By Jim O'SullivanThe new government promised openness, transparency and honesty; what we are getting is the routine employment of deceit, cunning and duplicity---and we need to understand why.
It was beyond depressing listening to Caitriona McGoldrick on Ocean during the week as she informed the people of the region that once again a straight forward commitment given to have the follow-up mammography services returned to Sligo appears, in all probability, to have been a hoax.
What sets this apart from the myriad of other broken promises is that there is no impending election---this promise, pledge, commitment, call it what you will, was made just over one year into a five year term which sets it apart from unhonoured electioneering pledges and suggests that such obnoxious behaviour is a fixed part of the new government’s modus operandi.
What lies behind this casual mendacity that has now become the norm in interactions between the public and the political establishment? Even where politicians have been previously unmasked as fabulists, why do they persist with such behaviour? Aside from the great hurt and offence that they inflict on their own constituents, surly they must be aware that such ongoing and blatant telling of lies, this absolute failure to interact with decent people with any degree of honesty, is also likely to eat away at confidence in the democratic process itself.
And it is not the local party member alone who, as part of some aggressive attention seeking strategy, is setting this new low standard---the spin, sophistry and subterfuge is being employed by those at the very apex of government.
As Caitriona was relaying her story locally, on the national stage the controversy over the roll-out of primary care centres was still in full swing. As the story developed it became apparent that the Minister for Health, James Reilly, had not used the agreed criteria when he decided to add 15 centres to the original 20 that were to be prioritised. The opposition and members of the media made numerous efforts to elicit from the Minister, and the HSE, how he had selected the new sites---but to no avail.
The matter was eventually raised with the Taoiseach who instantly donned the Machiavellian Mask to deliberately frustrate the truth. In a disgraceful display of contempt for both the questioner and the Dail---and by extension the people--- he responded to the question, which was asked using the medium of English, completely in Irish. Kenny is aware, having alluded to it in past debates, that the TD who asked the question is not proficient in Irish and so the language was used, along with much baffle-gabble, to thwart the best efforts to throw some light on the matter.
To date the people of the nation are still at a loss to know how Minister Reilly chose the sites that he added. We can of course now legitimately conclude that Roisin Shortall’s suspicions that “stroke politics”, and possibly worse, are involved---despite pre-election pledges that all such shenanigans would cease.
To add substance to the view that the government is deliberately concealing from the public the fact that it is insisting on implementing policies for which it has no mandate, we are beginning to see unelected officials reaching for the same “mask” whenever they are asked the simplest of question.
In the same week, two senior officials appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) made an opening statement which basically amounted to a declaration that they will not answer questions that they and they alone consider “sensitive” or matters of “government policy”---an occurrence which has never happened before. The officials in question here were both appointed by the new government. One, Tony O’Brien the new head of the HSE, was hand-picked by the Minister who bypassed the set procedures of open competition to appoint him.
The other, Ambrose McLoughlin the Department of Health’s Secretary General, was appointed from a recommendation list presented to government by the Health Minister. It would be strange indeed if government colleagues would scupper the Ministers preference for the appointment. Again, pre-election pledges on government appointments cast aside.
Is it likely that these two officials decided on their own volition that they would engage in thwarting access to the truth by using the tactic of not answering questions at all? Hardly----suggesting the existence of a strategy. And there is evidence which suggests that across Europe, ideologues are using similar tactics to implement policies which do not appear in pre-election manifestos.
During the same week, the second most senior politician in Britain, George Osborne, made a party conference speech which hardly concealed at all his party’s true intentions, so brazen has the disregard for democratic principles become. The tactic employed to circumvent the slight inconvenience of having no mandate will be readily familiar with observers here.
During his speech he asked the following:
“Where is the fairness, we ask, for the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, which looks up at the closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits?”
This is of course a profoundly loaded and disturbing question for such a senior politician to make and its purpose is twofold. First, the “neighbour” who has no job is demonised and we are invited to believe that his condition is of his own making, that he is in bed by choice, (remember Joan Burton’s “career choice” comments here which mirror this generalisation) and to cap it all it is implied by the use of the term “sleeping off”, that he is making merry with alcohol etc in his idleness. Osborne invites his audience, the British public, to conclude that the unemployed are thoroughly undeserving to man.
Having destroyed the character of all those who find themselves unemployed, Osborne’s second purpose is a great deal more sinister----he is inviting the “shift worker”, who is leaving for work in the “dark hours”, to feel resentment towards his neighbour. Such a thought may never have crossed his mind, in fact he may even have had some sympathy for his neighbour’s jobless plight---but now Osborne seeks breaks through any such feelings of empathy on an appeal to base instincts and encourages those with work to feel nothing but animosity towards those that don’t.
This is the wilful creation of divisions between neighbours which has the capacity to fracture communities and grow beyond resentment to contempt and even further, to hatred---and all of this because the Conservative Party in the UK want to cut social supports and having no mandate to do so they are toying with social solidarity in the hope that if sufficient bias is created, “popular” opinion will “demand” that government acts.
Since the government here came to power we have seen the same orchestrated efforts to divide the community and pitch groups against each other. Public servants have been demonised, the sick and the vulnerable are singled out and accused of making a “career choice” not to find work, lone parents and others constantly pointed out and accused of being burdens in all but name.
Even the elderly have not escaped from this constant flow of propaganda which is designed to create the impression that policies which are being implemented that bear heavily on such groups can, on the one hand, be easily borne by them, while on the other, the government has really little other option but to implement them---and anyway, such people are unworthy, a drag on the rest of us.
Welcome to post-truth Ireland where greed has created its “own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics”---and a set of values that would bring a blush to the cheek of an alley cat.