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Vincent Browne: Squalid little deals show it's still old politics at work

Writing for TheJournal.ie, Vincent Browne shows us what Ireland’s real politics looks like – and what it does to society.

Vincent Browne

THERE ARE TIMES when public life seems hopeless, literally hope-less.

We are close to that now, if not beyond it.

Just reflect on the cynicism involved in appointing to ministerial office – however meaningless many of the ministerial offices may be - every one of the Independent TDs who have agreed to keep Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

Yes, one of them, the well-named Boxer Moran, will have to wait a year for his appointment when he will swap his backbench status for a ministerial status with one of the newly appointed junior ministers.

Clearly, not a tittle of regard for qualifications for office, or experience or skill or trustworthiness. And yes that goes for the Fine Gael appointees as well, including Enda Kenny’s own appointment.

And then there is the secret deal with Micheál Martin to allocate three of the Taoiseach’s 11 nominees to the Senate to the Fianna Fáil leader’s preferred candidates.

Both of them protesting the need for openness, both of them concealing, until they got caught, their little squalid deal on Senate appointees.

1916 Easter Rising commemoration Source: Niall Carson

There was an academic on television on Sunday night lauding the profound change in Irish political culture as represented by a Dáil that, for a brief interlude, will have a chance to fulfil its constitutional function.

But has anything at all happened to institutionalise this fleeting change, other than the symbolic acceptance that the Dáil may scrutinise budgetary proposals before the formal budget is introduced and legislative change may also go through a delaying process?

But has anything happened that will prevent a future government with a parliamentary majority behaving precisely as previous such governments have done – ram through the Oireachtas legislation and budgets, subvert parliamentary accountability and, once again, render the Dáil a by-stander in the process of governance?

What would help?

There are two initiatives that the committee reviewing Dáil procedures could have enacted:

  • a curtailment by legislation – or ideally by constitutional change – the party whip system which enables majority governments to do what they like;
  • the introduction of a “decisive minority” initiative which would enable 20% of Dáil TDs to require an inquiry into any aspect of government policy or executive action (both these measures apply in the German and Danish parliaments).

These would have made a significant and enduring difference to our political culture. Instead, we got cosmetics.

There is a hilarious provision in the new standing orders of the Dáil which supposedly inaugurate the “new politics” about which Sunday night’s academic was so enthused.

This is a provision whereby the Ceann Comhairle can indicate periodically that a minister has a propensity not to answer questions. But the Ceann Comhairle will have no power to require these ministers to answer questions.

Just answer the question

Joan Burton was – by some measure – the champion stonewaller of the last government, with due regard to Enda Kenny’s skills in that arena also.

Her trick was to read again and again a piece drafted by an official that, invariably, had nothing at all to do with the question asked.

Frances Fitzgerald is the stonewalling champion of the new Dáil.

Repeatedly during recent Dáil sessions on the suitability of Nóirín O’Sullivan as Garda Commissioner, she read the same piece of tortured irrelevance over and over in yet further evidence of her unsuitability as Minister for Justice. (By the way, she is already out canvassing for support to be the next Taoiseach. Enda beware!)

But worse than all that, the old politics remain.

Annual Cross Border Organised Crime Seminar - Belfast Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

By which I mean the real politics – not how the Dáil does its business but how our parliamentarians decide on the welfare of the people, primarily in the distribution of the socially-created wealth in our society (ie all wealth and income since it is impossible to create either other than by social cooperation).

Yes a few sops will be thrown the way of those who, to date, have been deprived unjustly of their due share of the socially created wealth.

There will be marginal increases in some social welfare provisions; a few more special needs teachers; a bit more for health but almost no improvement in health inequality; and maybe a gesture towards ameliorating the cruelties of market-driven job conditions but proper regard, of course, to our “competitiveness”.

The housing crisis will persist for doing anything significant about it would interfere with the sacrosanct market, much admired by Michael Noonan.

But there will be no shift in the distribution of wealth, income, power, influence and respect in our society.

The weak will suffer

To borrow the title of the most recent book by the former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, the weak will suffer what they must.

The abominable cruelty of ‘direct provision’ will persist – ie the conditions in which asylum seekers (including thousands of children) in the “Ireland of the Welcomes” are contained.

How this does not constitute deliberate child abuse by the State is beyond me?

And, of course, we will continue to aid and abet the infliction of massacre and destruction on innocent people in the Middle East by keeping Shannon airport open to the agents of death.

If anyone thinks it will be different after the next election when Sinn Féin do better and the left gets more seats, think again.

Greece Migrants Source: AP/Press Association Images

The lesson of Syriza in Greece should be a cautionary tale but it is not.

Syriza promised an end to austerity and a defiance of the Troika (the EU Commission, the ERCB and the IMF).

Once in office, Syriza deferred to the Troika as abjectly as its conservative predecessors did and then pulled a stunt even more cynical that our lot could devise. It held a referendum in the hope that the Greek people would vote to accept the EU strictures and when, annoyingly, they voted the other way, the party betrayed the people comprehensively.

It was a bit like what the IRA Sinn Féin did over the Good Friday Agreement, which represented a total capitulation of that which the IRA and Sinn Fein stood for. But they then managed to sell the capitulation as a triumph.

That capitulation was welcome. The next capitulation won’t be.

More from Vincent Browne for TheJournal.ie: 

Appointing unqualified ministers is an airhead absurdity we inherited from the British

This is the worst possible outcome of the general election

About the author:

Vincent Browne

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