescue us, he may learn that no amount of sunshine will save him from a revolt by a nation which has been betrayed almost beyond reason by its elite.



Report John Drennan - Sunday Independent

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