Wednesday 24 November 2010

The National Death

I keep thinking of Saul Bellow's great Herzog when I sit down to write a blog. The titular character is constantly drafting letters on all sorts of subjects but never finishing or posting them. Is this irritability with the world a function of male middle age. For some I fear it is.

I am one of them and my advice is to read no further. This is the verbal equivalent of bursting a boil. It should have ended up in the wastepaper basket. And many many people are saying these things.

Irritability with the world has a very clear target in Ireland at the moment. Vast sums of money in excess of what the government earns or can draw on have been guaranteed to the very financial system which caused the recent shock to the world economy. These people have now refused to lend to Ireland at rates which could possibly be afforded and driven us into the warm embrace of the IMF and the EU.

These institution are using chaos and national indebtedness to leverage higher profits from their lending to governments. They should have had to take the pain which as investors they were supposed to be exposed to. It should be noted that alongside politics and prisons, high finance has been identified as one of the places where you are likely to find an inordinately high number of psychopathic individuals.

It also strikes me as somehow ironic that a state who has bankrupted some of it's own citizens through the courts in order to protect themselves from the potential liability of providing high quality services should sign away enough money to pay for these services into eternity in order to protect businesses from losing money as a result of running their businesses badly.

The real reason, of course was that they were attempting to shore up the value of their own property and share portfolios. Or was it to ensure that the international bond holders would continue to lend to the irish banks?

Never having even considered voting for a Fianna Fail politician in my life I have felt a personal deficit in terms of sovereignty most of my adult life. However imperfect and inept the alternatives may have been they were always socially more progressive and simply less corrupt (not much of an achievement!)

Here are some gripes!

1. When for the first time in the history of the state Ireland saw economic success they 'good people of Ireland" decided to let these guys keep their hands in the cookie jar as long as they spread crumbs everywhere. They had no problem doing this as they had an excess of money for themselves and their cronies in the property business. (Has anyone ever counted how many elected members of Fianna Fail are 'auctioneers') Many are happy simply to sit on County Councils and rezone land for houses which they or their families will benefit from selling.

An early example of this was Ray Burke whose corrupt receipt of bribes was exposed in the early seventies and who wasn't happy with receiving the 'legal' commission on the sale of the houses but also took under the counter payments as well. All this was exposed by journalist Joe McAnthony at the time and a Garda investigation was started but allowed to fizzle out and he went on to serve as a minister in a number of administrations.

And what sort of decisions did they make for their property building friends? They quashed an upgrade in the building standards regime in 1998 which would have meant that all houses built after this date were better insulated and reduced the energy requirement of the country going forward. (and the Green Party went into coalition with them!)

" In the intervening five years ... “ a staggering 250,000 houses were built to a standard of energy efficiency that was, according to the Government’s own figures, 35% below what it should have been”." - (http://www.constructireland.ie/dail.php)

This is the sort of gift that keeps on taking.

2. Politicians pay
While untold millions were being spent on various tribunals to discover what sort of corrupt payments were made to some politicians, politicians hiding behind this window dressing of respectability increased their own wages, pensions and expenses in an extortionate manner which was 'legal' and therefore not corrupt!
The wages and expenses paid to politicians, let alone the 'contributions' to the political party in power have the effect of grossly distorting democracy as they disadvantage anyone who wants to stand against them.
The fact that it seems to be common practice and considered 'right' to claim as expenses charitable contributions is an indicator of how these people see themselves. (They make all these donations to increase their personal popularity) That is not their job.

What is their job? Legislating, I believe, is a large part of it.

Good legislation such as the decriminalisation of homosexuality was introduced when the European Court of Human Rights told them to do it. Other social legislation can take forty or fifty years to be enacted - see the Children's Act which has been identified as a requirement for something like a half century.

Tribunals made millionaires while the politicians worked on legal ways of robbing the populace while still managing the country for the wealthy who funded the party machine.

Democracy is undermined by funding of political parties and particularly by the use of the public purse to assist with campaigning.

3. Change the political system.
The Irish political structure reminds me of Zeno's paradox. By continually subdividing a small territory we can have a large number of counties and therefore county councils and also constituencies which requires more and more politicians. THEY ARE NOT NEEDED!

Cut the number of constituencies and seats. Use European Parliament constituencies and a national list system. 99 strikes me as a reasonable amount. And maybe we could directly elect the chairpeople of some of the major Dail committees which should be given more teeth.

Have provincial rather than county councils (again we could use the European constituencies)

Cut their pay  by 40% and introduce a single pension contribution. The argument that politics is an 'unsafe' career doesn't hold water in a world where many people will never work in one place for five years or more. It is highly unlikely that you could work in any place for this lenght of time with your percentage attendance in single figures. They don't deserve to be paid more than the politicians in other countries. Proper benchmarking should have seen most of them getting the equivalent of the dole.

4. Decriminalise hard drugs and sell them through state dispensaries. Use the money generated to pay for treatment for addicts, keep community initatives open. The police who are no longer required to spend their time fighting a losing battle against the drug fuelled underworld can be put to work on making a case against the white collar criminals who have stolen tens of thousands of euro from every single man woman and child in the country.

5. Get rid of Mountloy jail and the bedlamite psychiatric units which still operate centuries after they passed their sell by date. The money needed would simply be the equivalent of a flea on an elephant in terms of our indebtedness. There is no excuse to continue to abuse basic Human Rights and this sort of progress adds value to our National Balance Sheet, something which the years of prosperity did not add enough to.



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