Friday, October 25, 2013

Ireland is Dying and Our Political Class is to Blame

It can be either stupidity or heartlessness to kick a person while they are already down. In some cases it is a shocking mixture of both. Yet this week our government did exactly just that. In passing a bill that cut the job seekers allowance for young people , in some cases down to a paltry sum of 100 euro a week, the members of the Dail have told the youth of today they are not important to Irish society. Indeed, by singling out people under 26 for different and lower dole money, they have in fact created a new realm of economic discrimination. Not only has the recession, a product in large part the creation of policies by many of these deluded few residing in Leinster House destroyed the prospects of a generation, they have now taken away any chance of living a respected and dignified life. It is in essence a slow push out the door on the path to emigration.

For a long time Ireland was considered a country brimming with youthful vigour. On IDA pamphlets given out at trade fairs over the world for the last thirty years, one of the biggest boasts was of a country full of young, educated people, ready and waiting for you to hire them. Demographically we are a young country, with a sizeable proportion of our nation under thirty. Yet this is no country for the young. It never was. For decades we exported our young and today that social disease of emigration infects the country all over, destroying communities and tearing apart families. For all the talk of the good times in the late 90s and early part of the last decade, it was a shoddy fa├žade, held together by cheap credit that when the banks almost collapsed in 2008, the superficiality of our wealth could be seen in harsh black and white.

For all the cautious optimism of the past few weeks about growth picking up for the first time in over half a decade and the return of our keys of economic sovereignty we shamefully lost three years ago, we are a nation dying. It is not because of the burdensome debt; we had been there before in the 80s. It is a sense of necrosis which has been festering for decades that results in us haemorraging our greatest asset, our youth. For all the talk of people leaving Ireland out of economic necessity, there is very little said about the sizeable minority who has left this country since the recession started that did so out of choice. They left perfectly good jobs in Ireland to live elsewhere and this has always been the case. It is not because the grass is always greener. It is because this is a nation that has consistently failed to create an environment to nurture our youth.

The blame for that stands squarely on our politicians. When you look at Dail Eireann there is barely anyone under thirty in the House. We have two parties with virtually no ideological differences and in the minds of many the only difference is one is less corrupt than the other. We have parties of self-preservation, whose main ideology is to maintain the status quo, disregarding everyone else. That they have done so for ninety years is frightening. We have a political establishment based on a twisted sense of nepotism. It is quite shocking when you consider that most of the major players in our politics got their seats when their father died – Enda Kenny, Brian Cowen, Brian Lenihan to name but a few. Only this year, the second youngest TD in the Dail, Helen McEntee was voted in to take the seat of her deceased father. Many, many more examples are to be found in Leinster House. One can argue the merits of these individuals but you can never get over the sense that what we have is the creation of a political caste that stifles the desire for young people to enter in to politics. Why waste your time when the party machine will vouch for the child of a sitting TD?

With this selfish, self-preserving little bubble of entitlement you get the most egregious cases of stupidity and selfishness. We had a Seanad referendum based on the political opportunism of one man, Enda Kenny. Completely refusing to consider reforming the upper house saying it was abolition or the status quo no matter how dysfunctional it was, you had someone ignoring the will of the people just so he could have something to pin on his chest. Adding in a ruthless party whip system whose only goal is to turn TDs in to mindless complicit vote-punching minions and all you have is an establishment with no care for anyone but themselves.

There is a real lack of vision in this country. Our good times in the past were not built on the ideas of people and entrepreneurs. It was a convenient mix of demography and canny taxation. It seems the only thing this government and previous governments have had keeping this country afloat is by maintaining a few dozen multinationals on board by clever accounting. Let us be clear, these corporations have no love for us other than allowing them to park billions away from the taxman in their home countries and when the time comes that some other country beats us in the tax game or Europe says we need to grow up, they will leave. Yet all the time our youth are ignored or worse, harassed and constrained. While we let Apple and Google away with accounting murder, we slap our students with thousands in college fees then dump them on the streets with no hope other than 100 euro in job seeking allowance for jobs that are not even there. For the lucky few who have jobs and want to start a family, they are financially robbed by shocking childcare costs and guilt-tripped in to handing supposedly discretionary money to underfunded schools. These are the people by birth and upbringing that have strong, natural bonds to this country who in these bad times shed tears of sadness when forced out of Ireland to find work, who will do anything to stay and make a better life for themselves and the country here. These are the people who could create our own version of Google and Apple but the government do not listen.

