The global crisis coupled with our own economic meltdown has, for the first time since independence, forced our politicians to govern in the interests of the country rather than for personal, party or sectional interests.
It will be a miracle of biblical proportions if they succeed in taking us through this crisis simply because they have no experience whatsoever in governing a truly democratic country.
Take the analogy of a corrupt factory manager who has for years been cooking the books, robbing workers and lying to the owners. Although it’s obvious something is wrong nobody speaks up because the manager is adept at giving out favours.
Suddenly, the factory is on fire and the only person capable of putting it out is the corrupt manager because he did all the firefighting courses.
Unfortunately, it turns out that he never actually attended any course but instead headed off on a holiday paid for out of his expenses. Now everybody is looking to this corrupt, incompetent and greedy man to save their factory, jobs and future.
What are the chances?
For the first few decades after independence Ireland remained economically, politically and culturally static. There was no attempt whatsoever to make a real break with the past by creating a modern, progressive democratic country.
Instead, all energies were focused on hatred for the British as an excuse for our own incompetence, burn everything British except their coal was the rallying cry.
To make matters worse the Catholic Church was bestowed with enormous and unchecked power that had, and continues to have, devastating consequences for Irish citizens.
But the most serious deficiency was the complete failure to establish a properly functioning democratic system. Instead, we opted for the mafia type system of Clientism where citizens were encouraged to believe that power rested with the politician rather than with the citizen.
Politicians set up clinics where they bought votes in return for granting favours, usually at the expense of other citizens who weren’t as well in. The country was run on a wink, wink, nod, nod basis of benign low level corruption.
Corrupt Clientism became such an integral part of our culture that people began to vote exclusively for their ‘man’, for their own individual interest. It didn’t matter how corrupt he was so long as he continued to deliver favours, the good of the country at large became irrelevant.
It was an aspect of our culture that the tourists loved, ah shure don’t mind that Mr. American, we do things differently in Ireland.
It was only in the 1960s that we finally decided that perhaps it was time to come out from under our blanket of isolation and wallowing self-pity and join the rest of world. For a brief few years it seemed that a new dawn was indeed on the horizon but tragically it was not to be.
In December 1979 the corrupt Haughey came to power after defeating George Colley in a bitter leadership battle. The low level corruption that had underpinned Irish culture for so long became malignant after Haughey’s assent to power. His corrupting influence not only infected his own party but the disease spread to every level of society.
Ireland now became an overtly corrupt country. So called regulatory agencies not only turned a blind eye but frequently cooperated with corrupt practices. Politicians (of all parties), businessmen, civil servants and ordinary citizens all came to see corruption as a perfectly normal and acceptable part of our culture. Denial was the psychological mechanism used to avoid dealing with the brutal reality.
The global crisis coupled with our own economic collapse has stripped away that mechanism and is forcing us to face up to what we have become.
But it is, I fear, too late. The corrupt Irish system is not capable of uniting people for the good of the country. For too long we sold our votes to incompetent and corrupt politicians in pursuance of short term individual gain.
It’s the only way we know how to operate, that’s why there is so much argument and anger coming from a vast array of different interest groups (See Today with Pat Kenny (Monday) for an excellent example of this phenomenon).
They’re all demanding that they’re interests, rather than the common good, should be taken care of first. Unfortunately, Irish politicians are only capable of delivering favours to groups or individuals; they have no experience of actually working for the good of the country as a whole.
The politicians are standing there now, in shock, just like the corrupt factory manager, still pretending that they attended all the fire fighting courses, while citizens, still pretending they never noticed anything amiss, are screaming at them to put out the fire.
What are the chances?