All the time our politicians do nothing. They just mumble about fixing the finances as if that is the only thing they can do. There is no thinking out of the box or considering other options to fix the economy other than balancing the books. It’s like being locked out of your house and just standing at the door thinking “Oh I just gotta stay here until someone brings a key” without even trying a window or other means to get in. It is pure laziness bred by entitlement and a gene pool disintegrating under nepotism. Our country is slowly dying because a privileged few deny or worse, harass our greatest resource. They ignore their input and destroy the social ecosystem needed for them to grow. For all the talk of a tentative economic recovery, it is only a short remission for a disease created in Leinster House.

This is no country for young men. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Vote NO to Seanad Abolition Tomorrow

If something is broken, do you try and fix it or do you throw it away? I suppose if it is a DVD it is an easy decision, a computer less so. But what if it is a whole part of government, an institution of our democracy that has been with us for over eighty years and interwoven in to our Constitution like an organ of the body? To some a second kidney is superfluous but woe betide if the first one fails and you don’t have another. These are the questions we should be asking ourselves while we ponder the referendum on the Thirty-second Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which we will be voting for on Friday October 4th.

For decades criticism of the Seanad festered, rearing its head once in a while in debates. To many it is undemocratic, being indirectly elected by interest groups and packed with government cronies. That is true. To others it is a smug echo chamber for a political elite, a place won by favours in back rooms of the Dail and county council offices. That is also true. The Seanad is without doubt a defective organ of government. Yet tomorrow instead of finally even considering the possibility of really fixing the upper house we have been given a blunt option of dumping the whole thing or not. There is no consideration of future reform the government says. It is of their opinion that because it has not happened before, it will never happen. That is a deeply regressive argument. Previous governments have had the ability to reform the Seanad and they still do. Then finally we have a proper argument about the Seanad. Yet we have now been given the sole option of amputation. So we are being told to remove one defective kidney and hope for the best with another that created the crisis we are all in today.

The defective reasoning behind this can be traced back to a speech our now Taoiseach Enda Kenny made in October 2009 in which he stated that a “second house of the Oireachtas can no longer be justified”. This it must be stated was only a few months after he had vouched for the merits of the Seanad, albeit a reformed one. It is rather funny that after a lot of personal soul searching and debate he is now completely and utterly for the abolition of the Seanad, that his mind has concluded so forcibly that there is no need for debate. Indeed, he has refused to argue on prime time TV or in any forum the reasoning behind his change of heart in relation to the upper house. It is as if he is a child who wants to do something, hears your argument against and puts his hands up to his ears and shouts “Na na na na na! Can’t hear you!”

What we have tomorrow is not some reform process or a way to save money or even enhance democracy, the arguments the government are advocating for. What we have is a cynical political maneouvre by an autocratic Toiseach, blinded by smugness, lubricated by the largest parliamentary majority in the history of the state. It is a means to pin a badge on a man whose pet project he wants passed, to have something to own while the rest of his mandate is discredited by austerity and a dictatorial whip system. We are trading collective democracy for personal political merit. The frightening thing is that such autocratic behaviour will only be enhanced with the abolition of the Seanad. It will be a back door power grab. For all the people who think that abolishing the Seanad will be a way to kick the balls of a privileged smug elite, the sad irony is, rather than removing a bunch of unloved politicians, you will be in fact handing an even concentrated few more power.

We as a nation deserve the best and most robust democracy we can get. We also deserve the right to the best options of getting that. Tomorrow you will not. To demand that argument be heard, vote NO tomorrow to the abolition of the Seanad.